THIS is an interview with a man named Ringo Starr, who used to play drums for the Fab Four group called the B*****s. He agreed to submit to the interview only if it were not about the B*****s, since he was in New York to promote his new children's show, ``Shining Time Station'' (PBS, Saturdays starting tomorrow, 6:30-7 p.m., check local listings).
Another proviso was that somebody else from the cast of the show should also be present. Thus, co-stars Nicole Leach (9 years old) and Jason Woliner (8 years old) joined the party.
I had known Ringo about 25 years ago, when, in another professional capacity, I had toured with the B*****s, but I had not had any contact with him since. How could he resist exchanging a few words about the B*****s, despite our prearranged contract, I wondered.
First thing in the morning on the day of our interview, I watched his appearance on the ``Today Show,'' where he appeared for about two minutes, discussed the new show, sat with Jane Pauley while she showed a clip from the program, then departed without saying a word about the B*****s. I know why.
Then I watch one episode of the series. It is a lively but complex mix of music, puppets, and special effects, with Ringo as the 18-inch-high Mr. Conductor, who tells train stories. It proves too complicated for even an adult to follow at 8 a.m. without nodding off.
Now, at 10:30, Ringo is greeting me at the door of his chic Carlyle Hotel suite, a bearded man with a thick Liverpudlian accent and a black turtleneck sweater, jeans, and silver-studded leather boots and belt. There are four rings on his fingers and an earring dangling from his left ear.
He doesn't remember me from the halcyon days of the B*****s. A blow to the ego, but - hey - this is an interview about ``Shining Time Station.'' The show has been a great success in England as a five-minute, twice-a-day radio program, ``Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends,'' based on books by the Reverend W. Awdry. On radio it consists of Ringo telling stories about a gang of steam engines.
Now, for the planned American audience of 4- to 7-year-olds, the program has been expanded to take place in an enchanted train station, with a regular cast of children and adults, a zany group of musical puppets who live in the station's jukebox, a lovable gang of animated trains, and, of course, Ringo Starr as the diminutive railroad man with magical powers.
The press kit for the program includes biographies of everybody involved except Ringo. Why?
``You know the bio. Everybody knows the bio!'' Ringo says.
But what are some of the things you been doing since the demise of the B*****s?
``I haven't been doing much at all really,'' he says. ``I made a few TV movies, an album. [I] haven't done much in the last couple of years. I've been in the general entertainment field about as much as I want to be. And that's about it. But we're here to talk about the new show, not my life in depth.''
I try another tack and ask the kids.
Did Jason know who Ringo Starr was when he got the job acting with him?
Jason: ``I had heard the name, but I really didn't know who he was. When I got the job, though, my mother was yelling and screaming: The Beatles!''
Nicole: ``I hadn't heard of the Beatles, and none of my friends knew ... who Ringo Starr was, but after I started the show I heard a lot about them. My Mom has a Ringo watch.''
Jason: ``Now, Ringo is not just a big celebrity to the older generation; he's a big celebrity to me and kids of my generation, too.''
Is it possible that Ringo Starr will be a bigger star than he ever was when he was a B*****?
Ringo has heard enough about his low profile with the youth of America and breaks in to return the focus to Ringo. ``Smaller,'' he says, ``because I'm only 18 inches tall.''
He says he has no other projects in the works in TV, although he does have a record album coming out Feb. 28, a repackaging of his past solo work, titled ``Starrstruck'' (Rhino).
George Harrison and Paul McCartney are much more active in the area of musical performances, aren't they?
``I'm active, but in the sidelines,'' he says. ``I was on five tracks of George's last album, `Cloud Nine.''' When Ringo talks about the B*****, he seems to perk up; so, perhaps, now's the time to slip in a few more B*****s questions.
Does Ringo see much of George and Paul?
``I have contact with them. We have dinner; we go to each other's houses. But we're not in each other's pockets anymore. I see George more often, because he lives closer.''
Will there ever be B*****s music again?
He smiles sadly. ``It would be pretty hard, wouldn't it, with one of us [John Lennon] in heaven? But we're here to talk about the new show, not the B*****s. If I wanted to do B*****s interviews I could sit here all year.''
The publicist takes her cue. ``Time is running short,'' she says. I thank everyone for fitting me into a busy schedule, and wish them well on the new show.