Just why the late great Michael Parkinson was the best in the business

The death, announced today, of chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson will be a cause of huge sadness to all of us of “a certain age.”
Michael Parkinson who has died (contributed pic)Michael Parkinson who has died (contributed pic)
Michael Parkinson who has died (contributed pic)

The fact is that yet another part of our childhood has disappeared. If you were lucky enough to have been growing up in the 1970s – and what a great decade that was – then Parkinson would have been absolutely required viewing.

Just that music. I can hear it now. And I remember too the excitement when it was announced that Parkinson’s Saturday night show was going to go out in a mid-week edition as well. You really couldn’t have too much of a good thing. And Parkinson was a truly extraordinary thing – the supreme interviewer back in the days when it was all about the guest.

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Parkinson controlled his interviews, he steered his interviews, he knew where he was going and he knew when to let his interviewee lead: but the point was that it was never about Parky. It was all about the person sitting in the chair opposite him.

And what an extraordinary collection of guests he had. Just the day before my father died, back in March 2020, we were sitting in the nursing him, and I put on the telly. I chanced on a compilation of Parkinson interviews. Dad’s eyes lit up, and so did mine. Sir John Mills, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, John Lennon, David Niven, all the Hollywood greats passed before our eyes. These were stars back in the day when stars were genuine stars, not merely recipients of fleeting, shallow attention. These were people who knew how to tell a story and who had fabulous stories to tell. Parky’s great gift was that he gave them the platform, the subtle prompts, the gentle encouragement. They would have shone anyway. He made them shine all the more brightly.

Dad and I were entranced for 90 minutes. It revived him. And then we chatted. And then I went home. The next morning he died. I will always be grateful to Parky for giving me that special time.

And grateful too to the old Chichester Festivities that I actually got to interview the man himself. He was appearing in the city, in Chichester Cathedral if memory serves. And I was invited to phone him for an interview beforehand. I was told 9.30 in the evening was the time to call. And it was a slightly different Parkinson I got to speak to than the Parkinson I had imagined.

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On TV, he was avuncular, chummy, matey. In interview there was a steelier edge – which, the more I thought about it, actually made sense. You don’t get to the pinnacle he reached simply by being nice. There was a harder edge to him – and that’s what got him there.

He was genuinely lovely to speak to and predictably fascinating. He took the time to answer my questions. But it wasn’t the gush of chummy friendliness I was expecting. No, there was much more to him than that. He became who he was through determination and skill, and it was interesting to detect that steel when I spoke to him. He was an absolute legend from an era when interviews happened not just because someone was plugging something but because someone was genuinely interesting. It’s a weary cliched old phrase, but we certainly won’t see Parky’s like again.

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