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Watch: Michael Parkinson’s extraordinary interview with Richard Burton

17 Aug 2023 5 minute read
Michael Parkinson interviews Richard Burton in 1974 (Credit: BBC)

With the sad news of Michael Parkinson’s passing today, aged 88, many people are rightly remembering their favourite interviews he conducted with some of the most famous people on the planet.

In 1974, as far as the world of acting was concerned there was nobody more famous than Richard Burton. However, at this point, the Welshman was in a dark place.

In 1994 Parkinson picked his favourite guests and most memorable interviews for a series on the BBC.

One of these was his unique interview with the talented and troubled Welsh film star. At the time of their meeting Burton was battling against alcoholism and had spent six weeks in hospital for treatment prior to the interview.

Yet, he still agreed to an interview where nothing was off limits.

Parkinson said of Burton: “For me the fascination with Richard Burton was that I had never met anyone who so effortlessly a star, and only one or two who possessed his presence.

“He was like all of us the sum of his contradictions except that his were more public than most.”

Parkinson persuaded him to talk candidly about his career, love life and drink problems.

There is darkness and despair, light and laughter. There are impressions, poetry and the eloquence of a lyrical Welsh tongue.

It remains one of the most extraordinary interviews you will ever witness.

READ MORE:
Watch: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor singing in Welsh on US TV
Watch: The captivating outtakes from Richard Burton recording War of the Worlds
Watch: Michael Sheen’s beautiful story about Richard Burton

Sir Michael Parkinson obituary

Sir Michael Parkinson, the veteran broadcaster considered the king of British chat show hosts, has died aged 88.

A statement from Sir Michael’s family said: “After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family.

“The family request that they are given privacy and time to grieve.”

The chat show host interviewed some of Hollywood’s biggest names throughout his illustrious career – with names such as Jimmy Cagney, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergmann on the list.

Sir Michael became a familiar face on both the BBC and ITV because of his intimate celebrity interviews, most notably on the BBC show Parkinson.

Parkinson first aired on the BBC on June 19 1971, and enjoyed a successful run until 1982. In 1998, the chat show was revived on the BBC and proved an instant hit.

It switched from the BBC to ITV1 in 2004 and ran until 2007 – the same year Sir Michael retired from his Sunday morning Radio 2 programme.

His career saw him welcome the likes of boxer Muhammad Ali, sporting star David Beckham and Rod Hull – with puppet Emu – onto his chat shows during a long and distinguished career.

During the hundreds of episodes of his talk show, he also interviewed stars including David Bowie, John Lennon and Richard Burton.

Privilege

Headline making interviews throughout his career included those with actresses Dame Helen Mirren and US star Meg Ryan.

He famously introduced stage and screen star Dame Helen as the “sex queen” of the Royal Shakespeare Company during their 1975 chat show encounter, and asked if her “equipment” hindered her being recognised as a serious actress.

In 2003, his interview with Ryan made headlines following a frosty one-on-one with the Hollywood actress while she was promoting the poorly received erotic thriller In The Cut.

Ryan sat stony-faced for the sit-down, delivering one-word answers after allegedly being rude to her fellow guests on the show, the fashion double act Trinny and Susannah.

Before his TV career, he started life as an only child, growing up in a council house in the coalmining village of Cudworth, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

As a teenager, his father, a miner, took him down the pit to put him off working there.

When his dreams of playing cricket for Yorkshire were dashed, he left school aged 16 and began working at a local paper, later joining the Manchester Guardian and then the Daily Express.

His first TV job was as a producer at Granada, and he later moved to Thames TV, before landing his chat show Parkinson at the BBC.

He had a short-lived term at TV-am as part of the original presenting line-up alongside the likes of Angela Rippon and David Frost, and appeared on the shows Give Us A Clue, one-off drama Ghostwatch and Going For A Song.

Sir Michael brought down the curtain on more than 30 years of his chat show at the end of 2007 with a final show featuring Beckham, Sir Michael Caine, Sir David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Edna Everage, Sir Billy Connolly, Peter Kay and Jamie Cullum in a two-hour special.

Speaking on the final show, he said: “Over the years it has been a privilege to meet some of the most intelligent and interesting people. It has always been a great joy and I shall miss it.”

As well as his television career, he was a respected radio broadcaster, having hosted Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 as well as his own sports shows on Five Live. He was also an award-winning sports writer, having been a lifelong cricket fan.

He received an honorary doctorate in 2008, alongside cricket umpire and his good friend Dickie Bird, at the Barnsley campus of Huddersfield University.

He was knighted by the late Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2008, and said of the accolade: “I never expected to be knighted – I thought there was more chance of me turning into a Martian really.”

In 2013, he spoke openly about being diagnosed with prostate cancer following a routine health check.

He had three sons with wife Mary, who he married in 1959.


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Barbara H.
Barbara H.
7 months ago

I have viewed some fabulous interviews from Sir Michael Parkinson. So many favourites. I’ve laughed so hard when his guests teased him. He took them all in his stride – even the awkward guests. The consumate professional.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

Michael Parkinson was a great interviewer. He spoke to some of the most iconic actors & sports stars in his time. Sad loss.

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