As soon as I heard the news that Sue Lawley was giving up as presenter of Desert Island Discs, I was round at Broadcasting House in a flash. I had no intention of being left behind when it came to the auditions for the new presenter.
Alas, I was not the only person to whom this thought had occurred. In the palatial audition chamber there was a throng of eager faces, all reflecting the same thought: it's a cushy job for life. Quite a few I recognised. There was George Galloway. And Charles Kennedy. And Jeffrey Archer, and Noel Edmonds. And was that Michael Barrymore? All people at a loose end. Sir Tim Rice smiled and said hello.
"You don't need the job, do you?" I said.
"Nobody actually needs the job," he said. "I just see it as a nice way to meet new people and talk records with them."
"I don't think that's part of the job description," I said. "I don't think you ever get to talk about records. You'll find, Tim Rice, that Sue Lawley never showed any interest in any of the music that any of her guests ever chose, and that you got no impression at all of her own musical tastes, if any, because, Tim Rice, the show is about people not records."
His smile faded.
"You're right, goddammit," he said. "She only ever wanted to know where the record fitted into someone's life story, didn't she? And why do you keep calling me Tim Rice?"
"That's what you have to do on Desert Island Discs," I said. "I'm just practising. It's in case people switch on halfway through and have no idea who she is talking to. She always assumed that people knew who she was, though. She never made the guest say, 'Well, Sue Lawley ...'"
"You've got a point," said Sir Tim. "I was listening to her chairing the Reith Lectures the other day. And she actually said to him, 'Well, Daniel Barenboim ...!' Most curious, I thought."
Just then I caught sight of Sven Goran Eriksson.
"What do you think the mighty Sven is doing here?" I said.
"Don't forget he'll be in the job market come the summer," he said. "He's planning ahead. I'm surprised Tony Blair isn't here."
"We don't want a Swede coming over here and taking over Desert Island Discs!" I said.
"Why not?" he said. "He came and took over our football team. And look what happened."
Janet Street-Porter passed by.
"Hello," she said. "Anyone seen Elton John?"
She vanished in the throng, to be replaced by Nigel Rees.
"You don't need Desert Island Discs, Nigel Rees," I said. "You've got a show already."
"Ah, but for how long?" he said. "Can Quote Unquote go on for ever?"
"It's one of the great mysteries," I said. "Along with Cleopatra's nose and Helen of Troy's perfume."
"Helen of Tory's perfume?"
"'The snows of Ephesus will melt, Before we know how Helen smelt'," I said.
The Rees forehead wrinkled.
"Don't know that one," he said.
I was not surprised. I had made it up specially for a pub quiz the week before. Elton John appeared momentarily.
"Anyone seen Janet?" he said, and passed on.
"What is he doing here?" said Gyles Brandreth, who didn't pass on.
"What is Tracey Emin doing here?" said Nigel Rees.
"I expect she heard there was a party going on, and just turned up," said Brandreth. "Actually, she might be quite good on Desert Island Discs. Or Julie Burchill. Some firebrand like that. It would be nice to hear a presenter arguing with the guests. 'That's a bloody awful record!' they'd say. 'I'm not letting you take that crap to a desert island!'"
"The whole thing's terribly out of date anyway," I said. "Anyone wrecked on an island these days would have an iPod in their pocket."
"They ought to let Prince Charles run Desert Island Discs," said Brandreth. "I happen to know he's awfully keen to do it."
"But surely he would only let you take 78 rpm records to a desert island," said someone.
Just then a mike was switched on. "Thank you all for coming," said the voice, "but I am afraid a shortlist has already been drawn up. Will the following three people stay behind, please?"
There was a general groan at the announcement. I wish I could tell you who the three were, and then you would know why we groaned, but we were sworn to secrecy. Still, as Kevin Spacey said to me on the way out, you can't please all the people all the time.Reuse content