By Liam Nolan
Michael Parkinson, who in the course of his immensely lengthy television career interviewed over 2,000 guests, was what Nick Robinson said he was: “the greatest interviewer of our age”.
The list of people he interviewed is, in its own way, mind-blowing. It ranges from Nelson Mandela to Madonna, from Muhammad Ali to Ingrid Bergman, and from Orson Welles to Jacob Bronowski and Bette Davis.
As The Washington Post’s strapline to his obituary said, “His programme became a regular stopping point for entertainers, athletes, politicians and other international newsmakers.”
He engaged his subjects in conversations that could be lengthy and pleasantly rambling.
“My aim as an interviewer,” he wrote, “was always to establish a ‘relationship’ and rapport with, a couple of exceptions aside, a person who is basically a stranger in even stranger surroundings. I achieved that, I believe, by being ‘reactive’ in my style of interviewing, in the sense that I always prepared as well and as diligently as I could, shaping the interview into an editorially linked and justified series of questions.”
He believed that some of his very best interviews had been “when I have asked only perhaps one or two of my prepared questions, and it has then developed into a natural free-flowing conversation.”
His interviews with hundreds of the world’s most famous actors, musicians, athletes and politicians were invariably distinguished by his ability to put his subjects at ease. He listened carefully to the answers and judged the mood and demeanour of the guest in order to be ready to, as it were, go “off script”.
“If you try and impose yourself as the interviewer, you’re not doing the job right,” he said. “I believe softly, softly is the best approach. Once you get going there’s nothing you can’t ask a person … No talk show presenter these days asks questions and listens to the answers.”
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