Now that Michael Parkinson has departed the BBC for the comfortable chat show graveyard of ITV, Jonathan Ross now has the chance of prattling predominance. The only question mark over his accession to Parky’s throne is a trait of sometimes sacrificing genuine insight into his guests for ribald humour. The eclectic guest list – Dale Winton, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Morrissey – enabled him to demonstrate all his talents as a talk show host to prove he is the heir apparent.
Dale Winton was the perfect opening guest. Being pals it enabled the pair to snap amusingly away at one another without ever straying too far into showbiz indulgence.
Jonathan had a slightly tougher time with Ronnie O’Sullivan, but cleverly adopted the ploy used by grandparents where they let their grandchildren blather away about tedious subjects (in O’Sullivan’s case snooker) in the hope that they will gain enough verbal momentum to speak fluently about other more interesting topics. As such, Jonathan eventually got good comedy mileage from O’Sullivan’s lingerie store and his non-conversion to Islam, and Jonathan then completely took over with his hilarious faux ignorance of all sport, mocking a photo of O’Sullivan dressed as a magician (“You look like Jack the Ripper”).
But the interview was let down by a reluctance to probe O’Sullivan more about the jailing of his father when the new world champion was still in his teens, and how that had affected his life which, despite professional success and millionaire status, has been blighted by bouts of depression and alcohol abuse.
Perhaps he’d saved all his serious questions for final guest Morrissey. Jonathan began by trying to become Morrissey’s eighth friend. But even in his earliest songs, the miserable Mancunian urged others to “please stay with their own kind” and his opinion is as inflexible as ever. Meanwhile, Morrissey’s legions of fans tended to spoil the interview with raucous laughter at each witticism. This isn’t to say Morrissey’s answers weren’t worthy of a laugh. Often they were but only served to strangle the conversation
Jonathan moved on to an area where he knew his awkward guest would be most effusive – vegetarianism. After correctly pointing out that the Smiths’ Meat Is Murder is the single greatest reason why teenagers refuse to eat meat, Jonathan let Morrissey run his mouth off about his beliefs. They haven’t altered from 20 years ago but they were nevertheless still entertaining.
Of course, such verbosity also enabled Jonathan to flip the subject into a very funny invitation to Morrissey to visit his home for “a ride” on his pet sheep. And he also recommended Morrissey “come round and play tennis”. The singer did seem a little irritated by the flippancy but kept any anger to himself.
Once more the show was a smooth triumph and despite a reluctance to ask more serious questions, there are few symptoms of any loss of potency. You can only hope that when Graham Norton joins the BBC, Jonathan doesn’t feel compelled to change the brilliant format to repel this new front.