Michael Parkinson is one of TV’s most successful chat show hosts and journalists, having spent his life interviewing the rich, the famous and the powerful.
What many people don’t know, however, is his love of food – and ownership of a Michelin-starred restaurant near his home in Berkshire.
The Royal Oak in Paley Street, Maidenhead, was bought by ‘Parky’ in 2001 before being sold to his son, Nick, a trained chef, around ten years ago – before more recently being sold on. During the 19 years that the Parkinson family owned the pub, it became well known for serving great British food and hosting a wealth of celebrities, entertainers and many members of the royal family, including the Queen.
The high profile of the pub matched Michael Parkinson’s glittering career – one that he admits he stumbled into rather than planned.
He spoke about how he felt interviewing some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars such as Jimmy Cagney, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergmann in a recent documentary celebrating his 50th anniversary in the industry.
Looking back, he said, is a strange experience.
“On the one hand when you see your younger self particularly the early footage of me at Granada TV in the 60’s presenting from the Liquorice fields of Pontefract with a hairstyle that look like a badger has taken a nap on my forehead.
On the other hand, it’s a delight to see the wealth of talent I was lucky enough to sit opposite and sometimes emotional to recall my interviews with fascinating people that are sadly no longer with us.”Michael Parkinson
Parkinson said he was just happy to get through the first show without falling down the stairs or forgetting the name of the guest sitting opposite.
“I had no idea how it had gone. I knew there was something in it that I wanted to pursue but I had no idea how it would turn out.”
Since that day he has interviewed over 2,000 guests, each of whom have had their impact. However, it is surprising to many that his most memorable was with scientist and humanist Dr Jacob Bronowski who created one of the landmark documentary series in television history called The Ascent of Man.
“For the documentary programme, I have chosen the moment when in a simple, compassionate and articulate way he recounts his visit to Auschwitz where many of his relatives had been murdered. It’s an excerpt I can barely watch and as you will see in the programme it brings me to tears but it is the interview I am most proud of, not because of any role I played in it but because Bronowski was such an extraordinary man possessed of a mind like a Swiss watch.”
It was difficult for Parkinson not to get occasionally tongue-tied when faced with the biggest stars such as Ingrid Bergmann and Lauren Bacall.
“These are people who I used to imagine getting married to when I was child watching them from the back row of the Rock Cinema in Barnsley.”
He said that he believes he did a talk show at the best time, without the constraints of social media that turn many celebrities into people as mysterious as our next-door neighbour.
“I had the best of it and I wouldn’t change a thing except perhaps Emu.”
Like many pubs, The Royal Oak is now permanently closed as a result of current economic pressures, but also remains a proud part of the Parkinson family’s heritage.
Did you ever eat there when it was open or know anyone who did? We’d love to hear about your experience…and your favourite Parky interviews.