I have to confess that I’m bothered by the thought that a line I wrote in a posting the other day turned out to be not quite as truthful as I meant it to be at the time. The fact is that something slipped my mind while I was launching my worldwide search for off-air tape-recordings of old music talks — and, as a result, I said something that wasn’t completely accurate. I think the slip is worth correcting, so let me fix it now.
It happened at the point where I was discussing the BBC’s recovery of decades-old episodes of the radio series Desert Island Discs in the form of recordings held by private individuals: ‘I’m not interested in Desert Island Discs’, I declared. Which, in a way, is quite true: I can’t stand the programme, and don’t choose to listen to it. The only time I ever hear it is when my Sunday-morning snooze is interrupted by a sudden fragment of someone’s pop music choice bursting from my radio alarm, which, naturally, I don’t appreciate in the slightest. (Foreign readers may find out about the format of this long-running series by clicking here.)
It’s not true, however, to say that I’m uninterested in every aspect of the series. For there was one episode — broadcast way back in 1971! — in which I am very interested indeed. This is the one in which the show’s originator and first presenter, Roy Plomley, interviewed Clive Dunn (1920-2012), the actor, comedian, artist and author best known for his portrayal of elderly and excitable military veteran Corporal Jones in the massively popular Dad’s Army.
Much as I still love and enjoy the old TV series about the Walmington-on-Sea ‘Home Guard’, the reason I’m interested in Clive Dunn’s Desert Island appearance is that I’m desperate to know more about one of his music choices. Have a look at the list below, and see if you can work out which one I’m talking about:
Yes, you’ve guessed it: it’s the fourth one down! Because what we find is that, given the opportunity to list eight pieces of music that he could take with him to that fabled island, the good Mr Dunn decided that he wanted one of them to be Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto (1942).
The way the format of the programme works in practice allows the interviewee a few moments to talk about each of their choices before a short clip of it is played — and what I really, really want to know is what were Clive Dunn’s thoughts about Schoenberg’s Op. 42. How did he first encounter it? Did it have a personal relevance for him? Did he choose it because it had always intrigued him, and he felt that only as a castaway would he have the time to get to know it properly? Or did he simply like the tunes? There’s really no way of guessing from the very wide range of other things he listed as his choices — and there’s no way of finding out from the BBC’s iPlayer … because the only recording of the programme that they hold is one from which the pieces of music and all talk about them have been carefully snipped out. Have a listen: there’s not the slightest hint of any music at all. Presumably the BBC junked their own tape, and obtained this copy from a member of the listening public who’d chopped it down to simply the biographical content; but whatever happened, the result is that 20 minutes of the thing are missing — including all mention of Schoenberg and his concerto.
Now, Clive Dunn is far from being the only imaginary castaway to have included a Schoenberg work among their musical choices (if you type in the composer’s name as a search term, the BBC’s Desert Island webpage shows Schoenberg works chosen by 20 people); but I have to admit that this particular programme is the one that I most want to hear!
So: who’s got a recording? It’s from 44 years ago — but I’m betting that someone out there has a copy gathering dust somewhere: Dad’s Army was a much-loved series, and Clive Dunn was a household name — who in 1971 had just had a number one pop hit with the song ‘Grandad’ (which, as you’ll see from that list above, he also wanted to take with him). All in all, Dunn’s Desert Island appearance is more likely than quite a few others to have been recorded — by a fan, or by the thoughtful family member of a fan, etc. It’s also possible that actual family and friends of Dunn himself might have made a tape: let’s all circulate this page to whatever showbiz contacts we have, and see what turns up…
Once again, I really do need everyone’s help in this — so let me thank you in advance for your assistance! And, as your reward, here’s that number one hit…
If you enjoyed this posting, remember that I am a regular contributor and columnist for the UK magazine Musical Opinion. The magazine’s website can be found here; to see its Twitter feed, click here; to see its Facebook page, click here. To subscribe to Musical Opinion, click here.