Parkinson (TV Recordings): BBC TV Centre / ITV Studios, London, 2002 – 2007
Sir Michael Parkinson (known affectionately as Parky) has not to my knowledge even performed as a stand-up comedian so why is he featured in my book, dear reader. Well, he is in my mind the greatest television chat show host and I have been extremely lucky enough to have sat in the audience of many of the live TV recordings of, as well as watch on television over the years, his successful TV talk show Parkinson.
The BBC TV Parkinson show started on the BBC and ran between 1971 and 1982. I have many happy memories of watching his interviews during this time with famous film stars, sports stars, raconteurs and above all comedy stars. Parkinson used to be broadcast on a Saturday night (when the BBC ruled the weekend ratings) and I can remember watching Sir Billy Connolly’s infamous first appearance on the show where he told (apparently against the wishes of the BBC) a very risqué of its time jokes involving a bicycle. The audience instantly loved him and Connolly because a regular guest and household name. I also remember watching Parky trying to introduce Tommy Cooper whilst corpsing as the legendary comic magician appeared on stage wearing a pair of chicken feet. On another appearance, Cooper entered the studio with a saucepan on his head and Parky convulsing pointed to Cooper’s head. Cooper innocently exited the stage and returned wearing his trade-mark fez! I also recall Morecambe and Wise appearing on the show talking about Eric’s first heart attack with humour and insight and Ken Dodd explaining his giggle map of Britain. Other notable guests amongst many others I remember learning about and laughing at as I watched the show were Jack Dee, Victoria Wood, Stephen Fry, Rod Hull and Emu, Bob Monkhouse, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, Harry Enfield, Griff Rhys Jones, Michael Bentine, Peter Ustinov, Max Wall, Kenneth Williams, Peter Sellers, Les Dawson and Kenny Everett.
The show triumphantly returned to TV screens and the BBC in 1998 and then after a dispute over timings switched to ITV in 2004 and ran until Parky’s retirement in 2007, It was during this time that I attended a number of live recordings at the ITV studios on the South Bank in London. Most Thursdays I would finish work and then meet my friends in the queue at the TV studios excitedly looking forward to the show. Sometimes, we would have to queue for a couple of hours in all weathers and I can recall entertaining complete strangers by playing the quiz Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on my mobile phone with me pretending to be Chris Tarrant. It was a fun way of passing the time and I still play the game on my phone to this day! Getting a free audience ticket did not guarantee entry to the studio. We had to queue and if we got to the front, sometimes we were turned away with the promise of attending a future show. There was a very lovely woman who I want to thank (an ITV Studios audience steward) and unfortunately whose name escapes me yet I got to know because she always very kindly did her best to make sure I got into the recording because I was such a fan and kept turning up week after week.
Once I was in my seat at the studio and we were being entertained by the warm up man (I remember Ted Robbins was a favourite), the audience was then treated to classic live music from Laurie Holloway and the Parkinson Big Band before the great man was introduced to thunderous applause and he would down his famous staircase. Parkinson would then let the audience know who the guests were going to be that night and then walk back up the staircase and the recording would start with the famous opening music. One of the great things about Parkinson was that the recording was a straight run through with no breaks and was then edited after the audience had left. Parkinson himself was the ultimate professional interviewer and allowed the celebrities to tell their story and he did so by being attentive and relaxed. He was a great listener and researched his subjects thoroughly which (overall with one or two exceptions) got the best out of his guests.
I can remember watching many comedy guests (all who feature separately in this book) live at the recordings including amongst others Ken Dodd (appearing again who had a joke for every answer to a question), David Walliams, Lenny Henry, Joan Rivers, David Jason, Jo Brand, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Julie Walters, Frank Skinner, Dawn French, Bruce Forsyth, Rory Bremner, Michael Palin, Jennifer Saunders, John Cleese, Paul Merton, Jimmy Tarbuck, Alistair MacGowan, Eddie Izzard, Paul Whitehouse and Peter Kay. Kay was initially a warm-up man for the Parkinson show, and it was always a joy to see him appear as a guest. At one recording, when asked by Parky what it was like to finally walk down Parky’s staircase (as a guest), Kay’s memorably reply was What do you mean? I used to bloody clean it for you!
Kay was a favourite guest of the host and appeared many times. The great Northern comedian was included as a guest at Parkinson’s final recorded show in December 2007 which I was in the audience for and where there was a stellar line up of guests: Sir Michael Caine, Dame Judi Dench, Sir David Attenborough, David Beckham, Jamie Cullum and comic superstars Sir Billy Connolly, Dame Edna Everage and Kay who presented Parky with a retirement present of a Lollipop man’s outfit. After the wonderfully funny and reminiscent recording, Parkinson left the stage with a tear in his eye to a ten-minute standing ovation. It was an unforgettable evening.
A couple of years later after the final show in 2007, Parkinson’s biography Parky was announced. I went along to at the National Film Theatre to see Parkinson interviewed about his life and career by fellow broadcaster, Lord Melvyn Bragg of Wigton. The interview was fascinating about how a cricket-mad lad from Barnsley in Yorkshire became a journalist then a TV reporter and then the ultimate chat show host. After the interview, I bought a copy of the biography and met Parkinson who signed his book for me. As I shook his hand, I reminisced about watching the show on television in the 70s – I’m not that bloody old, he remarked with a wink and then wrote ‘To Richard, many thanks for watching.’