Generally speaking, chat shows aren’t the most electrifying of TV content, because they tend to be pretty formulaic. A celebrity comes on to promote something, they spend an agreed amount of time discussing it, throw in a couple of pre-prepared anecdotes, and then disappear, surrounded by a phalanx of publicists. But every now and again, something of a different nature entirely slips through the net. Either someone is grumpy, or sleep-deprived, or drunk, or a bit over-sensitive, or simply out to shock, and their TV appearance achieves an immortality that most chat show interviews can only dream of.
These ten examples of the genre at its most memorable include the hilarious, the shocking and the genuinely uncomfortable. But what none of them are is forgettable.
David Icke on Wogan
In 1991, the former goalkeeper and TV sports presenter David Icke appeared on Wogan, following newspaper reports that he was claiming to be the son of God. Alarm bells started ringing the moment he walked onstage in a turquoise shell suit. (Word to the wise: if you ever find yourself a spiritual follower of anyone in a shell suit, it’s time to rethink your life decisions). He then proceeded to announce that he was indeed the son of God, before making a series of bizarre pronouncements about a secret cabal running the world, and predicting a series of devastating earthquakes and tidal waves. As the audience laughed nervously, Icke congratulated them, and told them that laughter and joy was a good way of fighting evil. At this point, Terry Wogan uttered the line for which the whole bizarre fiasco would become chiefly remembered. “They’re laughing at you, not with you.”
Grace Jones slaps Russell Harty
If you thought the David Icke stuff was uncomfortable, buckle up. The appearance by singer, model and actor Grace Jones on Russell Harty’s chat show in November 1980 started badly and went downhill from there. To be fair to Harty, Jones doesn’t seem entirely ‘herself’, to say the least, and answers his questions with an increasingly bizarre series of non-sequiturs and nonsense. An exasperated Harty asks “Did you have a late night last night?” at which point Jones responds: “I haven’t slept in three days.” As the passive aggression ramps up on both sides, Harty begins talking to his other guests, turning away from Jones, who responds to this perceived insult by starting to slap him. It is to be hoped that, after the interview, Ms Jones was able to go and get some much-needed shut-eye.
The Sex Pistols carpet bomb teatime with the f-word
You’ll be familiar with this, obviously. Everyone over the age of 30 is familiar with this, as a bona fide piece of TV history. But a less known fact is that it almost didn’t happen. Queen were booked to go on Bill Grundy’s Today show on 1st December 1976, until Freddie Mercury had to pull out with toothache (you can imagine how bad it must have been with those teeth!) So a desperate EMI sent a new young punk band, The Sex Pistols, in their place. For some unfathomable reason, the show agreed to the swap, which meant we had a patrician, grumpy, belligerent TV host going up against a drunk young punk band eager to shock and make a name for themselves. What could possibly have gone right? The answer, of course, was nothing, and so it proved. Before this interview, the f-word had only ever been said twice on television (and certainly never at teatime). That figure was about to go up… quite considerably.
The Bee Gees take exception to Clive Anderson
Clive Anderson was known for his witty, slightly barbed asides, but this interview with the brothers Gibb actually started cheerfully enough. But then Anderson called them ‘hit writers’ before quipping “We’re one letter shy.” Barry Gibb immediately bristled: “I’m glad you are finding it amusing.” A couple more quips ensued, before it emerged that the band had once performed under the unfortunate moniker ‘Les Tosseurs’. “You’ll always be ‘Les Tosseurs’ to me,” joked Anderson. And so the die was cast. Barry Gibb goes extremely quiet after that, and a few minutes later, when Anderson made a joke about forgetting one of their songs, Barry announced “We’re getting on like a storm, aren’t we Clive?” before removing his mike and walking off, with the immortal line “You’re the tosser, pal!” His younger brothers followed, leaving a clearly bewildered Anderson to wrap up the show.
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s horror show with Frank Skinner
Many of these clips make for uncomfortable viewing, not least because they often involve people at their most vulnerable. It Girl Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s notorious appearance on The Frank Skinner show in 1999 was a case in point. Miss P-T seemed to have taken the slogan on her t-shirt, Wild at Heart, slightly too literally, slurring and giggling her way through the interview, and at one point admitting she thought she was coming on a show hosted by EastEnders character Frank Butcher. Skinner, in a moment of uncharacteristic cruelty, picked up her glass and sniffed it, to the audience’s glee. It was an unfortunate joke, as two days later Tara was sent to rehab in Arizona for an addiction to cocaine. She later suggested that the interview, and the subsequent fallout, had probably saved her life. Rather touchingly, the two became friends, and Skinner interviewed her twice more.
Alan Titchmarsh gives John McCririck the boot
Well! This was all a little unedifying! The Alan Titchmarsh Show, a cosy daytime chat with everyone’s favourite gardener, became something markedly different when outrageous racing pundit John McCririck decided to give poor Ingrid Tarrant both barrels. In an entirely unprovoked attack, he accused her of being bad in bed, explaining “that’s why he was straying.” As fellow guest Gloria Hunniford and Titchmarsh tried to halt the carnage, and Tarrant reacted with commendable dignity, McCririck doubled down. “Poor old Chris Tarrant. Look what he had to work with if he was bad in bed.” Alan Titchmarsh, a decent chap to the core of his being, had had enough, and stood up, simply saying “Off… off…” And off McCririck went. There is something rather moving about the way Titchmarsh then thanks Hunniford and Tarrant for being on the show, while the two hold hands.
The Worst of Best on Wogan
Much like Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Grace Jones’ ‘confused’ appearances, watching this now it is difficult not to wonder why the interview was allowed to go ahead. George Best, whose struggles with alcohol addiction would eventually cost him his life, was clearly inebriated by the time he took to the stage to be interviewed by Terry Wogan in 1990. The interview was, on the whole a rather charmless affair, with Best more than once declaring his own footballing genius (although he had a point!) But there is something deeply poignant about his advice to a young Gazza (“Behave yourself”). However, as the slurring gets worse, Best begins to talk about his fondness for, ah, the art of procreation, and a bemused Wogan is forced to cut the interview short.
Joan Rivers and the absent bleep
Much like The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Loose Women is more of a welcoming chat between friends than a beacon of controversy, but nobody told Joan Rivers. The legendary comedian was used to appearing on shows which have a seven second delay and the ability to bleep out swearwords, and was unaware that the show was absolutely live. “You get someone like Russell Crowe,” she opined, “and you want to say to the camera: ‘He is a piece of – get ready to bleep this – f****** s***.” (Luckily this blog isn’t live, so we can still use asterisks!) Jane McDonald, Linda Bellingham and the other panellists look just a tad surprised. When the show returned from the next ad break, Rivers had been mysteriously removed. “They didn’t even give me my goody bag,” teased Rivers afterwards.
Parky gets shirty with grumpy Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan’s 2003 appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show wasn’t so much awkward as nakedly hostile. Ryan was promoting the film In the Cut, a slightly more risqué role for the Hollywood star. She says she took exception to his rather disapproving line of questioning, he claims she was in a bad mood at the end of a long publicity tour. Either way, she started giving one-word answers to his increasingly spiky questions. The clip here doesn’t show the interview’s full horror, and is only the latter part of the encounter, but the mutual disdain is plain to see. To his credit, Parkinson later admitted his culpability in the exchange, explaining “We were both in a fairly grim mood… I don’t know what happened, I just took against her. There was another way to handle that.”
Oliver Reed is, well, Oliver Reed
Let’s face it, you knew what you were getting when you booked Oliver Reed to appear on your chat show. On shows from After Dark to Des O’Connor, Reed would come on drunk and behave erratically. Unforgivably, some shows actually encouraged this (Channel 4’s The Word placed vodka bottles and a secret camera in his dressing room). But Reed’s most famous chat show appearance involved him strolling on to the set of Michael Aspel’s talk show clutching a jug of some orange liquid, before removing his jacket and performing an impromptu, and undeniably terrible, song and dance routine. During the ensuing interview, a clearly unimpressed fellow guest, Clive James, asked him why he drank. “Because the finest people that I’ve ever met in my life are in pubs,” came the reply.
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