Saturday, 28 May 2011

To reach ... the unreachable stars

What do all of these fabulous and talented people have in common?

Kirsty Young, Sheila Hancock, Ronnie Corbett, Maureen Lipman, Paul Gambaccini, Julian Lloyd-Webber, Kerry Ellis, Courtney Pine, Ann Widdicombe, James Pearson, Matt Lucas and Alfie Boe were all on stage at The Mermaid Theatre last night! John-John and I knew we were in for a treat at the live recording of the world's longest-running orchestral live music programme on radio Friday Night Is Music Night, as it hosted a celebration of another BBC gem and the longest-running factual programme in the history of radio, Desert Island Discs - but nothing quite prepared us for this cavalcade of stars...

In addition to the esteemed coterie of famous names above (all in the audience waiting their turn to take the stage), we also spotted Nicholas Parsons two rows away, and in front of him Celia Imrie. We were sat next to Jo Brand, for heaven's sake!

I bumped into Alan Yentob while outside having a fag, and there were many more familiar faces dotted around that I couldn't name (but not Ryan Giggs, surprisingly). But enough about the audience - on with the show!

The BBC Concert Orchestra opened with the famous Desert Island Discs theme tune The Sleepy Lagoon by Eric Coates (and they provided the magnificent music behind all the performances of the evening). Kirsty Young was mistress of ceremonies, and gave us a little insight into the show's long and esteemed history from its beginnings in 1942, and how it felt for her to be at its helm today, in the shadow of its founder and presenter the late Roy Plumley (and his successors Michael Parkinson and Sue Lawley).

Kerry Ellis sang (brilliantly, I might add) one of the "top 5" requested songs by Desert Island Discs guests over the years, Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, and later returned to perform Rock-a-Bye My Baby (the former made famous by Liza, the latter by mum Judy).

Sheila Hancock reminisced about having been a guest twice (very rare for the programme) and how furious her late husband John Thaw was as she was asked to go on the show before him - but they shared a favourite tune in Elgar's Cello Concerto, which was then superbly played by Mr Lloyd-Webber. It's one of my favourite pieces, too. I could hardly breathe!

Maureen Lipman, after a few anecdotes about her time as a guest, sang two songs from her repertoire of Joyce Grenfell songs, Three Brothers and Stately As A Galleon. Paul Gambaccini introduced a song that reminds him of his home city New York, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, masterfully played by musical director at Ronnie Scott's Club James Pearson. Ann Widdicombe came on stage as (bizarrely) the only guest ever to choose a sound effect as one of her discs - the sound of hippos calling to each other in the African bush...

Amazingly (and only the BBC would dare to do this), "Doris Karloff" was followed by a brilliant live appearance by the maestro of the modern jazz saxophone Courtney Pine, who exploded into the most incredible high-speed, high-energy version of Anita Baker's Sweet Love, which had the audience applauding the roof off!

Ronnie Corbett was hilarious - as always - with his remarkable anecdotes and was deliciously flirtatious with Miss Young, as he proceeded to sing(!) Madam I Love Your Crepe Suzette (from Du Barry Was a Lady) as a serenade. It was a delight to see such a "national treasure" (in Miss Young's words) live on stage!

After another of the most-selected musical choices on Desert Island Discs, John Barry's superb theme from Schindler's List, the show wound to its conclusion with more surprises! We were expecting our neighbour Jo Brand to appear (as was advertised), but it seems she left at half time. Our final act was instead the lovely Matt Lucas, singing(!) Lullaby Of Broadway, and then duetting with none other than the superbly talented tenor Mr Alfie Boe (who is apparently a close friend of Mr Lucas) on The Impossible Dream.

A fitting end to a wonderful evening!

Friday Night Is Music Night


  1. sounds like a wonderful night - Matt Lucas lived with Alfie Boe or maybe Alfie lived with Matt … they duet on The Impossible Dream on Alfie's recent album. For me it's the highlight of the album.

  2. It was a huge surprise to hear them duet, but they did give a little back-story about sharing a flat, and about a home video that appeared on YouTube... (not that sort of video, of course!) Jx


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