REVIEW: An enchanted Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson at Cambridge Arts Theatre - still charming us after all these years

PUBLISHED: 09:17 27 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:29 27 June 2019

Sir Michael Parkinson

Sir Michael Parkinson


Sir Michael Parkinson is known and beloved for his skill at interviewing others. On stage at Cambridge Arts Theatre, his own gift for telling stories had the audience rapt, laughing throughout and standing on their feet at the end.

Journalists remember the first person they interviewed. For Sir Michael Parkinson, his first-ever television profile was the young Mick Jagger.

It was 1963. The Rolling Stones had been going for two years. After that prolonged amount of time, Jagger said, they had got used to girls screaming.

How long did Jagger think the band would go on, asked Parkinson.

Jagger said: "I think at least another year."

Now, 56 years on, Sir Michael Jagger, 75, and Sir Michael Parkinson, 84, are both still touring.

Parky is known and beloved for his skill at interviewing others - but on stage at Cambridge Arts Theatre on Wednesday, June 26 - his own gift for telling stories had the audience rapt, laughing throughout and standing on their feet at the end.

Yes, in the clips we could see that he is an outrageous flirt - but (with so few exceptions that we can all remember them) he charmed and melted every one of his thousands of interviewees, so that the audience got the very best of them. The warmth between them was almost tangible.

An Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson, where he is in conversation with Michael junior, one of his three sons, begins with Parky's youth.

He had a golden childhood.

Just because you live in a pit village, he says, doesn't mean you are starved of culture. In fact, it was the very opposite. His father, Jack, a deputy (supervisor) at Grimethorpe Pit, would take the young Michael shopping on a Saturday to buy meat at the butcher's. Nearby was the hall where the Grimethorpe Colliery Band practised. The boy was infused with music.

Michael's mother Freda, who had wanted to be a designer and knitted fair isle sweaters, would take him to the cinema. They would sit at the back. She would be clicking away with her knitting needles. He would be drinking in the stars of Hollywood.

When a couple of decades later he invited them onto his programme, he knew their work better than they did.

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He had always wanted to be a journalist. He started on his local paper, covering the district on his bicycle. When he got to the Manchester Guardian, he says, he admired his more sophisticated colleagues.

"They were great writers but they wouldn't have known how to cover a chip pan blaze in Barnsley."

He was in at the beginning of Britain's bravest television company, Granada. They didn't just want to make programmes, they wanted to right wrongs, educate the nation and change the world - but also to entertain.

When someone suggested interviewing a young rock star, likely to go far, Parkinson working there as a producer said all his chaps were busy, he would do it himself. The clip of the earnest young Jagger is one of the films which delight the theatre audience.

We also see Dame Edith Evans - and Kenneth Williams' marvellous impersonation of her, an hilarious shaggy dog story told by the actor David Niven, moments from interviews with Will Smith, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters and exchanges with world champion boxer Muhammed Ali.

Ali said all American white men were "devils". (Quite a mild description really when you think about it).

Parkinson countered this statement by reading from a book listing the white men who who were Ali's colleagues and friends. This incensed Ali who railed at Parkinson talking angrily at some length about the horrors of the lynchings and the beatings and the burnings that black people suffered in America, which he pointed out did not happen in Britain (with the inference that Parkinson could not know or understand about them).

Parkinson sat for an embarrassing amount of time with a stoic smile, saying nothing. (My memory of this interview is that eventually Ali took the book out of Parkinson's hands and threw it on the floor - but this wasn't shown).

Parky's father, Jack was in the audience and at the end of the show went round to his son's dressing room.

"Now then." He said, which apparently always meant that Parkinson senior had something serious to say.

The interview had not gone well, pointed out the older man.

"Well what could I have done?" Parkinson asked his father.

"You could have thumped him!"

Author of several books, including at least two on the late footballer George Best, Parkinson is about to write a biography of his dad. It will be a must-read.

An Evening With Sir Michael Parkinson will be at King's Lynne Corn Exchange on September 5. Next year, it goes to Halifax's Victoria Theatre on February 13 and The Albert Halls, Bolton on February 15.

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