John Bonham's final TV interview was a famous fiasco... but it's not quite what it seems

John Bonham being interviewed on Alright Now
(Image credit: Tyne Tees TV)

Back in March 1980, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham undertook his final TV interview. Recorded a few short months before his death, it did not appear to go well.

Bonham's grilling took place on Alright Now, a rock music show that ran on The UK's Tyne Tees TV for just two seasons in 1979 and 1980. The first season was hosted by former Darts singer Dan Hegarty, but by series two he was gone fired for being "too outrageous" – and a series of guest presenters had taken his place: Bob Geldof, Suzi Quatro, Bill Odie, Mickie Most, Phil Lynott.  

The second episode of series two was hosted by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, and a stellar line-up of guests was booked. Guitar hero Rory Gallagher would open and close the show. A live film of local punk heroes Angelic Upstarts was on the running order, as were a pair of studio performances from Dr Feelgood. But the real prize was the interview with Bonham.

"We've scored an absolute coup on this show," says Connolly in his introduction. "Because we're going to do probably the only interview with John Bonham ever done."

"Mind you," he adds, "when you see it you'll probably realise why it was the only interview ever done."

A clip from Led Zeppelin's movie The Song Remains The Same follows, before the film cuts back to Connolly, who's been joined by Bonham, and the interview starts. A pattern is quickly established. Connolly asks a series of fairly involved questions, and Bonham gives monosyllabic answers. 

"Not really." 


"A few months."  


"Could be." 

"Gee, the nights are drawing in, eh?" says Connolly, as if to fill the awkward silences with something.  

It's not great television, but the show was deemed suitable for broadcast. 

The clip has since passed into broadcasting legend. In 2006 the archive service ITN Source selected it as one of the 10 most notorious rock interviews of all time, car crash television at its best. And, for the most part, Connolly has been blamed for the so-called fiasco, as if his line of questioning was responsible for Bonham's reluctance to play along.  

It turns out things were a little more complicated than that. In 2002, Connolly's wife, the writer and performer Pamela Stephenson, published a biography of her husband entitled Billy, and wrote that the interview had gone exactly as planned. And 20 years later Connolly confirmed it in an interview with Mojo, revealing that Bonham showed up for the recording rather worse for wear, and that the two had conspired to keep the drummer's input to a minimum to spare his blushes.

"I said to him, look, why don't I just ask you really lengthy, confusing questions and you can just shrug as if you don't know the answer, or just say yes?" Connolly explained. "That way we still do the interview but you don't actually have to do it. He said, 'Would you do that?' and I said, 'Of course, it'll just seem like you're mercilessly taking the piss.' I didn't give a fuck so we did it - and it was funny.

"Then years later, during the days of [music TV show] The Tube, [host] Paula Yates dug out that tape and showed it as if it was John ripping me a new one! It's funny how things like that have a tendency of backfiring."

Connolly and Bonham had actually been friends for years. The two had first met at the notorious Hyatt House hotel in Los Angeles in the early 70s, and Connolly had flown aboard Led Zeppelin's private jet. The relationship continued over the course of the decade, with Connolly invited to the London premiere of The Song Remains The Same in 1976. He also introduced Bonham onstage at Hammersmith Odeon three years later, during Paul McCartney's Concert For Kampuchea charity show. 

After the Alright Now recording, as if to confirm that there were no hard feelings, Connolly and Bonham enjoyed a meal.

"We went for dinner at this place in Newcastle that did rabbit pie," Connolly told Mojo. "I always went there because of that pie. When we got there, John was a bit fired up and he started shouting, bawling and breaking things. Then, he said, 'I've had enough! I'm going for a lie down.' He found a chaise longue and next thing we heard him snoring." 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.