Which interviewers, past and present do you admire and who have you considered a role model as an interviewer?
Two interviewers of the past stand out. The first was John Freeman who hosted a show called Face to Face in late 50s early 60s. I can’t really call him a role model as his style was so different to mine but I was interested in how he went about interviewing. Freeman was a political reporter on Panorama at the time and was approached to host a simple personal interview programme. What I liked about it was that the focus was totally on the guest, it was shot on one camera looking over Freeman’s shoulder. Freeman also had a real knack for asking probing questions without giving offence. It was at the time a controversial programme.
Then non-political interviews were embarrassingly fawning but Freeman conducted properly researched personal interviews that at time asked difficult questions. On one famous occasion the journalist and TV personality Gilbert Harding broke down in tears after Freeman asked about the death of his mother. On another occasion Freeman was criticised for being too hard on Tony Hancock and was blamed for his ultimate self-destruction. The fact is that both had no complaint about the interviews and in Hancock’s case after the interview Freeman became a sort of Father confessor figure to him.
The one who was really a role model was my late friend Sir David Frost. For many in my generation who were working in television he was an inspiration. He looked as if he was born in a TV studio and as an interviewer he was as skilled at interviewing Presidents as he was prima donnas. He practically invented the celebrity interview show for the British market and was that rare breed of Brit who was appreciated on both sides of the Atlantic. The fact he also owned and ran TV companies, operated the first independent production company in the UK just showed what a gifted and visionary man he was.
Of today's crop I think Graham Norton is head and shoulders above the rest. His is a well-produced and entertaining watch and Graham is the perfect host. I just wish there still was an alternative to comedy talk show that is prevalent on our screens today.
With the popularity of internet based interviews, do you consider television chat shows as still relevant and how can they adapt to a changing audience?
I think if interview shows were not relevant they wouldn’t be on the internet – not that I know much about it! The interview show is the most enduring format because it is merely a public version of what we do naturally in private! It’s about telling stories and sharing thoughts and it can be entertaining as well as riveting and each generation will re-invent one that works for them.
I think the real issue is what is television going to do now that the internet is snapping at its heels.
Who has been your all-time favourite person to interview?
One I get asked quite a lot. Too difficult to pick one and honestly I could give a different answer each time. 3 people always stand out. Billy Connolly, a true comedy genius and God's gift to the talk show. Sir David Attenborough. The embodiment of the BBC’s message to inform, educate and entertain. Lauren Bacall because I could’ve never imagined as a child that when I sat looking adoringly up at her from the backrow of the Rock Cinema in Barnsley that I would one day meet her.
If you had to choose one place in Yorkshire for someone to visit, where would it be and why?
Harrogate. It’s in the most beautiful part of the county, Scarborough is just down the road, it has the world famous Betty’s Tea shop and one of the best fish and chip shops in the North called Gravelly’s. Heaven!
What is your correct method of making Yorkshire Tea?
Teabag, boiling water and a few manly mashes whilst singing some verses of Ikley Moor b’tat and then the milk
Which three people would you like to interview now?
Donald Trump – I don’t normally have any interest in politicians but his rise to the Presidency was so unexpected and his behaviour in office so irrational and erratic that I’d love to try and get underneath that mop of ‘hair’ and behind that perma-tanned visage.
The Queen – the interviewers Holy Grail. What a life she has had and what stories she could tell. If only she would...
Johnnie Bairstow – a great cricketer and a lovely young man who has dealt with the death of his father David by suicide with such maturity and style. He used to come down with David and Mum Janet to play in a celebrity cricket much at my local club. He was 8 and had already decided that he was England material. When I told him he was batting at number 9 he throw a strop and insisted that number 4 was his best position. He was eventually proved right.
They say you shouldn’t meet your hero – do you think that's true? Who’s your hero?
I suppose the danger is that you meet them and then, either by the way they look or behave, they don’t live up to your expectations. To be honest there have been very few big stars that I have met and interviewed from all walks of the arts that have been a let-down. They all have that indefinable quality that simply makes you want to admire them. My heroes were Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra. I never met Bogie but then that was a good thing because one of my early ambitions was to marry his wife Lauren Bacall and set up home with her in a terrace house opposite Barnsley Football club. I did meet Sinatra at a party in LA organised by a friend of mine. I was in awe of him. The best singer, bar none, whoever stood in front of a big band. As I was leaving I went over to day Goodnight and he said ‘Goodnight David!’ He was still a hero.
If you had one question to ask President Trump, what would it be?
Who does your hair?
Who has been the most surprising interviewee for you?
From the early years of the show the Granddaughter of the founder of the Salvation Army Catherine Bramwell Booth. She had just won the Speaker of the Year Award aged 97 but even so I did not know what to expect. She was a revelation. Funny, provocative, honest and an antidote to anyone afraid of getting old.
More recently it was Noel Gallagher. I had to be persuaded to interview him. I had bought into the tabloid picture of him as an brainless, drunken yob. My production team headed by my son Michael thought otherwise and I reluctantly gave in. I’m glad I did. He was an intelligent, insightful, funny man and I liked him an awful lot.
You are in 'The Damned United’ with Michael Sheen. What is more nerve wracking - playing yourself in a movie or hosting a chat show?
I was only in it by the wonders of technology. They managed to cut Michael Sheen into footage of my original interview with Brian Clough. I have played myself in an number of productions with varying degrees of success. I was nominated for a BAFTA for my role in Ghostwatch – it was a quiet year on the drama front. I interviewed Bill Nighy on Love Actually and was murdered whilst interviewing Vincent Price, playing a deranged old actor, in Madhouse.
It’s a damn sight easier than actually doing my talk show and the catering is a lot better.