Did we like it?
To anyone who revelled in their cultural heyday of the 60s and 70s, it must have seemed like a vacation in nostalgia nirvana; to everyone else it was a bunch of old people talking about events that happened before they were born.
What was good about it?
• Michael Palin was his usual genial self, slowly unravelling a sequence of not-quite-so-ripping yarns, mostly from his new series about Eastern Europe. But it’s telling that other than the sad tale of how a mine clearance in Sarajevo is being carried out by the people who placed the mines in the first place, we can’t remember a single thing he said.
• A welcome wander from the rigidity of the plug-plug-plug format came in the all-to-brief- exchange between Palin and Dame Diana Rigg about the mating habits of camels and giraffes. Parky half-joked: “This conversation has taken a turn for the worse.”
• Sir David Frost’s interviews with Richard Nixon still captivate, especially when focussed on the moment when Frost offered his view on Nixon’s conduct in the Watergate scandal and the disgraced ex-president, who confessed: “Yeah, I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.” And even this moment of epochal tension was partially ruined by an abrupt ad break heralded by the polite smattering of canned applause thus instilling it with the same veneer of artificiality that had been pulled over the show’s face like a suffocating plastic bag.
• The most interesting question of the evening was in fact asked by Palin who suggested to Frost that Nixon’s guilt was extracted of him wanting to get something off his chest rather than Frost’s probing. Whether it was Frost’s pride being hurt that his defining TV moment being besmirched or a genuine response to Palin’s polite enquiry, but he quickly shot down his fellow guest’s theory.
What was bad about it?
• In one of Parky’s many cantankerous rants about modern life, he disclosed he was frustrated that he could no longer promote new music on his shows. However, given that (it says here) he ‘broke’ Jamie Cullum into the mainstream, we’d trust Parky to do less damage with a phial of concentrated rabies than ever allow him again the freedom to pick and choose which music he gushes over.
• One of Parky’s other bugbears has often been that there are fewer and fewer characters these days who can really give a good interview. This isn’t so much a symptom of homogenised identities and corporate promotion, but is more emblematic of there are simply too many interviews.
In the 70s, what was there? BBC TV and radio, ITV and the broadsheets; but now there a million and one outlets many of which are as gratingly inane as one another aping that lo-com-denom ‘idiots are so so cool’ style of the walking abyssal graveyard of vacuity Steve Jones.
• And even Parky isn’t inoculated against such fatuous frippery, mimicking Jones’s almost trademark blotto lurching to drag the conversation onto the subject of ‘nude scenes’ as if the audience will idly switch sides if their minds aren’t pampered with images of nubile young starlets naked. Of course Parky caters for the pensioner, and so at a tangent he brought up Dame Diana Rigg’s ‘nude scene’ in an obscure play from about 30 years ago. Ultimately, it’s time for Parky to retire not because he is a living, breathing anachronism but more that he’s become like every other interviewer, albeit catering for the older generation.
• At the end the average age of the people on the stage was over 68. This created a chasm of interest of much of what they were talking about occurred before we were born – fine for a historical education programme, utterly alienating for an entertainment show. But what made it even worse was that they were all following the very contemporary stereotype of appearing simply to plug something – Palin: TV programme; Rigg: play; Frost: play, DVD, book, accession to the right hand of God – shattering the cosy myth that in the 70s guests came on for a chat regardless of plugging.
• The “incomparable” Annie Lennox. Just another guest who is more than 25 years past her peak of Love Is A Stranger and Sweet Dreams reduced to a sideshow of a fairground devised for middle-aged people who have misplaced their souls amid their daily paperwork and seek comfort in songs that might as well have been written by computers to cater for the bland MOR market.