IT is not difficult to see why Sir Michael Parkinson and his wife Mary have been married since 1959.

They're bloody hilarious together.

When I was introduced to Sir Michael, he was wearing jeans and the latest design of Nike trainers. I'd imagined a crisp shirt, a sedate tie and an ever-so-slightly impatient knight of the realm, wondering who on earth I was and for how long I was going to detain him.

But from the moment he casually sauntered into the room, his acerbic wit, delivered in his unmistakable Yorkshire gravel, was absolute box office.

And just when I’d been charmed and amused by him, along came his wife Lady Mary. As we had our photographs taken, she whispered to me that she hoped the picture would include her shoes, because they were from Prada and she’d “really only been able to afford one”.

Celebrity is a readily overused word these days and Sir Michael has offered some forthright opinions in recent years on the watery nature of some of today’s public faces.

When you meet effervescent personalities like Mr and Mrs P, you can forgive his disdain.

Whilst waiting for a local radio interview via Skype, the presenter said: “We’ll be talking to Sir Michael Parkinson shortly after we’ve heard this from Jesus and Mary Chain.”

“How can I follow that?” he mused.

Let’s tackle a few preconceptions.

Does he suffer fools gladly? No.

Is he a straight-talking Yorkshireman? Yes.

Does he like talking about the (Rod Hull and) Emu attack on his chat show, 40 years ago? Not really.

So I avoided acting the fool, or attempting too much small talk, or remembering Rod and Emu. None of which come naturally to me.

Parkinson is a sport nut, so we had common ground to cover.

What is it about boxing and cricket that appeal to him so much?

“They have great performers. I like all sports but two of the greatest performers are Muhammad Ali and George Best. Fascinating men who reached the top of their professions.

“George quite often used to visit my house. Once he was on the run from the media in Manchester and he came and stayed for the weekend. He played football with my son Michael and when he went to school on Monday, his teacher asked him what he’d done over the weekend.

'I played football with George Best.'

'Go and stand in the corner for telling fibs,' came the teacher’s stern reply.

“Both men transcended sport. People who weren’t interested in sport went to watch them. The male voice choirs that football had in the stands suddenly had soprano singers for the first time.”

Best, who died in 2005 after a long battle with alcoholism, was interviewed by Parkinson no fewer than eight times. He plans to write a book about his friend to mark the 50th anniversary of Manchester United’s first ever European Cup triumph – arguably the Northern Irishmen’s finest hour on a football field.

Sir Michael has also interviewed Ali four times, which are delightfully documented in his book Muhammad Ali: A Memoir, released earlier this year.

An extract from the book, referring to Ali: “He was a multitude of men, so whenever people ask me what he was like, I always ask them which Ali they want to talk about – the humorist, the radical activist, the man who fantasised he could fight every man in the whole wide world and beat the lot of them, or the childlike being who loved performing magic tricks and telling ghost stories.

“He was a one-man carnival quite unlike any other I ever encountered.”

Cricket is also a lifelong love and he picks out legendary West Indies all-rounder Gary Sobers as his hero. Without hesitation, he’s off and running with another fluid anecdote.

“I was playing at Edgbaston once and the actor John Alderton and I were opening the batting. England fast bowler Bob Willis came in on his full run and with his third ball he took out my middle stump. I thought Christ, it’s only a charity match.

“I went back to the pavilion and Gary was rolling around on the floor laughing. I said to him, do me a favour and go out there and take him apart. And so he did, making the most wonderful hundred and hitting Willis all over the field.”

Changing direction, I asked him about the lost art of the talk show.

“TV companies don’t really do them these days, but (Graham) Norton is the best. He’s really excellent.”

Another thing we agreed on.

Sir Michael and his wife were in St Mawes for a charity lunch to raise money for Cornwall Air Ambulance at the Idle Rocks Hotel.

The event was organised by John Casson, who lives in the harbour village of Portloe on the Roseland peninsula. He has staged eight events of similar scale and his latest one raised an astonishing £33,000.

His tireless efforts for auction prizes clearly paid off, after receiving one of Poldark heart-throb Aidan Turner’s tricornes in the post on the day before last Wednesday’s event.

For a fleeting moment I was tempted to ask Sir Michael if he would pose for a photograph in said tricorne, but I hastily remembered that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly....