Thursday 23 November 2017

Review: Parky's People -- The Lives, The Laughs, The Legend

Hodder and Stoughton, €23.40 Hardback

At 75 and with a lifetime in TV behind him, Michael Parkinson is still spoiling for a fight. Parky is the willing standard-bearer for those frustrated with the celebrity culture takeover of primetime TV and the relentless dumbing-down of his beloved chat show.

In his latest book, Parky's People, the veteran broadcaster has returned to the fray, deploying his most powerful weapon, the classic interviews he did through almost four decades on British television.

Parkinson presents transcripts of scores of encounters with stars such as Orson Welles, Ingrid Bergman, Muhammad Ali, George Best, John Lennon, Peter Ustinov and Luciano Pavarotti.

It's a celebration of what some would call a golden era and a big reproach -- the blunt Yorkshireman might say two fingers -- to the TV executives and celebrity chat-show hosts he blames for degrading a classic format.

The message is clear, where once Parky sparred with Muhammad Ali and talked golden era Hollywood with Tony Curtis and Bette Davis, we now have hyperactive hosts like Graham Norton talking trash with Russell Brand and Jordan.

The veteran broadcaster has been using his publicity tour, which brought him to Ireland last weekend, to drive home the message.

He recently told the Radio Times that the talk show as he knew it "has had it".

"Graham Norton perfectly demonstrates the kind of talk show where the host has more to say than the guests," said Parky.

Parky has also claimed that his own talk show, which began in 1971, "wouldn't have a cat in hell's chance" of being commissioned today.

Parkinson has enough self-awareness to realise the danger of coming across as an old fogey, raging against these know-nothing young pretenders, while lamenting that they just don't make the stars like they used to.

Chatting with Ryan Tubridy on last week's Late Late Show, he took a swipe at the current crop of "personalities" on British TV (inevitably, Brand and Jordan were mentioned), questioning what they had actually achieved in their careers.

"It makes me sound like a boring old troglodyte," he admitted, while still refusing to give ground.

In the introduction to Parky's People, the broadcaster conducts a lengthy, Q&A style "interview with myself" in which he assesses the highs and lows of his chat-show career and talks about the craft involved.

Parkinson describes this latest book as "a retrospective of a time when the people who made television programmes were allowed to follow their instincts rather than be dictated to by focus groups and ratings gurus".

The interviews themselves are entertaining, they could hardly be anything else given the freedom the author has to cherry pick from 37 years of encounters with the biggest stars of sport, politics, show business and culture.

But Parkinson's oft-repeated criticisms of today's chat shows are beginning to sound a bit curmudgeonly.

He has made his point, he now runs the risk of becoming the small-screen version of Norma Desmond, the fading silent-movie star of Sunset Boulevard, pining for the lost age of glamour and declaring "I am big, it's the pictures that got small".

Irish Independent

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