Iconic chat show Parkinson celebrates 50th

Saturday: Parkinson at 50; (BBC1, 8.30pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Friday, 27th August 2021, 5:00 pm

On June 16, 1971, Michael Parkinson welcomed viewers – and his guests, royal snapper Ray Bellasario and actor Terry-Thomas – for the first edition of what was supposed to be a 10-week filler show.

Instead, Parkinson went on to become arguably British TV’s most iconic chat show, running for over 650 episodes featuring interviews with more than 2,000 guests. The BFI included it in their top 10 of the all-time best UK television programmes, and Parkinson was knighted in 2008.

Now, to mark the show’s golden anniversary, the 86-year-old Michael is looking back over the show’s history and his own remarkable career in Parkinson at 50. The veteran broadcaster says: “When you reach my age birthdays are greeted with more of a sense of relief than celebration but this year will be different because 50 years ago a much younger Michael Parkinson was celebrating his 36th birthday and looking forward to starting a new show for the BBC.

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Sir Michael Parkinson

“Parkinson at 50 is my story of an unlikely journey from a pit village in South Yorkshire to the top of the Parkinson stairs. It provides a ringside seat opposite some of the biggest names in showbusiness and beyond, an insight into the interviewer’s lot as well as an honest assessment of my time as the host of what for me was the best job in the world.”

Built around an interview between Michael and his son Mike (who also produced this programme), Parkinson at 50 shows how the host started his career as a journalist on Fleet Street before getting into television via Granada. It was there that he conducted his first celebrity interview with Mick Jagger.

However, it was at the BBC that he would truly become a household name and prove his knack for attracting big names. Michael reveals why he believes convincing Orson Welles to make an appearance secured the show’s success.

Michael also suggests that timing played its part. The show came around at a time when Hollywood, which had once carefully controlled the image of its stars, was loosening its grip, meaning legends like Jimmy Cagney, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman could be interviewed in depth for the first time.

But not everyone realised they had a classic on their hands. The first series of Parkinson was wiped, meaning we’ve lost intriguing encounters with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, among others.

Luckily, there’s still a wealth of classic clips to choose from, as favourites guests (including Billy Connolly and Muhammad Ali, who both made numerous appearances) are remembered.

However, Michael did say this was going to be an honest assessment, so he will also be reflecting on some of the encounters which didn’t go quite as well, including his famously awkward meeting with Meg Ryan and an interview with Helen Mirren which would go viral some 40 years after it first aired.

He’ll also reveal why he stepped away from interviewing in 2008, and share some backstage stories. And if that leaves you wishing for more Parkinson, the show is followed by more classic clips on BBC2.

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