The day Sir Michael Parkinson did a bit of a Meg Ryan on me
PUBLISHED: 12:04 16 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:47 16 May 2019
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Louisa Baldwin interviewed Michael Parkinson ahead of his visit to the region. She found that the interviewer doesn’t always make the easiest interviewee!
Sir Michael Parkinson has interviewed some of the most famous faces of the last 50 years since the launch of his eponymous talk show in 1971 but, in my experience, he doesn't like it so much when the tables are turned.
I was delighted to bag a phone interview with Sir Michael, or Parky as he endearingly known, and when I mentioned to my colleagues I was going to chat to the legendary broadcaster the phrase 'national treasure' was mentioned several times.
However, as I delved more into Michael's rise to the top and his thoughts on modern television it began to remind me of the famous interview he did with the prickly When Harry Met Sally actress Meg Ryan in 2007 who would have rather been anywhere else.
At first, all was as I expected. He answered the phone in his thick, Yorkshire accent and I remembered that he is staunchly proud of his northern working class roots.
Michael was the son of a miner, born in the village of Cudworth, near Barnsley, in 1935 and began his career as a journalist working at local papers and then worked on the nationals in Fleet Street.
He then embarked on a television career, including a spell covering football for Anglia TV in Norwich and working on current affairs programmes for Granada, based in Manchester, and the BBC.
He got his big break in 1971 with his BBC series Parkinson, which ran until 1982 and was then revived from 1998 until 2007 where it later moved to ITV.
We began by making small talk about the weather, in typical British fashion as it had been heavily raining that day, and he apologised if he needed to cough during the chat as he had a cold.
I then asked him what people could expect from An Evening With Sir Michael Parkinson which is heading to the King's Lynn Corn Exchange on June 9.
He said: "I've been doing tours for years all over Britain and even Australia and it is two hours of nostalgia looking back at a different kind of television and stars when people like Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali were all exploding on to the scene and it was a rich time to do a talk show.
"I mix and match what I do on the tour as being fluid in the structure keeps things fresh."
When I asked him if he did a Q&A with the audience, he replied: "I don't do Q&As, I don't mean to sound arrogant but you need microphones which slows things down and often people want to just say a statement and not ask a question."
This was the first sense I got that maybe he isn't too keen on being grilled himself, despite interviewing over 2,000 of the world's most famous people.
I then asked him about his thoughts on Norwich whilst working for Anglia TV, presuming that he would have stayed in the city as it was the 1950s, and he abruptly replied, "I still lived in Berkshire and would come up two or three days weekly. You're making out like it takes ages but it is two or three hours up the road."
Despite the fact I could see he was getting impatient, and had probably agreed reluctantly with his PR to do our interview, I then asked about his trajectory from a mining town in Yorkshire to a fully fledged TV star.
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He said: "I am of a very different generation and didn't go to university but got into the journalism the traditional way through an apprenticeship at the local paper at 16 and I went on to work at The Guardian and Daily Express in Fleet Street which was an exciting place to be.
"There is the assumption that because I was born into a mining family that I am disadvantaged but I never felt at all frightened as a child about the society I lived in and my parents loved me unconditionally.
"I got very lucky with the timing of TV and I couldn't believe it when all of a sudden I had a talk show and once we got Orson Welles and got him to tell his story, all the American agents got in touch with us.
"It was a wonderful time of great stars who were allowed for the first time to appear on TV as up until 1970s it was seen as the devil's work and studios held stars very close but then they realised TV wasn't going away.
"We had great stars coming up the stairs like Fred Astaire and it was before the Internet when nothing was known about them which was paradise."
Although he doesn't have a favourite person he has interviewed, he said he liked "someone who could talk" like David Attenborough or Billy Connolly, "glamorous, talented women", such as Shirley Maclaine, and "stage men" including Mohammed Ali and his late best friend George Best whose memoir was written by Parkinson.
He also said the one person he regrets not interviewing is Frank Sinatra who is "the greatest hero and star of them all".
Talking about the old days of television, you could feel Parky's mood picking up but it quickly shifted when I asked him about comments he had previously made blasting the current quality of TV.
He said that he had never made them which reminded me of when Meg Ryan got defensive after Parky probed her about comments she made about acting not being in her nature.
I then asked what his actual thoughts were and he adopted quite an abrasive tone and wouldn't give me a general opinion but said I had to name a show and then he would give his verdict.
I suggested Love Island and he replied: "I have never seen Love Island and I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole - television today is so far ahead with better scripts and actors and I'm a happy chappy and don't watch stuff I don't want to watch. I'm enjoying Chernobyl at the moment."
I could tell Sir Michael is a seasoned interviewee as it was almost impossible to interject to ask him to repeat anything or build on points as he will keep speaking until he has said everything he wants to say.
Finally, as I often do, I asked him why people should get tickets to his show if they haven't already.
He said I was the journalist I should answer that and he hasn't had a problem selling tickets in the past.
Maybe it was just me but I didn't feel this was going too well so I left the question about who would be his guests at a dinner party and, just like Parky with Meg Ryan, I decided to wrap it up.
An Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson comes to the King's Lynn Corn Exchange on June 9 at 7.30pm and tickets cost £27.50 to £32.50 and can be purchased from kingslynncornexchange.co.uk
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