THE CHRISTINE SMITH INTERVIEW: Michael Parkinson - People Might Say I'm a Great Interviewer but It's B******s .. I Am Just Doing My Job; PARKY ON HIS PARENTS, MARRIAGE AND WHY LENNON PUT HIM IN A SACK
Smith, Christine, The Mirror (London, England)
MICHAEL Parkinson is sitting opposite me in a restaurant, rolling around in his seat with tears of laughter.
He has got a fit of giggles and, try as he may, he can't stop.
Michael, known affectionately by his fans as Parky, has just finished regaling me with a story about his 89-year-old mum Freda.
The former beauty technician is regularly stopped in the street by people realising she is the mother of one of the nation's favourite TV statesmen.
On this occasion, however, it was a very different scenario. An elderly man demanded to know whether she was the "one who had cut his wife's toenails".
Chuckling, Michael explains: "My mum is very proud of me. Loves my success, comes to all the shows, loves it when she is recognised.
"But the other day, this man, about 100, stopped her. She thought it was because of me, but in a very loud voice he shouted: 'You cut my wife's toe-nails."
He breaks into more laughter before continuing: "I mean, what a line. She was spitting underneath and told him: 'I am a manicurist, actually.'"
And his reply? "'You were very good at it'," he adds, before dissolving into uncontrollable giggles.
Wiping away the tears, he repeats the story several times. But that's the charming thing about Parky. He is just a normal, down-to-earth guy who is deeply proud of his family. He may be an award-winning chat-show host, but there are no airs or graces.
Parky is a Yorkshireman through and through - and an amusing one. He's also keen to put himself down.
"People might say this guy is a great interviewer, but it is just b*****ks," he says as we chat about his career and the new series of Parkinson which starts on BBC1 on Friday. "I am just doing my job."
Over the past 30 years, the creme de la creme of celebrities have poured out their hearts with Parky. From Ingrid Bergman and Muhammad Ali to Robbie Williams, the list is endless. And so are his anecdotes. The famous attack by Rod Hull's Emu was, he says, too silly for words. And his encounter with John Lennon was an experience.
"I was interviewing him with Yoko Ono," he says, recalling the incident in 1971. "He told me beforehand if I wanted to talk about the Beatles I would have to get in a sack.
"So there I was in the studio, and I bring up the Beatles. 'Right - you are getting in a sack,' he replied. He had brought one in.
"So I did, and they tied the top up. We could smoke in those days and I had a cigar. All you could see was smoke coming out - it was like a wigwam. Stupid is not the word in terms of how I felt!"
Yet with his impressive track record, just what is his secret? With his smart attire - he's wearing a dark, expensive suit, white shirt and red tie - his engaging eyes, attentive ears, ready smile and that wonderful laugh, it doesn't take me long to discover the reasons.
PARKY, however, has a different view. "I think they like the show - it has been going on for so long, it is an institution," he says.
Nothing to do with his personality, then. "Me? No, not at all, " he says giving me an engaging grin. "I am there to make them look good. I don't get nervous with guests."
You must do secretly, I suggest. "No, I don't, actually," he says, laughing and leaning forward conspiratorially, just like he does on TV. "I get excited about meeting a hero - say Ali.
"As I child, I was smitten by the movies. I used to sit and watch Fred Astaire. Now if somebody said to me: 'You are going to say: "Ladies and gentleman, my next guest is Fred Astaire",' well, I'd say: 'You must be f*****g joking! So when I did, well..."
Parky is saddened by the growing obsession among TV executives of giving young, glamorous stars their own chat show.
Ironically, it was the 65-year-old sitting opposite me whom the BBC turned to in 1998 to save the chat-show concept after giving him the boot some 16 years earlier. …