Michael Parkinson on his legendary TV show... and Emu!

Michael Parkinson.
Michael Parkinson. (Image credit: BBC)

Fifty years ago, Michael Parkinson introduced the very first guest on his BBC1 talk show, Parkinson

Now, in the one-off documentary, Parkinson at 50, the 86-year-old Yorkshireman marks the anniversary by looking back on what he calls "the best job in television", that saw him interview more than 2,000 celebrities, including memorable encounters with the likes of Rod Hull and Emu, Muhammad Ali, Meg Ryan and perennial favourite Billy Connolly.

Here, the man we all know as "Parky" reminisces about the series that made him a household name... 

How would you describe this documentary? "It’s the story of an unlikely journey from a pit village in South Yorkshire to the top of the Parkinson stairs — and it provides a ringside seat opposite some of the biggest names in showbusiness."

You turned 86 in March. How did you celebrate? "When you reach my age, birthdays are greeted with more of a sense of relief than celebration. But this year was different because, 50 years ago, a much younger Michael Parkinson was celebrating his 36th birthday, and looking forward to starting a new show for the BBC."

How nervous were you hosting the first show? "I was just happy to get through it without falling down the stairs or forgetting the name of the guest sitting opposite me." 

How did it feel looking back over your career in broadcasting? 

"It's a strange experience to see your younger self. But it’s also a delight to see the wealth of talent I was lucky enough to sit opposite, and sometimes emotional to recall my interviews with fascinating people who are sadly no longer with us." 

Michael Parkinson

Michael Parkinson with Dr Jacob Bronowski. (Image credit: BBC)

Is there one interview you are particularly proud of? "It’s an answer that always surprises people. It was with scientist and humanist Dr Jacob Bronowski, who created the landmark documentary series called The Ascent of Man. He recounted his visit to Auschwitz, where many of his relatives had been murdered." 

Over your career you’ve interviewed some of the biggest names in the world. Did you ever get starstruck? "In the early days it was difficult not to get tongue-tied when faced with Ingrid Bergmann and Lauren Bacall. I used to imagine getting married to them when I was child watching their movies from the back row of the Rock Cinema in Barnsley."

Michael Parkinson

Michael Parkinson with Emu. (Image credit: BBC)

Looking back, could you ever see yourself doing anything else? "I did a talk show at the best time. and I wouldn’t change a thing — except perhaps for Emu!'

Parkinson at 50 will be shown on BBC1 on Saturday 28 August at 8.30pm, and will be available on BBC iPlayer.

Ian MacEwan
Senior Writer

Ian writes about TV and film for TV Times, What’s on TV and TV & Satellite Week magazines. He co-hosts the weekly TV streaming podcast, Bingewatch.