Michael Parkinson, or Parky as he is affectionately known, is a national treasure, one of Britain’s most beloved chat show hosts.
But while he is known for his hilarious interviews with the likes of Muhammad Ali, or getting Victoria Beckham to reveal David’s ‘Goldenballs’ nickname, one of his most infamous interviews came in 1975 during his “sexist” head-to-head with Helen Mirren.
Although no fuss was made at the time, the Hollywood actress, who is now 70 and has a damehood, was still fuming about the excruciating encounter more than four decades later. Watch some of the most excruciating moments from the interview above.
That Infamous Interview
Mirren was a 30-year-old actress and enjoying a very successful stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company when she appeared on Parkinson to talk about her upcoming role as Lady Macbeth.
But it was also the star’s first ever talk show appearance, something she later admitted she was “terrified” about.
The theme of the so-called “sexist” interview was apparent from the very start as Parkinson introduced the actress by reading out remarks from critics who had spent “about as much time discussing her physical attributes as they do her acting ability”.
Before the nervous star took to the stage, he introduced her as the “sex queen” and quoted another theatre reviewer who had described her as being “especially telling at projecting sl*ttish eroticism”.
The awkwardness began almost immediately when Parkinson asked Mirren if she was bothered, flattered or annoyed by any of the comments he had just read out to his TV audience of millions, and the confident star replied with a straight “no” to each question.
And when asked if she ever got fed up of being “branded” in such a way, Parkinson admitted he agreed with some of the comments, boldly declaring: “I think they’re right,” and began chuckling, while an embarrassed Mirren looked away and said: “I hope they’re not, but you are what you are.”
Further awkwardness and embarrassment was still to come, such as when he said the star was “in quotes a serious actress”, which hit a nerve. Mirren interjected, saying albeit while giggling: “In quotes? What do you mean in quotes? How dare you.”
Realising she was fighting a losing battle, the actress played along later in the chat when Parkinson asked her whether “what could be best described as your equipment” ever hindered her in attempting to make a name for herself as a serious actress.
After jokingly asking him what he meant, the squirming chat show host stumbled: “Umm, well, your physical attributes,” and when pushed even further by the actress he shot a sly glance towards her assets and said: “I meant your … figure.”
Turning the tables on Parkinson, Mirren - who had starred as the nubile Cora in 1969 film Age of Consent six years earlier - hit back: “Serious actresses can’t have big bosoms - is that what you mean?”
He replied: “Well, I think they might detract from the performance.”
Despite being petrified before the head-to-head, Mirren dealt with the probing questions admirably, going on to refer to his queries as “boring”.
At one stage the TV presenter briefly acknowledged the candid content of his questions by saying “we’ll leave off this sexy image thing”, but did later return to the subject when he asked her whether she felt “any feeling of embarrassment” about appearing on screen naked.
The 'Sexist’ Fallout
While a big deal wasn’t made of the interview at the time, it clearly still rankles with Mirren, who years afterwards described Parkinson as “an extremely creepy interviewer” and claimed he acted “like an ass” during the chat.
In a 2010 interview with BUST magazine, the star admitted she had been “far more polite than I should have been” during the frank chat show conversation, and described it as “enraging”.
Mirren returned to the TV presenter’s Parkinson show - which has aired 540 episodes during an on and off broadcast from 1971 to 2007 - as a guest in 2006 while promoting her movie The Queen, in which she played the titular role.
And when she saw a slight opportunity to take the host to task about their 1975 encounter she grabbed it with both hands.
Copyright [Ken McKay/REX Shutterstock]
After mentioning a quote the actress had given to a newspaper about not having to depend on her breasts to land the role of DCI Jane Tennison in drama series Prime Suspect, she struck back: “I’m glad you mentioned that Michael, because you can’t resist can you!
"The first time we ever met he had to talk about my breasts, now it’s full circle.”
And the host did himself now favours in trying with his defence, saying: “Now to be fair to me, they were hanging out,” referring to the strappy black dress Mirren was wearing at the time.
A startled and open-mouthed Mirren, whose outfit on the day didn’t appear to expose her assets, replied: “No they weren’t … excuse me!”
Parkinson tried to play down the controversial conversation in a jokey way by saying the pair were both “a lot sillier” back then, before Mirren, with a slight grin on her face, said: “I hated you.
"I thought you were a sexist person for mentioning my breasts, and also you wouldn’t actually say the word 'breasts’.”
That '70s Thing
Despite her clear rage, in a 2013 interview with the Radio Times the star described the notorious convo as “a classic example of the prevalent attitude at that time”, adding: “There was a prurient sort of thing going on.”
And while Mirren continues to be asked about, and talk about, the infamous interview, once again last year she admitted the decade was partly to blame for how that conversation had gone.
In a newspaper interview last year, she described sexism in the 70s as being “worse than the 1940s or 50s,” adding: “It was horrible.”
She explained: “That decade, after the sexual revolution but before feminism, was perilous for women.
“Men saw that as a sort of “Oh fantastic! We can f**k anything, however we like, whenever we like. They’re up for grabs, boys!”
Copyright [Ken McKay/REX Shutterstock]
“Sexist old fart”
In another interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2011, Mirren perhaps summed up the whole moment best.
After revealing she had recently re-watched the interview online, she said: “I watched it and I actually thought, bl**dy hell! I did really well. I was so young and inexperienced. And he was such a f***ing sexist old fart. He was.
"He denies it to this day that it was sexist, but of course he was.”