Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Archive for June 2019

NEW PODCAST: Twenty Minute Topic

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Greg Lance-Watkins 1

Greg Lance-Watkins

Greg Lance-Watkins has been a friend of mine for the last 13 years. He’s over 70 (I won’t disclose his actual age and I can’t remember it anyway!) and has led a full and active life as an international businessman, blogger and campaigner.

Earlier this year, Greg appeared as a guest on my regular ‘Brexit Briefing’ podcast, and our wide-ranging discussion went on for nearly two hours!

We received some interesting feedback, and decided it had potential to become a regular podcast series in its own right. Greg and I agreed that we couldn’t expect to hold people’s attention for two hours on a regular basis, so we decided to create a podcast lasting 20 minutes where we focused on a specific topic in each edition. The ‘Twenty Minute Topic’ podcast was born.

In the first edition, available now, Greg and I discuss how workplaces will be transformed by technology in the next five to ten years. Issued raised include: Are university degrees still worth it? Are the millennial generation equipped for the workplace? Is the UK education system fit for purpose? Does manufacturing in the UK have a future? How will 5G technology transform all our lives?

Talk Podcasts seventh logoYou can listen to the podcast via the Talk Podcasts website here, and it’s also available by searching for it on iTunes.


You can also listen by clicking here:

We’d welcome your feedback.

A second episode will be released next weekend……

Written by Marcus Stead

June 23, 2019 at 5:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Parkinson: The Bits Piers Morgan Missed

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AN HOUR spent in a doctor’s waiting room feels like an eternity. An hour spent in a pub with a good friend flies by. An hour spent in the company of Sir Michael Parkinson will barely give you enough time to scratch the surface of his rich and interesting life. ‘Piers Morgan’s Life Stories’ did its best with the time available, but inevitably, some of the most interesting episodes in Parky’s life weren’t mentioned at all.

I know through my own experiences as a radio and podcast interviewer how quickly a planned one-hour chat flies by, and ends up going on for far longer. Piers and Parky will have filmed around three hours’ worth of footage, which will have been edited down to around 45 minutes, allowing time in the hour-long programme slot for adverts and short video segments from other contributors.

Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan

Piers is a Marmite figure, but as Parky himself acknowledged. He is very often, indeed mostly, a clever, shrewd and probing interviewer, with about 10% ‘attention-seeking prat’ thrown in. But that’s what makes him what he is. Those same qualities are what makes the first 15 minutes of Good Morning Britain unmissable when he’s on. In theory, not much is scheduled to happen between 6-6:15am. It’s just a chance for Piers to wind up Susanna Reid, to give us his thoughts on what’s in the day’s papers, and to tell us which celebrities he’s fallen out with in the last 24 hours. It’s strangely gripping.

But back to Parky. First thing’s first – credit to Piers for the bits that did make it to air. You’d have a heart of stone not to have been moved by Parky’s tears as he talked about the grief he suffered when his father died more than 40 years ago. We also learnt a lot about his early life, his short, but unhappy spell with TV-am, and his recent, ultimately successful battles with serious illness. Yet so much was left out that was worthy of comment. Did the footage end up on the proverbial ‘cutting room floor’, or did Piers completely miss out some important chapters in his subject’s eventful life?

It’s worth reflecting on the extent to which the original run of Parkinson (1971-82) differed from its 1990s and 2000s revival. For most of the 1970s, Parkinson occupied a cosy late-night corner in the Saturday night schedules of BBC One, starting at 11pm after Match of the Day. The Michael Parkinson of the 1970s was a prominent socialist, and there were occasions where this led to ideological rows with guests during an era of trade union might, including this memorable encounter with Kenneth Williams. The studio set itself was far smaller (or at least appeared to be smaller) which allowed a greater sense of intimacy with the guests and rapport with the audience. And the calibre of the guests themselves was, shall we say, more distinguished. This very edition saw Williams follow on from poet Sir John Betjeman and actress Maggie Smith. Some of the programme’s finest moments came when the studio lights were dimmed and poetry was read, such as this moving example from the late actor Richard Harris.

The revival of the 1990s, and especially the 2000s, was a very different programme. The lineup often consisted of reality TV stars promoting their latest projects. Discussion of the political issues of the day was virtually non-existent. Poets did not appear, let alone read their work on the programme. The studio set itself appeared far larger, which cost the programme its sense of intimacy. Parky was keen to keep the series filmed in 4:3 format, long after pretty much everything else had switched to 16:9 widescreen, as he felt it helped create an ‘close up’ feel, but he soon dropped his objection when ITV poached in him 2004, which went along with the show moving to an even larger studio.

Parky himself had also changed by the time of the revival. He had become something of a grouch in character, a sycophant towards his interviewees, and every new series seemed to be preceded by a somewhat bitter newspaper or magazine interview in which he would criticise people being given chat shows who weren’t ‘proper journalists’. It was a dig at the likes of former footballer Ian Wright, who hosted a chat show for ITV, but by Parky’s logic, David Frost and Terry Wogan wouldn’t have been given chat shows, but Johnny Vaughan (yes, he’s a trained journalist) would. In September 2002, he lambasted what he saw as the trend to give ‘minor celebrities’ their own chat shows, yet that’s exactly what he was when the BBC gave him his own prime time chat show in 1971.

By the time the programme was axed by ITV boss Michael Grade in 2007, it often felt like a vehicle for ITV to cross-promote its own prime time programming, especially its talent show contests. Yet Parky’s interviewing skills were letting him down years before that. On his first ITV show in 2004, actor Tom Cruise made a series of outlandish claims about scientology, to which Parky replied ‘Fascinating’, before moving on to talk about something else.

Piers failed to mention some of the most prominent incidents in Parkinson’s long run, including an incident where Tommy Cooper forgot to set the safety catch on the guillotine illusion into which he had cajoled Parky, and only a last-minute intervention from the floor manager saved him from serious injury or worse.

Other aspects of the programme were not discussed. A parallel version of Parkinson was made for Australian TV between 1979-82, but this went completely unmentioned. The fact that his wife, Mary, presented episodes of the British series on occasions didn’t crop up. Nothing was anything said about the additional midweek edition that ran for the final three years of its original run. Nor was it mentioned that one of the reasons for the cancellation of the original run in 1982 was the BBC’s refusal of Parky’s request to let the programme run five nights a week, replicating the format of well-known American talk shows like those hosted by Johnny Carson and David Letterman.

But the biggest omission from Piers’s probing was the lack of discussion about what Parky did between the end of his doomed spell at TV-am in 1984 and the return of Parkinson in 1998. These were in many ways his wilderness years. He didn’t exactly ‘disappear’ from our TV screens, but he was much less prominent, in an era where Terry Wogan and Des O’Connor were the omnipresent chat show kings. It was as though TV executives didn’t quite know what to do with Parky. He was frequently a guest on other people’s programmes, but lacked a platform from which to showcase his talents.

Parky’s most prominent TV project of those ‘wilderness years’ was the Thames Television game show Give Us a Clue (essentially celebrities playing charades), where he succeeded Michael Aspel as host in 1984 and remained until its cancellation in 1992. Parky was a jovial, good-humoured chairman, but his role required very much a ‘light touch’ approach and he couldn’t allow himself to become the focal point of the show. From 1989 onwards, the programme was taken out of prime time and became part of the ITV daytime schedule.

Other TV work during those years was sporadic. He temporarily filled in for Barry Norman on the BBC’s Film programme in 1985. In 1987/88, he briefly revived his talk show career as host of Parkinson One to One, which was made by Yorkshire Television for the ITV network. The programme consisted of 15 episodes, each featuring one guest, with a duration of 40 minutes. It may have been worth Piers pursuing why this programme didn’t last beyond those 15 episodes.


Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson on ‘Ghostwatch’

One huge omission from Piers’s questioning was the spoof Ghostwatch programme that Parky anchored for BBC One on Halloween 1992, that detailed a supposedly ‘live’ investigation into the strange goings-on at a family home in north-west London. Despite having been recorded weeks in advance, the narrative was presented as live television. The show attracted a considerable furore, with 30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard in a single hour, three women were said to have gone into labour, and one distressed viewer, and 18-year-old with learning difficulties, tragically took his own life five days later. A 1994 study in the British Medical Journal reported several cases of post-traumatic stress in children who had watched the programme.

Parky’s radio career was overlooked completely. There were numerous series for BBC Radio 2, most notably Parkinson’s Sunday Supplement. He presented Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 for three years from 1986 following the death of long-running host Roy Plomley.

From the spring of 1990, he hosted the mid-morning show on the then-troubled LBC station that had just been rebranded LBC Newstalk 97.3. In those days, the station could only be heard inside London. Steve Allen, an LBC presenter then and now, tells an LBC Newstalk 97.3anecdote about Michael Parkinson and Angela Rippon being ‘big name’ signings for the station during a difficult period, and of Parky’s face appearing on London buses inviting commuters to tune in at mid-mornings. The only snag was that Parky had prior commitments to cover the Ashes cricket tour in Australia and would not be starting his LBC show for some weeks after the new schedule launch had kicked in, which kind of defeated the object of the advertising campaign! He ended up staying with the station until 1992.

The numerous books (many cricket-based) and newspaper columns also went unmentioned.

There was also no mention of how his talk show career was revived, five years after Parkinson ended, with the Sky Arts series Parkinson: Masterclass, which debuted in 2012. It featured just one guest in each episode, and they would perform, as well as be interviewed, and there was an element of audience participation in the programme.

It would’ve been good to round off the interview by asking Parky about his current life. Good journalists don’t tend to ‘retire’. They work less, and on their own terms, but they’ve usually got a project of some sort on the go. Parky has bounced back from serious health scares and appears alert and active for a man of 84. It would have been great to learn more about his current lifestyle.

Piers covered a lot of ground with the time available. We live in an era where talk show hosts usually fight to be the centre of attention, at the expense of their guests. Parky never did that, and, credit where it’s due, in his own way, Piers has also mastered the art of the celebrity interview.

Written by Marcus Stead

June 7, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Opinion, Review