Great interviews of the 20th century

As part of the BBC College of Journalism’s Art of the Interview season, The Radio Times is holding a competition to decide which television and radio interview has been most influential over the last 60 years. Their shortlist includes Frost/Nixon, Parkinson/Emu, Winfrey/Jackson, Bashir/Diana and Paxman/Howard. There is also an interesting video on the BBC News website where David Sillito interviews David Frost and looks back at some of the most famous interviews on the shortlist. David Frost:

I think the essence of a good interview, in addition to vital things about the interviewer having done his homework and things like that, I think that in the end most of all it’s to do with the relationship that’s established between the interviewer and the interviewee.

That’s really the test in the end – whether you think that you’ve got the real person coming through and you can say,’ I never thought I’d hear so and so say that’.

David Frost and Richard Nixon

Three years after his resignation, Richard Nixon was interviewed by David Frost for a total of 28 hours and 45 minutes and the interviews were edited into four parts and broadcast in the USA and a few other countries in 1977. The first episode got the largest television audience for any political interview in history. In what Frost now describes as ‘a euphoric moment’, Nixon came out with the famous lines:

I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but will think it is all too corrupt and the rest. Most of all I let down an opportunity I would have had for two and a half more years to proceed on great projects and programmes for building a lasting peace.

The story of the interviews has been made into a 2006 play written by Peter Morgan and a film adaptation in 2008.

Michael Parkinson and Meg Ryan

Hollywood actress Meg Ryan clearly wasn’t used to the British television interview style when in 2003 she was quizzed by Michael Parkinson for 20 minutes about her erotic thriller In The Cut. She gave one word answers and was visibly upset and uncomfortable. Parkinson describes it as his ‘most difficult TV moment. She since said about the interview:

I don’t even know the man. That guy was like some disapproving father! It’s crazy. I don’t know what he is to you guys, but he’s a nut. I felt like he was berating me for being naked in the movie. He said something like, ‘You should go back to doing what you were doing”. And I thought, are you like a disapproving dad right now? I’m not even related to you. Back off, buddy. I was so offended by him.

Martin Bashir and Princess Diana

In 1995, Diana Princess of Wales was interviewed on Panorama by Martin Bashir about the failure of her marriage to Charles. In the hour long talk she admitted her affair with riding instructor James Hewitt and spoke about her husband’s affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

She was open with very private details about her life and uttered the famous words ‘there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded’. Bashir was accused by Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York, of ‘tricking’ Diana into revealing secrets about her private life.

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