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Entertainment Parkinson 2 web

Published on June 30th, 2014 | by Martin Aston

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Michael Parkinson

In 2007, for Radio Times, I interviewed the likes of Billy Connolly, Sir David Attenborough, Dame Edna Everage, Julie Walters and Lenny Henry, some of the most celebrated guests of Michael Parkinson’s legendary BBC chat sh0w, which was bowing out after 20 years on air. The full transcripts follow…

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BILLY CONNOLLY  

Congratulations! You’re on the last Parkinson show so you’ll be the guest who has appeared the most times. Isn’t it really that many? I hadn’t a clue. I remember Kenneth Williams used to hold it with Peter Ustinov.

Do you remember your first appearance back in 1975? It was a bit like being in an accident. As far as I was concerned, it was the biggest show on earth. I remember Russell Harty wanted me on his show, but I wanted Parkinson, the best talk show. I thought I’d blown it, but then it turned up. I don’t remember much else but I do remember the following day. I was at Heathrow and a Chinese guy asked for my autograph, and as I walked through Glasgow airport after my flight, people applauded! It can’t be overstated what that show did for me.

And you told that bike joke (a man murders his wife and buries her in the garden, but leaves her bum sticking out as he needs somewhere to park his bicycle…)

Yes, it was incredibly edgy for its time. My manager, on the way over, warned me not to do it, but it was a great joke and the interview as going so well, I thought, oh f*** it! I don’t know where I got the courage in those days but Michael did put confidence in me.

On one appearance in 1976, a fellow guest was Rod Hull and Emu… I thought the guy had gone well over the top because he crossed the line concerning someone else’s dignity. . I’d warned him, “don’t come near me with that bird or I’ll break its neck!” Parky was very angry.

He reckons he’ll be remembered most for “that bloody bird”. Nah, he’ll be remembered for a great deal more. Did you see the one with Muhammad Ali, when Mike thought Ali was going to hit him? That was a real moment for me. Parky’s dad was at that show, and Parky said to him, “what did you think of that?” and his dad replied “you should have belted him one!” There was a lovely one with Val Doonican, who talked about his father dying of cancer; just an incredibly heartwarming show, and the Peter Ustinov interviews were always extraordinary.

No other chat show will ever reach such iconic heights. Most chat shows get a little act going, like “I’ll ask you this and you say that”, and that’s the other shows are so stilted, because nobody shows their inner self. Johnny Carson was the same. He loved comedians like Mike does, but he was capable of talking seriously, at length. Lots of interviewers have questions on a little pad, and if you veer away from them, they panic and pull you back, but the good guys like Mike goes with the flow to see what happens.

Is this the end of the chat show as we’d like it to be? It’s the end of the talk show, but the chat show will go on forever, with the light, meaningless stuff. Jonathan Ross is good but there used to be lots of talk shows on TV; there was that man and wife on daytime… yes, Richard and Judy. And Titchmarsh…they give people a talk show as if it’s easy to do, because it’s cheap, and it’s a couch, and two people, and one of them has a book out about shoving a plum up a trout’s arse! All that never-ending cooking sh*te!

Any last words for Michael?

Goodnight and thank you! Sometimes Michael quietly takes me aside, and says, “Who’d have thought?” and we burst out laughing, because all entertainers believe someone will suddenly say to you, “OK, times up, you’ve been found out.” Mike always had another agenda, that don’t include being on television. I‘m glad he’s going because if he is, you know it’s his idea.

 DAME EDNA EVERAGE

It’s the end of the Parky show; are you grieving? I have mixed feelings about Michael, because I think of him as an interviewer, and as a man…

Which wins out? Well, the man. I’ve been his guest many, many times [six so far], though women are not his thing. He’s much more comfortable interviewing men. Women I find, generally speaking, make him a little impatient. I think even Rod Hull’s Emu was female. But he’s the interviewer supreme because he lets me talk. He doesn’t try to upstage his guests.

Any last words for Michael? That I’m going to miss him, and that I hope the next person who replaces him isn’t too much better than he is

On one appearance, you faced the audience and said, “And thanks to my special guest, Michael Parkinson!” [laughs] Sometimes that’s how it feels. But I must admit, it was a Parkinson interview in the late 1970s [1978] that marked the British public’s acceptance of me as a major star. Though it would have happened anyway. And there is no question I helped him become a major interviewer. I introduced him to many who became favourite guests, like little Nicole [Kidman], Russell [Crowe], Cate [Blanchett], all my former pupils.

Do you remember any of your fellow guests? Gloria Swanson, of course, sitting there in her snood, little knowing that snoods had had their day. She was chatting away, and I came out with a line that has gone into history – I said, “I heard you were a silent star,” with an emphasis on the word ‘silent’ and she became a little quieter after that.

Is this the end of the chat show as we’d like it to be? Probably, unless I do another series. I regret it really. Jonathan [Ross] does something but it’s not exactly very tasteful, is it? Michael is the last of the gentlemen interviewers. He’s marvellous when he pretends to find something amusing or interesting. Sometimes he calls me up and says, “Did that look genuine, Edna?” and I say, “Yes, Michael, you did it again.” But he’s never got over the habit of tugging his earlobe or tweaking his nose – the face hockey goes on. It’s the leprosy syndrome. It’s people who were perhaps, in a former life, lepers, and they’re just wondering if their appendage might have fallen off. So in a moment of crisis, the hand flies to a vulnerable appendage.

You’re on his last show; have you prepared a farewell speech? No, butI’ve written a little song, a valedictory song. Little Michael Parkinson will be having a real fit of leprosy syndrome then!

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH

You’re on Parkinson’s last show, which will make it your fifth appearance… I was first on with Andre Previn in 1975. And I’ve been on with Billy Connolly, who was absolutely marvellous. I remember he laughed almost as much at my jokes as I laughed at his, which is remarkable!

In 2002, Parky paired you with another comedian, Eddie Izzard. It was the first time I’d ever heard of him, and I was astounded by this extraordinary chap, who just started talking, in an everyday tone of voice, about what happened when he walked down the high street. I’d never seen the technique before. The nice thing is, Michael makes his guests feel that they’re more important than he is, whereas most other chat hosts use guests as a means to show how clever they are. Michael is a very good storyteller himself and therefore senses when you are about to tell a story and what is not the moment to interrupt.

Any favourite Parkinson memories? He was especially good with his heroes. Muhammad Ali especially stands out because he brought out Ali’s engaging qualities in a very interesting way.

Rod Hull and Emu, perhaps? That’s worth having! It’s always pleasure to see the chap who’s supposed to be in charge being somewhat discomforted. Crossing a line always makes good TV.

Is this the end of the chat show as we’d like it to be?

I’d hate to think that the qualities Michael – where guests encouraged to be themselves, and to expose themselves, as it were – simply qualities of fashion. People will see a big gap after he goes.

JULIE WALTERS

You were Parky’s guest twice (2000 and 2005) but it seems like more. I’ve been asked lots of times, which I find very flattering, because Michael’s the master, and there’s no one like him. He once said to me, he liked his show to be like a dinner party. He invites people he’d like to have round, and that’s what it feels like – even if 300 people are watching! It’s a great skill. He brings out the best, he’s a great audience, and he’s very funny himself.

What do you remember most about your appearances? The last time I was on, with Will Smith, I was doing the Acorn Antiques musical and we talked about all sorts, like my grandmother, who I’d never talked about before. It does end up like a conversation in that way, which is much less daunting than being asked to tell a story.

Any highlights from watching from home? I didn’t have a telly in the 70s when I was a student, so I missed a huge amount. I’ve seen some old clips, though. Rod Hull and Emu were brilliant and the Miss Piggy interview was gorgeous! But it’s the later shows I remember. The Lulu interview about her autobiography was memorable. So was Sharon Osbourne. Madonna and Dawn French were wonderful too. It’s not always the riotous, funniest interviews that are the best.

Notwithstanding Emu, you’ve singled out women. I think women tend to flirt with him, and he seems to be a bit shy. The thing is, I feel like I know him, and yet I don’t. Maybe that’s why he’s a good interview, because everyone feels a connection. Though not everyone; Meg Ryan obviously didn’t! I saw that interview; bloody hell! [laughs]. What was great about that was that he didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening. He didn’t gloss over it like most would have.

JAMIE CULLUM

Parkinson was your first TV appearance – what can you remember?

I was so nervous, it was like an out-of-body experience. I even dreamt about it the night before. I was selling about one to two thousand CDs before I appeared, but my next album sold two and a half million, so the show was an enormous factor in bringing me to the wider public. My first show was the one with Meg Ryan. If you thought it was uncomfortable on TV, you should have been there! That was why so many people watched that show, and saw me too.

What other classic Parkinson encounters do you recall? To be honest, I never really watched Parkinson until I was on. It was a bit too grown-up for me when I was growing up, though the show was always on in the background.

You’re the musical interlude in the finale Parkinson; that’s some honour.

Yes, I’m very touched. It’ll be my fourth appearance. It’s going to be amazing company, a lot of fun, and a real milestone. People are going to realise what they’re missing when he goes. His guests want to open up on his show, so you see a different side to them, and that’s because of how Michael brings it out of them without being overbearing. The only sad bit is, I’ve never been interviewed by him but I’ve got an awful lot out of Mr Michael Parkinson so I’ve got no right to complain!

LENNY HENRY

What do you remember about your first Parkinson? It was 1999, I wore a green suit, and I was nervous! It was a huge honour to be asked, because when I was a kid, he’d be on with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, or Peter Sellers, who didn’t want to come on and talk as himself, so he appeared as the German bloke from the Producers, or those early Billy Connolly interviews when nobody knew him but he blew everyone away. Every young comic then thought Parkinson could be the making of you. I’d seen guests say brilliant things so I worked really hard on my performance, because the audience are expecting you to be really funny. But after that, I wanted to feel like I could talk to Michael when he asked me things properly, so I’m more relaxed now. But I always feel like I want to do my best for him. I also like that that he knows where you’re at right now; he does his research.

That’s the journalist in him…I once did a pilot for a talk show, and I asked him after why it didn’t work, and he said, “you’re a performer, you don’t listen!” and he was right! He knows the idea of what jazz musicians call ‘laying out’, meaning when you don’t stop playing for a few bars and then come back when the time’s right. Well, Parky’s like a musician in the way he does interviews. As you get older, you feel it’s a wonderful way to enjoy yourself on a Saturday night.

Where else could you converse with Donny Osmond about girls?

Nowhere! You know, Donny slapped me round the face, because I said a few things about him, and he thought he’d give me my comeuppance, and I got really upset! Parky saw that and eased me out of it into being funny again. He likes women, though, doesn’t he? It’s funny watching him with Sharon Osbourne or Kate Winslet because he gets very giggly and shy. But he flirts like mad! He used to do knee-touching but I think he got told off by Mary.

As for Rod Hull and Emu… Genius! What Rod understood, in that strangely car-crash live-TV way, was what Groucho Marx said – that if you push an old lady off a cliff in a film, it better be a really old lady. So the beautifully coiffed host must end up on the floor, having his bum grabbed. I also remember Steve Martin cutting Michael’s tie in half and said “hey, I bet you weren’t expecting that!” Michael replied, “No, otherwise I would have worn a different tie!” The Ali interviews were great because he knew that Parky got the joke, that Ali was a poet and a promotional genius. You’re dealing with somebody who’s able to hang with politicians, political activists, black militants, comedians, actors, glove puppets…

He’ll be sorely missed. It’s a stupid showbiz thing to say, but it’s the end of an era. We’ve lost the show where the big shots can come on and talk about their lives and be amusing. But the media has changed. The biggest stars have revealed so much of themselves via the internet, constant paparazzi and so on, that we don’t judge people by the work anymore. The formula where guests aren’t unadorned by constant chipping away and slight slagging off is tired now. Parky’s only retiring because he’s had enough, and fair enough. But I’ll especially miss the moment of a new star being born.”

JOAN RIVERS

Parky called you the world’s funniest female comic; is he our chat show king? Bear in mind I have to go on the other shows now! But he’s up there with the truly greats. I never turn down a date to go on his show, even though it means flying thousands of miles. He’s smart, he listens and he believes the nonsense I’m telling him. , And he lets you go, which is terrific, because I get the punchline out at the end.

We’ll miss him. “You just want to slap somebody. {Chat shows aren’t} all about “I love every on the movie set. I did the nude scene because it was intrinsic to the character,” snore, snore. He gave his guests time to really produce, and that’s why when they did, it was so often extraordinary.

Favourite memories of your Parky appearances? George Michael and Sharon Osbourne, because they laughed at everything. Do you know how great it is to have a guest that’s willing to let you be funny? They’re not competitive, they’re very secure, they’ve said what they want to say, and now they’re willing to sit back and let you entertain them. And on other shows I’ve caught when I’ve been in the UK, he’s always asked someone a question that I wanted to know about.

Is Parky shy around the ladies, as some say? With sexy ladies, sure. He treats me as one of the guys, which is a big compliment, but it’s also ‘how dare you!’

You recently called him “The Cher of broadcasting”. Are you predicting another comeback? We had a wonderful man named Jack Parr [US chat show legend Johnny Carson’s predecessor] who made a big speech, “This is it, there is a better way to make a living,” and two years later, he came back and said, “I’ve looked and there isn’t!“

 




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