1981: I was working on a sit-com at ATV studios in Elstree. I was cast as the sexy secretary although my agent had sent me up for the role of the mother of two. I was 33 and even though I say it myself, was good looking in an exotic kinda way and fearless. Not that I thought that at the time, at the time I thought I was hideous and worthy only of being the limping background extra in a chocolate ad.
Anyway there I was giving my all when a young man approached me in the corridor.
‘How do you feel about being the girl on Parky?’ He asked.
‘No’ I said and I ran away from him.
He collared me a day later.
‘How do you feel about being the girl on Parky?’
‘No’ I said, as I ran anticlockwise back to the studio.
The third time he caught me – I was tired of running round the corridor – I said
I went to his flat on Highbury Corner, lay down on his carpet, my head in my hand. like a Agostino Rosi nude, and watched him watching me.
When the VHS tape ran out he told me I had the job and congratulations I was now the girl on Parky.
I didn’t know who this Parky person was.
TVam was one of the first tv stations to be owned by five journos, they had collaborated so they could join in the race for a breakfast audience. I had no idea TVam was a current affairs program, I rarely watched television, didn’t know what current affairs meant and anyway I was acting with Bette Marsden who became my mentor. I wasn’t interested in breakfast telly but turned up in Camden Town to meet Parky – whoever he was – and do a pilot for this new station.
I was wearing a pair of dungarees, wore no makeup and had the arrogance of a 33 year old who didn’t give a toss about, frankly, anything. Michael Parkinson looked at me and my dungarees and his face told the story of an experienced man who was about to be working with a snotty nosed kid who knew as much about television as a long tailed tit.
We did a pilot. I had an ear-piece, was sat in front of an autocue and with Parky sitting next to me, we waded through a mountain of scripts. Given that I didn’t give a fuck and kept calling Michael ‘Malcolm’ it’s not surprising that after weeks of filming I was sacked and my job was given to his wife Mary. It makes sense now, but it didn’t then.
Round One: I was hurt and humiliated. When I told my father I was depressed and felt like I was in a corner, my pugnacious father said,
‘A boxing ring has four corners you’re only in one of them get up and fight.’
So I did.
On the first morning all the newspapers were there looking for the girl on Parky who of a few minutes ago didn’t exist. I was taken to the top floor to be told I was no longer on that job, I was edited out of the films and given David Frost’s brilliant script writer – Fred Metcalf – we were given over an hours worth of screen time.
Round Two. I can honestly say that Mr. Parkinson kicked started my career. He was generous and, I realise now, very supportive. When every one else was partying I was learning to write scripts with Fred. He told me to stop and smell the coffee. I didn’t. I couldn’t. He himself had served his time so he knew what I was doing.
Although Michael Parkinson did have his moments, under stress getting the station ready for transmission he said
‘I’m not interviewing those two fat girls.You do it.’
Those two fat girls were Saunders and French, he also refused Julian clary and Fanny his wonder dog. That was the beginning of my interviewing career..
You know there’s a lot to be said for the blissful state of ignorance. I couldn’t have cared less what anybody said or did to me I was young, rebellious and enjoying the £250 pounds a week I was getting, which for me then was a fortune.
After performing Fred Metcalf’s scripts our Sunday mornings became more and more anarchic. The actress from the left wing stable was winning an audience and getting great reviews for her irreverence. When Fred went back to David frost I took over the writing. My little scenarios had very little to with current affairs more to do with taking the piss.
One day the disapproving Parky was standing in the Atrium. He opened his arms. I walked into them. He hugged me and that was the first day of my acceptance. The Man from Barnsley had given his seal of approval. When my slots came on he laughed and declared that I should be given a show of my own, though not necessarily on TVam…..
He was dapper and he required the same of his associates. He was punctual and thorough and he required the same of me. He was fair and kind, I had no idea until today quite how influential he was in my career.
Bye bye dear lovely Northern man, without you I would still be working in the Armthorpe Miners Welfare club if the Armthorpe Miners Welfare club still existed.
Maybe being the girl on Parky was never going to happen, but it taught me to get up out of the corner and fight, and when things go tits up, which in my experience invariably happens every four and half years, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, think of Malcolm Parkinson and start all over again.