50 years of Michael Parkinson interviews: His most iconic chat show moments

·Contributor
·5-min read
Michael Parkinson is celebrating 50 years of television history (BBC)
Michael Parkinson is celebrating 50 years of television history (BBC)

He might not have sat in his famous arm chair for 13 years, but Michael Parkinson remains the all time king of UK chat shows.

The legendary Yorkshireman is marking 50 years since he began an amazing career of interviews and tell-alls that saw more than 2,000 guests welcomed onto his BBC and ITV chat shows.

From the cringey Meg Ryan car crash chat to the Rod Hull and Emu attack and the iconic Billy Connolly breakthrough, the star broadcaster enjoyed a career like no other and recently admitted that the only celebrity he failed to nail down for a chat was Frank Sinatra.

As the BBC prepares for a night of programming to mark the significant anniversary, here are ten of Parky’s best moments.

Billy Connolly’s debut (1975)

The Glasgow-born comedian became a nationwide star after this show-stopping appearance on UK prime time’s biggest slot. 

Folk singer turned stand-up Connolly wowed audiences with his charm and charisma, and brought the house down with a hilarious gag that has to be seen to be believed. He made 15 appearances with Parky, including his final show in 2008.

Meg Ryan’s train wreck (2003)

The Sleepless in Seattle star had endured a difficult time in the media and lost her golden girl status, but wouldn’t have been expecting such a prickly chat with the normally affable presenter. He grilled her on her views on fame and attention while living the life of a movie star, and they clearly had no love for each other.

Speaking to Radio Times, Parky — now 86 — recently offered an apology to the actor for the interview. "I wish I hadn't lost my temper with Meg Ryan," he said. "I wish I'd dealt with it in a more courteous manner. I was quite obviously angry with her and it's not my business to be angry towards the guests. I came across as kind of pompous and I could have done better."

Asked what he'd say to her now, he added: "I'm sorry. But you must understand that you played a part in it, too. Neither of us were on top form, and we were both discomforted."

Posh and Becks ‘Goldenballs’ reveal (2001)

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At the height of their fame, David and Victoria Beckham appeared for a joint interview which was mainly led by the chatty singer who seemed relaxed and in great form during fascinating discussions about fame and perception. 

But she got too relaxed when she revealed her nickname for him was Goldenballs, to his obvious chagrin and horror. 

She summed it up a second later: “That’s one of those things I shouldn’t have said”

Muhammad Ali gets angry (1974)

The greatest boxer of all time’s spiciest appearance of his four Parkinson turns, was a powerful and eminently quotable encounter, as sparks flew over racial debates and a grilling on faith, materialism and hypocrisy. A thrilling debate.

Rod Hull and Emu (1976)

Famed puppeteer Rod Hull and his chaotic bird pal Emu were renowned for causing chaos wherever they went, but their Parky visit was the most infamous. 

The puppet repeatedly attacked and manhandled their host, and it remained one of his best known, but the star’s least favourably remembered shows.

Peter Kay's nan (2002)

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The lovable stand up had a close connection to the host, having previously worked for him as his warm up man getting the audience going ahead of recordings.

So when he became a star in his own right, it was a glorious return and he became a regular guest. This classic encounter featured great anecdotes about his nan watching Stanley Kubrick’s “Chocolate Orange” film on her ‘VD Player’.

Dr Jacob Bronowski (1973)

As he’s been making his reflections on 50 years since he launched his career, Parkinson has repeatedly confirmed the mathematician and historian Dr Jacob Bronowski as his favourite ever. He appeared in 1973 and 74 discussing his landmark series The Ascent of Man and spoke with gravitas, engagement and intellect on war and the horrors of visiting Auschwitz, where family members had been killed.

Helen Mirren ‘sexist’ interview (1975)

One of the great car crash chats of his career came when a young Helen Mirren appeared and he continually asked her about her sex appeal, sexy image and “attributes” and “equipment” affecting her credibility, while also telling her: “You are, in quotes, a serious actress,” enraging her. 

Her response saw him squirming: “I’d like you to explain what you mean by my equipment?”

In 2016, Parkinson refused to apologise for the interview, despite Mirren's obvious discomfort.

He said: “I don’t want to. Nor does she. I don’t regard what happened there as being anything other than good television.”

He continued: “There is no need to apologise, not at all. She didn’t want to do an interview and after about 10 minutes, I didn’t want to interview her. There’s no problem, it’s not World War III for God’s sake.”

Political debate with Kenneth Williams (1973)

After Carry On star Kenneth Williams made a long rant against unions and union influence on one episode, a spirited debate ensued. 

As a follow-up, Parkinson invited him back weeks later to join famed trade union leader Jimmy Reid for a proper heated political argument, making for engrossing TV.

Orson Welles's big chat (1970)

The Citizen Kane director and larger-than-life movie icon gave a rare interview with the British chat show host, and kicked off the chat by urging him to put away his questions, “We’ll talk,” he said instead. 

They did, and an amazing insight into Hollywood and a film career ensued.

Parkinson at 50 will air at 8:30pm, Saturday 28 August, on BBC One.

WATCH: Parkinson on his early days

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