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BBC R4 Desert Island Discs

"Dumbledore came straight out of Thomas Hardy. Dumbledore is used in The Mayor of Casterbridge as a dialect word meaning “bumblebee” - and I loved that word."
-- J. K. Rowling (DID)

Desert Island Discs is a weekly radio programme on BBC Radio 4, broadcast on Sunday mornings. On 5 November 2000, the “castaway” was J. K. Rowling. She was interviewed by the programme’s presenter at the time, Sue Lawley.

Knowing they will be stranded on a desert island, castaways are allowed to choose eight recordings, a luxury and an additional book to bring with them. They are given the Bible (or alternate religious text) and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. They must also designate one of their chosen recordings to “save” when a wave washes the others out to sea.

Recordings chosen by J. K. Rowling:
The Beatles: Come Together
The Smiths: Bigmouth Strikes Again
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major – First movement
R.E.M.: Everybody Hurts
Marianne Faithfull: Guilt
Jimi Hendrix: All Along The Watchtower
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem in D minor – Agnus Dei

Recording to save: First movement from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major

Book choice: SAS Survival Guide

Luxury: Pen and unlimited paper

Interesting facts and notes

J.K. Rowling says that the idea came to her for the character of Hermione Granger before she thought up Harry's male best friend Ron Weasley.

Asked about the origin of the word "dumbledore", she states that it is from Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (published in 1886). It appears in Chapter 20:

She no longer spoke of "dumbledores" but of "humble bees".

Memorable lines

I first heard of Jessica Mitford from a great-aunt of mine. And she started telling me the story about this girl who’d run away from home and had the audacity to charge a camera to her father’s account before she did it. And she was telling me this, clearly, to make me think "Goodness, how dreadful". But I thought "Wow, how cool".

And, after a year of trying, Bloomsbury took me.... After the birth of Jessica – I really mean this – that was the best moment of my life.

It’s very difficult to write very simply about profound emotion.

And I went to introduce Rita and I thought "Everyone's going to say...." and then I thought "Well you know what, if you second guess them all the time, then you're lost. So just bung her in and enjoy her". And I won't lie, I probably enjoyed writing her much more.


The original programme as broadcast would have been 45 minutes long. The archived version truncates the music for copyright reasons.

From the Web

The archived audio version of this BBC Radio 4 interview is available online on the BBC website: Desert Island Discs: J. K. Rowling.

"Desert Island Discs" has been broadcast by the BBC since 1942. All of the programmes since 1959 (and some older clips from 1942-1959) are available online from the BBC: Find a Castaway.

Sue Lawley presented BBC's "Desert Island Discs" from 1988 until 2006 (Wikipedia).

BBC Radio website links featuring Rowling: BBC programmes: J. K. Rowling

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