To the people who say the golden age of television in the 1970s is overrated, I say, look back at Michael Parkinson’s famous 1975 interview with Billy Connolly.
It’s a remarkable piece of television that not only stands the test of time, but gets better with each passing year.
That’s partly because the art of TV talk show chat, like many other good things, has been killed by the PR industry.
Big Hollywood stars, and even prominent British television personalities, generally don’t get involved in such set pieces unless they have a hopeless film to lie about or a soap opera to spin from a ratings disaster.
Parky, who admittedly had the A-list field mostly to himself at the time, took one hell of a chance with Connolly, who was already a comedy legend in Carlisle but a complete unknown in the South and had nothing to promote but himself.
However, it worked out like an absolute dream, thanks in no small part to the comedian’s genius, who showed he could take on any subject from wellies to school teachers and be the funniest man on the planet every time.
He also famously paused a minute just to tell a brilliant joke, which he would probably get canceled for these days, about the man who parks his bike between his dead wife’s buttocks.
However, the moment would have been nothing if Parky hadn’t realized what was unfolding in front of him, interrupted the comedian, or done anything to stop him from being Billy Connolly.
He was so good, Parky, and if I had to give one reason why he was such a good interviewer, I’d say it was his training as a print journalist in Manchester.
It almost certainly would have taught him that your greatest asset in any interview situation is silence.
Other people will fill in those gaps for you, and if the caliber of your guests is as high as Muhammad Ali, Orson Welles, and David Niven, they’ll do it brilliantly.
Of course, on occasion, Parky made a mistake, flirted with female guests too often, or was thrown to the ground by Rod Hull and Emu.
But if the great TV interview is ever allowed to come back into vogue, the host should be made to study this show with Billy Connolly, who admitted it changed his life forever.
However, thanks to Parky’s flair for talent and his ability to control his ego and shut up at just the right moment, it also changed and improved the entire world of stand-up comedy forever.
It’s not a bad legacy.