For we wish to declare from the rooftops that we think Michael Parkinson is, to use the words of the now sadly late Norman Stanley Fletcher, a charmless old nerk.
And here’s why ...
It seems impossible for Parky to be able to conduct any sort of press interview without prattling on about being not only a journalist, and therefore supremely and even uniquely qualified to interview the rich and famous (which logic rules out David Frost but rules in Johnny Vaughan), but also bemoaning everyone else’s efforts in the same field. Recently we were faced with yet another diatribe by Parkinson in the Radio Times in the form of an interview by one Benji Wilson (who we assume is a journalist and therefore fit to ask somebody questions off a sheet) which has produced in typical fashion a raft of useless answers from someone who really should know better.
We don’t want to take it apart piece by piece so instead let’s just concentrate for the moment on the statement he comes out with in response to being asked if he just gives people an easy ride: “I’m still here – how many people have being doing their job for as long as I have?”
Well, more than one actually Michael. Leaving aside Frosty on a technicality (since he went to America for a bit, though he was working here at the same time) the most obvious, and glaring, example is Des O’Connor whose show ran for much longer in total than PARKINSON and on which the calibre of guests was always of at least as exalted a level as Parky's, if not better since Des was always far more amenable to trying out new faces on his show.
The RT interview also dares to raise the spectre of the infamous Meg Ryan interview wherein Ryan proved ‘testy’ and made the man’s job actually a little difficult for a change. He let it run on for what seemed an uncomfortable eternity – even Ryan herself suggested ending it – an incident which of itself provides us with all the reason we need to firmly believe that Wogan was far better at this game than Parkinson has ever been, since at least Sir Terence had the wit and ability, to bring his cringe-making encounter with Anne Bancroft to a swift and rancour-free conclusion as soon as it became clear it wasn’t going to get any better.
Of course, no-one has posited the theory thus far that it seems more than likely that the Ryan interview wasn’t trimmed for the simple reason that Mike wouldn’t have had anything else to ask his other guests (Trinny and Susannah; there’s Hollywood glamour for you!) and therefore uncomfortable silence from her suited him better than uncomfortable silence from Michael Parkinson.
We wouldn’t like anyone to think that we’re just having a dig at Mike because of one ill-judged interview though. That would be unfair. But when you take into consideration his track record in this sort of thing you begin to see a picture form of not a leading entertainer and journalist, but rather a curmudgeonly old pain in the arse. He was on the defensive in September 2000 (“I don’t interview war criminals,” he replied in answer to a query over the froth he seemed to be peddling even then, a reply he reiterated exactly in the recent RT piece), and in September 2002 he criticised what he saw as a trend to give “minor celebrities” their own chat show, ‘cos obviously when he started out he was enjoying the same level of global fame as Jimmy Cagney and Audrey Hepburn.
On many other occasions, across various media and with a tiresome inevitability, he attacks other talk show hosts and rates them, inevitably, as being singularly inferior to him as if the public have no right to find out if anyone else, from Jonathan Ross to Ian Wright, is any good, based perhaps on a delusion that he has been awarded some form of chat monopoly by the Queen (perhaps at the same time as the honour he received from her after stating categorically on ROOM 101 that he wouldn’t take one).
Now, this sort of thing would be perfectly reasonable if in fact PARKINSON was any good but even on that front we beg, loudly, to differ. We will concede that, during the first few years of his original run it was indeed a show with a bit of content but even that now only serves to highlight the collapse in the standard of his technique. During one of Kenneth Williams’ frequent, and welcome, appearances on the programme, this time alongside Maggie Smith and John Betjeman ( and how many poets have been guests recently we wonder?), KW went off on an extended rant about the uselessness of the Wilson government making particular reference to the building of the infamous white elephant tower block Centrepoint. The point Ken was making, with some justification, amounted to a belief that a supposedly socialist government should be spending money on homes and not grand building projects no-one wanted. He underlined his point, and the hypocrisy, as he saw it, of Wilson, by mentioning the statue outside of Transport House of a man helping another man to his feet. Right or not it was a cogent case argued with some force and panache. Parkinson, then known widely as being a socialist, countered with a gruff, “Can I just say I think that’s crap,” which drew a round of applause and laughter from the audience. KW was clearly taken aback, as was Maggie Smith, but had the good grace – and sense – to laugh it off in superbly queenish fashion, “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” etc.
Now, spool forward 30 years or so to Parkinson’s first ever guest on ITV1, Tom Cruise. Cruise sat on top of his orange box and ploughed through his stock drivel about scientology which, he alleged, had cured his lifelong dyslexia (even though a few moments later he detailed how Steven Soderbergh had sent him the script for his latest film project in picture form; no fool Steve). Parky’s comment on this? “Fascinating” and on we go.
At least when Cruise started to waffle on the same ludicrous theme on the TODAY show in America – this time berating Brooke Shields for saying publicly that she had taken treatment for depression involving anti-depressant drugs, the host, Matt Lauer (a journalist, lest we forget), had a pop at him and questioned his qualifications – those amounting to a belief scientology – in being able to condemn an entire field of science, namely psychiatry (though Cruise changed that to psychology and back in the course of the interview thereby conveying his deep understanding of the subject), to the star’s obvious consternation and irritation. Result: headlines worldwide. Perhaps Parky studied a different form of journalism than Lauer.
On a similar note, when Mike interviewed Woody Allen, embroiled at the time in the scandal regarding his marrying his adopted daughter, Parkinson’s questioning on the matter was pathetically lame. Allen said his enquiry was voyeuristic, Parkinson said it wasn’t, Allen refused to be drawn to any degree and on we go. One would think that a ‘journalist’ would be a bit tenacious or at the very least smell a scoop if Allen had stormed off the set.
In fact, letting alone the recent incarnation, even as far back as the famous interview with Peter Sellers in 1974, Parkinson failed to challenge Sellers’s suggestion that he had had an affair with Sophia Loren which was patent nonsense. So the notion that Michael Parkinson has ever been any sort of inquisitor, or ever given any celebrity any sort of hard time or even penetrating interview, and has in fact been anything other than a cipher for celebs to put on show their array of anecdotage, is nonsense mostly peddled by him and unaccountably proliferated by a curiously compliant press.
When Jack Paar, host of the US programme THE JACK PAAR SHOW and telly’s first proper chat star, finished his programme in 1956 (before going on to kick off THE TONIGHT SHOW), he ended up by telling the audience, “There must be better ways of making a living than this.” Do us a favour Parky, go and find one.