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Desert Island Discs

To explore the ideas behind the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Islands Discs, and to consider why the Bible might be an appropriate book to take along.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To explore the ideas behind the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Islands Discs, and to consider why the Bible might be an appropriate book to take along.

Preparation and materials


  1. First broadcast in 1942, Desert Islands Discs is one of the BBC’s longest-running programmes. Guests are invited by Kirsty Young to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island and to choose eight pieces of music to take with them. In the early days of the programme it was assumed that the castaway would have ‘a gramophone and an inexhaustible supply of needles’.

    Excerpts from the guest’s choices are played and at the end of the broadcast the guest must choose from the eight records the one absolutely essential piece of music to take with them.

    The programme is broadcast on a Sunday on Radio 4, and repeated on Friday. Has anyone listened to it?

    Ask pupils to suggest music they would take with them.
  2. Since 1951 each guest has been asked to choose one luxury item to take to the island. The first luxury choice was garlic. (Well, I don’t suppose castaways need worry about their breath!)

    In 1951 it was also decided to invite the guests to choose a book to take with them. Some famous literary figures were asked which book they would choose if cast away on a desert island.

    ‘The complete works of Shakespeare,’ said one, without hesitation.

    ‘The Bible,’ said another.

    G. K. Chesterton, a well-known English writer of the time, said, ‘I would choose Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding’!

    So since 1951 Shakespeare and the Bible have always gone with the castaway, plus their own book choice.
  3. Let’s consider for a moment which of these three books might be the best choice.

    It would seem that G. K. Chesterton’s answer was wise as well as being amusing. Although the castaway would not have any tools there may still be some ideas in the book worth trying.

    If you were studying for exams, Shakespeare might be a good option. Plenty of time to get to grips with the characters, even to do a spot of acting yourself. However, Romeo is not likely to hear you, even from the highest point of the island! Many people regard Shakespeare’s plays as the finest works in the English language – and it would take a long time to read them all.

    The Bible certainly has plenty of pages and some good stories to enjoy and it is a bestseller. It claims to be a living word, a book which puts people in touch with God. It claims to contain truth, wisdom and guidance for our lives. Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’

    That’s the reason why The Gideons give a Bible to every secondary school pupil in the country. Maybe it’s worth a look!

Time for reflection

Which song or piece of music would you take with you?

Which of the three books would you opt for?


Dear God,

the Bible makes many claims to be your word to us today.

It says that it is a living word,

and that we can experience and get to know you

as we read through its pages.

Give us the desire to read this book

and to find truth for our lives.


Publication date: October 2011   (Vol.13 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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