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Desert Island Discs with Torquil Norman

Earlier on this evening I went to the gym, nothing unusual there except for the fact that instead of listening to some power-gym music, I just wanted to finish listening to the podcast of Desert Island Discs with Kirsty Young. I know exactly what you are thinking, I thought that myself, “what sort of person exercises while listening to BBC Radio 4?” Well, I guess the answer is: people like me.

BBC Radio 4But, why was I listening to this programme? Well, I started listening to it as I was heading to the gym and it was so enthralling that I could not wait listening to it. For those of you who don’t know the programme, Desert Island Discs is a long-running radio programme, first broadcasted in 1942, where guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island. They can chose eight pieces of music to take with them. This allows them to discuss their lives, achievements and experiences. They are also asked to choose a book to take with them (they are automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work – I would personally change the latter for Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species“, but there you go…). Finally they are allowed to take one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from/to the outside.

This particular episode had Sir Torquil Norman (listen to it via the iPlayer), who is described as a “philanthropist, businessman and aviator”. What an interesting man! During the broadcast you learn that he was born in 1933 and  that he stands at 6′ 7″. Torquil gained his pilot’s licence at eighteen, and flew for the RAF. He comes across as a person that very much enjoys what he does and his interests range from toy making to chairing the Roundhouse Trust. In 1980 he found Bluebird Toys, makers of the Big Yellow Teapot House, the Big Red Fun Bus, and the very successful Polly Pocket dolls.

The Roundhouse is one of my favourite venues in London and it is a building with which Torquil has a very long term relationship. He bought the derelict Roundhouse arts venue in Chalk Farm with the idea of restoring it to its former glory as an arts venue in the 1960s and ’70s. The restored venue reopened in June 2006.

His choices of music were fantastic! They were as follows:

  1. Salade de Fruits – Bourvil
  2. Mr Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
  3. Nobody knows you when you are down – Bessie Smith (his final choice to take to the Island)
  4. Your feet’s too big – Fats Waller
  5. Shenandoah – Paul Robeson
  6. Mon Légionnaire – Edith Piaf
  7. Black velvet band – The Clancy Brothers (listen to alternative here)
  8. Stormy Weather – Billy Holiday

His book of choice was a book of verses that his father wrote throughout his life and my favourite of all was his choice of luxury: a small still with an ice-making unit attached to it… The logic? Well, he is convinced that on this Desert Island there will be all kinds of fruits and vegetables and his plan is to develop all sorts of kinds of gin, so that “I could then sit in my homemade deckchair, looking out over the sea with a dry martini in my hand, and when I was eventually rescued I could be the most famous barman in the world”.

7 thoughts on “Desert Island Discs with Torquil Norman”

  1. Sir Torquil, a fascinating “D.I.D” subject. He mentioned in passing his brother, Mark, a charming man who took an interest in those of us lower down the food chain when he periodically visited central Africa many years ago. Patently, the Norman qualities are anchored in the DNA. Both brothers left an impression, Sir Torquil to-day and Sir Mark nearly fifty years ago.

  2. Brian D Fitzpatrick

    The Sir Torquil ‘DID’ did no favours to him or The Roundhouse by neglecting to mention that he in fact inherited a thriving ( my opinion) GLC London Arts Venue (Centre 42) and not, as was said, just a redundant Victorian train (turntable) shed. Check out the History of just these two previous designations of that building, especially Centre 42, and you will see what I mean. History and editors, it seems, love a short path.

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