They have been friends since the 1970s, so when Michael Parkinson seemed to upset Billy Connolly with comments about the comic’s health the chat legend was distraught.
He sat right down and wrote his friend a letter, telling 76-year-old Billy, who has Parkinson’s disease : “There is no way in this world I would hurt you, or deliberately demean you.”
And 84-year-old Parkinson revealed: “I got a lovely reply, saying, ‘Let’s go back to how we were, old friends’.”
The pair had a public rift last summer when Parkinson told an interviewer of an “awkward dinner” he had with Billy.
He said Billy’s “wonderful brain has dulled” to the extent the comic had not recognised him at the awards dinner.
The comments were dismissed at the time by Billy and his wife Pamela, 69, who called Parkinson a “daft old fart”.
Parkinson believes Pamela was more upset than her husband.
He said: “I don’t think it was Billy so much as Pamela. I would never deliberately hurt Billy at all.
“When I was making the observation I was making, that he’d slowed down a bit, it was not a diagnosis. It was the observation of a friend to another friend.
“It was an awards thing. He was on heavy medication and it got to the stage I was with him. And he made a very softly spoken speech.
“As we were leaving, he stopped me, and put his hands on my shoulder, and said to me, ‘How long have we known each other?’
“And I thought, maybe wrongly, that he didn’t really know who I was. I could be wrong, and I hope I was. I think he was trying to remind himself.”
Billy and Parky first became friends when the Glasgow comedy colossus was a guest on Parkinson in 1975. Billy became a regular guest, appearing on 15 shows, including the final one in 2007.
Reflecting on his life on and off screen in ITV’s Life Stories, Parky also revealed that he and his wife Mary were both engaged to other people when they met “on top of a bus” in Cudworth, near Barnsley, South Yorks.
He said: “I know it’s terrible. I was on the verge of breaking up, and I think she obviously was too.”
At a dance in a hotel in Doncaster, he cut in as Mary was dancing with her boyfriend, who was in the RAF.
Parky said: “I interrupted them and asked her to dance. It wasn’t the dancing that won her over, I’m not sure what it was, actually. But I was smitten by her.”
It was Mary he lost his virginity to.
He said: “It was after I got married, absolutely. Living in those days it wasn’t a sexual free-for-all that’s going on now.
"Living in a tiny community like that everybody knew everybody’s business.
“It was about kissing and cuddling. I don’t think I missed anything. Did I? I don’t regret that.”
Parky was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, and said: “I have been lucky all my life – I got through it and a lot of people don’t. It changed me in many ways, because you think about the possibility you are going to die.
“I thought about the things I would be missing, the family and the house, cricket. The life I have had.
“I am still clumsy and that will always be. The brain is working okay except the occasional lapse of memory. I hope my family enjoy life as much as I do.
"In my life I got joy from family and the people I met and the jobs I have done. From that point of life I am a fulfilled person.”
Parky reflected on a career that gave him the opportunity to interview many of the greats, including Muhammad Ali and The Beatles.
He said: “Nobody has had a more interesting and involving life than I have. I just want to be remembered as someone who had a good time… did the odd good interview.
- Piers Morgan’s Life Stories with Michael Parkinson, Saturday, 10pm, ITV.
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