No unpleasant stuff down at Club Parky
Parkinson 10.15pm, ABC
DIGNIFIED is the word I’d use to describe veteran interviewer Michael Parkinson, who has been presenting a show pretty similar to this one since 1971. His style has always been to coax witty anecdotes and stories from celebrities for our amusement, more in the manner of a dinner party host than a hard- hitting journalist.
This is the core of his appeal, so it’s no good lambasting him for not going in hard like, say, Richard Carleton, who famously interrogated Bob Hawke when he ousted Bill Hayden in 1983 thus: ‘‘ So how does it feel to have blood on your hands?’’
No, Parky is a softly, softly grandad. Indeed, tonight’s episode is like a gathering at a gentlemen’s club, if such things still exist. Music is provided by that whippersnapper Paul Simon who, at 66, is the youngest man on the show.
Michael Caine, 74, opens proceedings with reminiscences about his nine years in repertory. He is most eloquent when talking about being true to himself, keeping his cockney accent and so on.
And what, really, do viewers want to see? Do they want to see the man erect impenetrable defences under probing questioning about his marriage, his drug and alcohol habits or his professional betrayals? Or do they want to see a relaxed older man, chinwagging amusingly with an elderly colleague, opening up only as far as he deigns to?
I’m guessing that Parkinson would have been washed away on the tide decades ago if the former really was the name of the game.
Those who observe the chronology of culture will become quickly aware that this series is not exactly fresh. In newspapers, today’s inspiration has always been tomorrow’s fish wrap. Television doesn’t date quite so quickly but it does show its age. A recent Parkinson featured a truly gorgeous interview with The Queen star Helen Mirren. Unfortunately, it went to air here long after Mirren had won an Academy Award for her performance, which made Parky’s assurances that she was likely to win sound ridiculous.
Similarly, tonight the old grey fox gets Caine to elaborate on The Prestige, long gone from our cinema screens and now subject to DVD reviews by fellows such as me.
But the heart of the show tonight is the miraculous performance, as singer and interviewee, by 80- year- old Tony Bennett. Apparently he has always refused to sing I Left My Heart in San Francisco on TV until this occasion, when he lets us have it with both eyes twinkling, great tone and the impeccable timing only veterans can possess. He is in excellent company.
Softly, softly: Michael Parkinson’s style hasn’t changed much since 1971