Sir Michael Parkinson: Flirting is a thing of the past for men

Michael Parkinson.
Michael Parkinson.
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He famously asked Helen Mirren if her “equipment” got in the way of her credibility, but Sir Michael Parkinson lamented yesterday that his – and ever other man’s – flirting days were over.

At 83 and still brandishing the Yorkshire bluntness that saw him wade in where others feared to tread, Sir Michael complained that in an age of political correctness, men felt “under threat” over the “merest” sign that they could be making a pass at a women.

Having previously questioned if “there isn’t a man of a certain age who doesn’t look back and wonder ‘Was my behaviour entirely appropriate?’”, he disclosed that he had now declined to have his picture taken with his arm around the shoulder of a Lady Mayoress until he had checked with her that she didn’t object.

“You feel yourself, all men do, being under threat for the merest indication they might be flirting with someone,” Sir Michael told the Daily Mirror.

For the record, the Lady Mayoress not only didn’t mind but was surprised to have been asked, he added.

Sir Michael, who has been in the interviewee’s chair this week for a round of encounters to promote his forthcoming music and chat show at the London Palladium, Our Kind of Music, said his TV flirtations were harmless and belonged to a different time, adding that the actress Shirley MacLaine was “the biggest flirt I came across in my life”.

It was in 1975 that he introduced Dame Helen Mirren as the “sex queen” of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

She responded: “Serious actresses can’t have big bosoms, is that what you mean?”

By then a veteran of film and the West End, it was her first live interview on television, and she spoke dismissively about Parkinson in later years, recalling that the Seventies had been being a “perilous” period for women. However, she appeared on his show again, in 2006.

Parkinson recalled earlier the encounter in a magazine interview two years ago, saying: “Maybe I was a bit over-reactive. On the other hand, she presented a provocative figure as she walked down the stairs carrying a feather boa, half dressed as I recall, with love and hate tattooed on to her knuckles.”

Asked at the time if he was sorry, he said: ‘There is no need to apologise, not at all. I’ve not done anything that I’m ashamed of.”

He added: “Am I a sexist? No, I’m Yorkshire.”

Parkinson is not the first celebrity to regret that as a consequence of the “me, too” movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, such banter was no longer acceptable.

In January, the French star Catherine Deneuve attacked what she called a new “puritanism” and suggested that men should be “free to hit on” women.

Miss Deneuve was among about 100 female French writers, performers and academics who wrote an open letter deploring the “witch-hunt” that followed the Weinstein case, which, they said, threatened sexual freedom.

The letter was met with outrage on social media.

Sir Michael, who was born near Barnsley and began his TV career as a reporter on Granada’s northern news, in the days before Yorkshire had its own service, has fought prostate cancer in recent years and has had to learn how to walk again after back surgery.

He said: “I can’t pretend I didn’t get depressed at times, but I didn’t get to a crying depression stage. That’s not really in my nature. Keeping working was important. I kept active.”