I can't read, or even think, anything about Michael Parkinson without that theme music playing in my head. For those of us of a certain age, it was the soundtrack to our Saturday nights.
Written by the organist Harry Stoneham, it signalled the moment when it seemed like the whole of Britain would be united in its viewing habit. We didn't have 120 channels, the Internet, iPads, games consoles and Twitter competing for our attention in those days, so we were able to concentrate on proper one-on-one interviewing – without gimmicks, without audience participation and without the introduction of props for comic effect. It was just Parky and his guests exchanging words, with the intention of providing entertainment through elucidation, an art that has rather disappeared these days. World leaders, movie stars, sporting icons, political figures would be happy to subject themselves to Parky's polite but persistent inquisition, knowing that they would get a good hearing.
In a career that has spanned the best part of five decades, Parky has worked for both BBC and ITV and has interviewed more than 2,000 guests, some of whom didn't have a TV series, film or book to promote. His canon goes from Muhammad Ali to David Beckham, right, from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair, from Bing Crosby to Justin Timberlake. He "retired" in 2007, but has now been persuaded back to the screen for a six-part series which begins next month on Sky Arts in which Parky will conduct an in-depth interview with a significant cultural figure.
Will it work? Does he still have the magic? Will an audience brought up on the risqué style of Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton warm to his bluff, understated Yorkshire charm? It's hard to know, but it's certain that this show will have have a distinct flavour; more intelligent, less irreverent and, dare I say it, more old fashioned. On that subject, he's already been written off by the journal you might reasonably expect to be supportive of a man reviving his career at the age of 77. The current issue of The Oldie has a feature entitled "What Went Wrong with Parky?", in which a writer called Jeremy Hornsby, a former colleague of Parkinson, claims that the interviewer lost sight of his serious purpose, directing the show towards light entertainment rather than journalism. I must declare an interest at this point: I have known Parkinson for a number of years – not well, I stress – and have found him always to be self-effacing, hospitable and devoid of anything you might call celebrity syndrome.
Refreshingly, he doesn't take himself too seriously and says that his career was built on the good fortune of having so many extraordinary figures in showbusiness, sport and the arts willing to talk freely and frankly. He might have a bit more difficulty this time round.
- More about:
- David Beckham
- Justin Timberlake
- Labour Party
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- Muhammad Ali
- Tony Blair