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"A radio institution that exposes deepest desires.

Byline: Hannah Jones

YOU'VE got to hand it to Oliver Reed. In typically boisterous form, he appeared on radio show Desert Island Discs in 1974 and requested a blow-up doll as his luxury item.

In 1979, Norman Mailer had his wish for a "stick of the finest marijuana" declined, but current presenter Kirsty Young was happy to allow actress Kathy Burke a life-size laminated photograph of James Caan from Dragons' Den, on which she planned to bodysurf.

You could be forgiven for thinking that DIDs, which celebrates its 70th birthday this weekend, is just about the music and quick-witted reasoning when it comes to someone's Thing I Definitely Can't Live Without.

What it's really about, though, is opening the trapdoor of people's lives. Ask anyone about music, and it transports them to their past. Because nothing opens you up like a song from the archives of your personal playlist.

Aside from picking some jazz, classical and big-band standards, what really gripped you about the late Betty Driver's appearance, for example, was her tales of a cold mother who drove her on to the stage.

Listening to "Betty Turpin from Coronation Street" chatter about a family who lived off her hot-pot earnings for years was a sobering listen for anyone (i.e. me) who's ever felt that sharp pang of "woe is me" when there really isn't much to complain about at all.

Because music matters, it can disarm even the most prickly of contributors and open them up in bleak, honest, funny, frank and often tangled ways.

In 1996, then host Sue Lawley was accused of having an "obsession with other people's sex lives" after she asked the then unmarried Gordon Brown "whether you're gay or whether there's some flaw in your personality that you haven't made a relationship".

To his credit, the then Chancellor maintained his composure with a cool: "It just hasn't happened."

Touche, Mr B. So what would your luxury item be? The pressure on a guest to come up with an entertaining answer must be huge.

If you were interesting enough to be on there, would you be sentimental and pick something like a family photo album? Odd, like curling tongs (Dame Vera Lynn)? Tasty, maybe a pot of stew and two dumplings (Norman Wisdom) or a lifetime's supply of Frosties (Ian Hislop)? Clever and bizarre, la John Cleese, who wanted a papier-mache replica of Margaret Thatcher? Or would you be sensible and go for sunblock (Nicole Kidman, Annie Lennox and Joan Collins)? John Peel asked for a football and a wall to kick it against; Kristin Scott Thomas, Christian Louboutin requested mules; and, surprise surprise, Cilla Black wanted a manicure set. Less surprisingly, Simon Cowell went for a mirror and Dame Edna Everage her sullen sidekick Madge Allsop. When she/he was told the luxury had to be inanimate, she/he said this wasn't a problem.

Oh, think about it! Perhaps the most infamous DIDs was when Sue Lawley interviewed Lady Diana Mosley, widow of wartime fascist leader Sir Oswald, in 1989.

Hundreds complained to the Beeb when she described Adolf Hitler as "fascinating".

Gulp! The following exchange then took place between presenter and castaway.

Sue: "What about the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis?" Lady M: "Oh no, I don't think it was that many."

Long pause from Sue, then: "Tell us about your fifth record, Lady Mosley..."

Roy Plomley, who devised the first show and presented it for 43 years, came a linguistic cropper when Brigitte Bardot appeared way back in the '70s.

He asked the glamourpuss what she had chosen as her luxury item, to which she replied in her distinctive French accent: "A peeniss".

Bemused, Plomley persevered: "Most interesting... and why precisely, may I ask?" "Well," said breathy Bardot. "It's what the world needs most - 'appiness." Priceless.

To mark the 70th anniversary, Jamie Owen talks to people around Wales about the one record they would take with them to a desert island. Tune in to BBC Radio Wales on Sunday at 12.05pm. Sir David Attenborough also chooses his eight tracks on Sunday on Radio Four at 11.15am.

DESERT ISLAND DISCS TOP CHOICES THE CLASSICS * Beethoven's Choral Symphony in D minor * Rachmaninov's Concerto in C minor * Schubert's String Quintet in C major * Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony * Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance * Beethoven's Emperor Concerto in E flat major * Elgar's Enigma Variations * Beethoven's Symphony No 7 in A major THE POPULAR * Je Ne Regrette Rien Edith Piaf * I Did It May Way Frank Sinatra * Mad Dogs And Englishmen Noel Coward * La Vie En Rose Edith Pia* Underneath The Arches Flanagan and Allen * Over The Rainbow Judy Garland * What A Wonderful World Louis Armstrong * Imagine John Lennon ...AND MINE * Nostalgia David Sylvian * Superstition Stevie Wonder, below * Creep Radiohead * The Hissing Of Summer Lawns Joni Mitchell * My Man Barbra Streisand * O Del Mio Dolce Ardor Gluck * Crying In The Chapel Elvis Presley * Thong Song Sisqo

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* Brigitte Bardot took Roy Plomley aback with her luxury request on DIDs
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 27, 2012
Words:835
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