Northside - Andrew Martin tells a tale of two Yorkshiremen on the telly
It was a bad night for Yorkshire, but Palin had more going for him than Parky
Last Saturday I caught the end of Parkinson. The man himself was introducing his final guest, Rod Stewart, saying: "The public loved his first album of standards so much that he's done another, and great it is as well . . . "
That Parky should have forged his way out of Barnsley for this . . . It was pretty depressing. I'm not too sure about the latter-day Parkinson, and the accolades that come his way as a writer on the back pages do nothing to sway me. But as a television interviewer, he used to be able to create a real frisson. Another point in his favour was that he used to have people like Ted Hughes on his show . . . Not that I'm objecting to the guests he had last Saturday.
These were Emma Thompson, who seems all right, and Michael Palin, who is much more than all right. It was just that, as Parkinson introduced Rod Stewart, he suggested that Palin restrain Thompson lest she get carried away, and this he did, quite hammily. It seemed to round off a bad evening for Yorkshire, what with Parkinson being Barnsley's most famous son and Palin having been born in Sheffield 60 years ago. I don't know why Palin was on Parkinson because, quite frankly, I'd been in the pub for most of it, but I'm pretty sure he'd been talking about the new Monty Python book rather than announcing any new comedy project of his own.
Palin was always the funniest Python, and obviously very nice with it. When I read about tortured comedy geniuses who are supposed to have been psychologically undone by the scale of their talent, I always think of Palin, who proves it's possible to be brilliant and remain polite. To my horror, my wife once pushed in front of him in the queue for the box office at a cinema in Baker Street, and he graciously stepped aside with the merest hint of a frown. For years he's been concentrating on the niceness rather than the brilliance, but you'll occasionally detect, by some inflection or facial tick, that the comedy brain that produced Ripping Yarns is still pulsing away.
The two Ripping Yarns series were broadcast between 1977 and 1979. These programmes constituted a seismic event of my childhood in York, and what made it better still was that the funniest of them were the Yorkshire ones: "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite", featuring a young man so boring that his father - a coal miner - would pretend to be French to avoid speaking to him; and "Golden Gordon", about a man fixated on the fortunes of Barnstoneworth United. His son, actually christened Barnstoneworth United, was given to reciting the 1922 line-up of the team: "Hegarty F, Hegarty R, Tompkins, Noble, Carrick . . . " You'll still hear those words chanted in the dark corners of Yorkshire pubs, like a sort of modern folk music.