Parky’s People by Michael Parkinson
For the last regular edition of Michael Parkinson’s talkshow, in December 2007, the veteran broadcaster and interviewer of more than 2,000 luminaries over four decades had his pick of guests. Among them were Billy Connolly (who holds the record for most appearances at 15), Sir Michael Caine, Sir David Attenborough, David Beckham, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Edna Everage.
Each one features in Parky’s People, the sparkling new collection of excerpts from some of the most memorable Parkinson interviews. He introduces the pieces – formatted in Q&A, the interviewee’s voice or a combination of the two – with characteristic good-natured forthrightness. At the opening of Dench’s piece, he reflects on her beauty, empathy and ribald sense of humour before noting that the actress’ singing ‘Thanks for the Memory’ to him on his final show was “a serenade that sent me into retirement a happy man.”
While Parky’s People may be savoured for its sheer entertainment value, Parkinson’s singular ability to draw out the person sitting across from him also makes it a remarkable historical document for post-baby-boom generations, and a nostalgic trip for those who first gazed up at the cinematic likes of Richard Burton, Sir Alec Guinness and Lauren Bacall in the 1950s.
All three appear in the chapter titled ‘The Stage’, and in a nod to the famous carousing that went on between the subjects, Burton’s piece (from an interview he gave Parkinson in 1974 following his departure from a Swiss rehab clinic, where he was treated for alcoholism) is followed by that of Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris.
Parkinson interviewed Harris twice, he writes in the introduction, with the 1973 version (“a hellraiser in full spate”) being markedly different to the teetotal Harris of 1988. This is not uncommon in the book: among the Leading Ladies is Helen Mirren, whom Parkinson offends in 1975 by asking a clumsy question about her ‘equipment’; the older, wiser pair make it up in a 2006 chat. The Elton John of 1998 reflects on the troubled young musician Parkinson first spoke to in 1976.
The great questions of our culture are canvassed: in the Music chapter, Paul McCartney and John Lennon separately address their relationship and the break-up of the Fab Four – Lennon in a 1971 interview with Yoko Ono in which he made Parkinson put a black sack over his head before asking any questions about the Beatles.
Though it might seem like the gang’s all here, from Tony Blair to Roald Dahl, Alastair Cooke, Orson Welles and Muhammad Ali, Parkinson’s mighty reach extends only so far.
Happily, his guests can provide personal anecdotes of leading lights not among Parky’s people – Guinness warning James Dean not to drive the Porsche in which he would be killed the following week, and Sir John Gielgud’s un-PC memory of standing next to Noel Coward at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation: “It was a terribly cold day, and most of the carriages were closed . . . And then in an open carriage came the Queen of Tonga, who was a magnificent looking dusky lady, in a green turban and a great green sari . . . Sitting next to her in the carriage was a very small man, dressed in black, and somebody said to Noel Coward, ‘Who is that little man sitting next to the Queen of Tonga, do you think?’ and Noel said, ‘Her lunch.’”
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jone