Veteran talk host ends conversation

Parkinson's last show to air Dec. 15

LONDON Hollywood’s relationship with a corner of Saturday night British television will never be quite the same.

For on Dec. 15 veteran U.K. talkshow host Michael Parkinson, 72, will present his final program.

Since “Parkinson” bowed on the BBC in 1971, this silver-tongued and now silver-haired Brit has interviewed dozens of Hollywood stars — and other cultural icons– for a show unlike any other on British TV.

Americans probably remember him from a scene with Bill Nighy in “Love Actually.”

“Michael Parkinson has defined the talkshow in British TV,” says Paul Jackson, the entertainment topper who has worked with Parky, as locals affectionately call him, at both the BBC and private web ITV, which bought the show three years ago.

To gauge the cultural sweep of “Parkinson” it is worth remembering that past guests have included Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

Famously he said that as far as bookings for the program went, his one regret was failing to get Frank Sinatra.

But his producers did persuade Muhammad Ali to do the show — in a memorable encounter in 1974.

Critics of Parkinson’s fireside approach to the talkshow interview claim he was reverential to the point of sycophancy.

Maybe he was, but over the years “Parkinson” saw off many a talkshow pretender and achieved the kind of longevity unusual in a medium always seeking the next big thing.

The show consistently got the big names and, crucially, Parkinson allowed the stars to hog the limelight.

His deceptively soft interviewing style teased more revelations from guests than the techniques of harder-boiled inquisitors — and Parkinson never forget that he was there to entertain and not to grandstand.

In the U.K. today’s big TV talkshows revolve around the irreverence of their hosts.

Purists might argue that they don’t deserve to be called talkshows at all because the chatter is so consistently lightweight.

The archetype is “Friday Night With Jonathan Ross” on BBC1. No one tunes in expecting much in the way of a revealing interview as the banter flows fast and loose between Ross and his guests. It is a very funny show, but it is not a talkshow.

Sometimes the guest barely manages to get a word in edgeways. Humiliation is occasionally a few remarks away.

By contrast, Parkinson’s m.o. is to start from a position of respect.

This miner’s son from England’s less prosperous north began his career as a journalist.In spite of his own growing celebrity, he still appeared genuinely thrilled to be meeting one of his heroes. Of course, not every interview went smoothly. Parkinson’s chat with Meg Ryan in October 2003 was a testy encounter and led the actress to accuse him of acting like “a disapproving dad.”

For his final show, the doyen of the British talkshow submitted a wish list of guests. Every one of them agreed to appear in the two-hour special.

David Beckham, Michael Caine and Judi Dench are among those who will grace “Parkinson: The Final Conversation” on ITV1 on Dec. 15.

“Parkinson: The Final Show” — a retrospective featuring Parky’s favorite clips — will be on ITV1 on Dec. 22.

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