Desert Island Discs is a beloved British institution that been on air for 77 years and more than 3,000 episodes. When Kirsty Young officially stepped down as host last month following an extended break due to illness, many of us were very sad to see her go. But at the same time, we were relieved that Lauren Laverne would continue to present the show "for the foreseeable future".
Warm, empathetic and curious, she's a perfect fit for a format that's consistently able to draw witty anecdotes and deeply personal stories from a fascinating range of guests.
So it's entirely unsurprising that an opinion piece titled "Desert Island Discs has completely lost the plot" has provoked a strong reaction online. In the article, The Spectator's Melanie McDonagh argues that Laverne's appointment is one of the worst that Radio 4 has made "in its apparent effort to alienate its listeners".
"Lauren is northern, not a common type on Radio 4," McDonagh writes. "She’s also patently nice. Certainly, she isn’t mean; she doesn’t press home an advantage with an interviewee or even spot that she could be following up answers at all. Her interview with Louis Theroux comes to mind. There’s no getting away from it: Lauren is lightweight and uncerebral."
McDonagh then claims that "the issue here isn’t the merits of one presenter; it’s the BBC’s reflex when it comes to appointments like this".
"Simply put, being youngish, regional, a pop presenter and a woman really isn’t enough [for the job]," she writes. "Choosing interviewees on the basis that they’re not Establishment, posh, white, elite, male, isn’t enough either. The BBC needs to pick the best person for the job; it says a good deal that this is now a controversial view."
Since the article was published yesterday, Desert Island Discs listeners and fellow broadcasters have rallied to Laverne's defence. Clara Amfo, who hosts the BBC's Glastonbury coverage alongside Laverne, hailed her as "one of the best broadcasters in the country".
Labour MP Harriet Harman called Laverne "excellent", saying: "She lets the guests reveal themselves. Which is what we want."
Hate that I gave you a click but 🙄Lauren is simply one of the best broadcasters in the country. Knowledgeable but never overbearing, LISTENS and is consistently passionate with everything she does whether on 6, Glasto and with DID. This piece is so unnecessary and mean spirited.— Clara Amfo (@claraamfo) August 10, 2019
Just read an article about Lauren Laverne doing Desert Island Discs that literally said posh white men are missing out on jobs that are going going to northern (‘regional’) women and I laughed and laughed and laughed— Jen Allison (@MsJenAllison) August 9, 2019
Genuinely, have you listened to Lauren Laverne on Desert Islands Discs? She's wonderful and warm and approachable whilst also being a really good interviewer.— Lauren (@LaurenWTRedHair) August 9, 2019
Meanwhile, Laverne has posted a tweet that seems to be a supremely classy response to the article.
Today has been an entirely unexpected inventory of who is in my corner. I have to say I couldn’t be happier. In fact it’s been the best day in ages. Isn’t it funny how it goes that way sometimes? Thanks very much to everyone who has been so kind.— Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) August 9, 2019
On tomorrow's episode of Desert Island Discs, Laverne will interview Jo Fairley, the businesswoman who co-founded Green & Black's chocolate. I'm already looking forward to giving it a listen.