I’ve been catching up on Talk at the BBC on BBC Four. It’s a collection of priceless clips from “arguably the golden age of conversation” of the 1950s to the 1970s.
Many of the early 50s/60s clips feature interviewers with rather plummy accents who conduct somewhat stilted discussions. Despite that, some interviewees shine out as exceptional, for example Orson Welles and Bette Davis.
But what is clear is what a great pioneer, what a blast of fresh air, was Michael Parkinson. His slightly embarrassed ear-tugging and nose-stroking can be rather tiresome. But his relaxed, down to earth, but probing style stands out, head and shoulders above the clips involving earlier interviewers.
A couple of clips from Parky stand out for me. They involve interaction between guests, straying from the well-versed anecdote (often the usual fare of retrospective Parky viewing) into political discussion.
The following clip featuring Kenneth Williams, flanked by the ultra-avuncular Sir John Betjemen and Maggie Smith, is highly entertaining. Williams gets on his high horse about union strikes, but meets his match with Parky, who gives him a Barnsley dressing down in no uncertain terms. It’s all very good-humoured though. We don’t seem to get this type of conversation on the telly these days.
This second clip is similarly priceless. It has Parky with the remarkably surprising duo of TV cook Fanny Cradock and A.J.P Taylor. Equally surprisingly, the result is a marvellously engaging debate on politics and the French (Cradock was half-French). Cradock’s outspoken shooting-from-the-hip is met with the calm, urbane and relatively authoritative disagreement of the great historian. Wonderful.