Sir Michael Parkinson obituary


There was a time – a number of a long time, really – when Sir Michael Parkinson, who has died aged 88 after a quick sickness, was one of the ubiquitous figures on nationwide tv. He was not the primary to host a chatshow however he was probably the most sturdy and versatile, largely as a result of he noticed himself as a journalist somewhat than a broadcasting persona.

He was additionally capable of current a wide range of programmes on each radio and tv, and write insightful weekly columns, primarily in regards to the sports activities he cherished – primarily cricket – for a succession of nationwide newspapers.

Together with his wry, confiding manner and his attribute facial twitchiness, asking well mannered however sometimes convoluted questions in his tender Yorkshire accent, typically whereas fiddling self-consciously together with his hair or scratching his nostril, he interviewed greater than 2,000 friends over 20 years, starting from Hollywood actors to favoured sports activities stars, actors and comedians, and sometimes literary and mental figures, on his eponymous present.

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Michael Parkinson speaking to George Greatest within the mid-Seventies. They went on to grow to be agency associates. {Photograph}: William H Alden/Getty Photographs

It aired first on the BBC between 1971 and 1982, then once more between 1998 and 2004 when the programme was revived, and at last for an extra three years on ITV till 2007, after they fell out over a revised contract.

Interviews might be critical, or anecdotal, however the emphasis was at all times on the visitor, not the presenter: thus Alistair Cooke, the mathematician Jacob Bronowski, WH Auden, Jonathan Miller, Henry Kissinger and the Salvation Military pioneer Catherine Bramwell-Sales space (born in 1883) made appearances, in addition to the extra common fare of present enterprise personalities. Parkinson was effectively briefed and infrequently fazed by any of them.

When requested why he had typically requested deferential, even star-struck questions, Parkinson – referred to as Parky – insisted in a Telegraph interview: “The folks I interview aren’t criminals or little one molesters, so why on earth ought to I act like an interrogator? I calm down the friends, I’m a fantastic listener.” He advised the Guardian: “I’m the boss, not them. It’s my patch, not theirs. That is my house … they’ve to come back down my stairs into my front room and discuss to me.”

He had Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris on the present lengthy earlier than their crimes got here to gentle, however he did probe Woody Allen about his relationship together with his stepdaughter shortly earlier than he married her. Every now and then he may ask excruciating questions, corresponding to to Helen Mirren throughout a present within the Seventies about her “bodily attributes” – to which the actor reacted with dusty incredulity, years later describing him as a “sexist previous fart”. In his defence Parky mentioned that he wasn’t sexist, he was “Yorkshire”.

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Michael and Mary Parkinson on the memorial service for the journalist Keith Waterhouse at St Paul’s, Covent Backyard, central London, in 2010. {Photograph}: Martin Argles/The Guardian

The programme was a broadcast model of a newspaper journalist’s interview, besides with a studio viewers and a band simply out of shot. “The graveyard is full of people that tried talkshows and didn’t make it, primarily as a result of they weren’t journalists,” he advised the Guardian in 2012. “No talkshow presenter nowadays asks questions and listens to the solutions.”

He was fortunate to catch among the nice figures of the flicks he had watched as a toddler on the native cinema within the 40s: Orson Welles (his first visitor), James Stewart, Fred Astaire, James Cagney, Shirley Temple and Bette Davis – figures too venerable or well mannered to be obstreperous. However there have been moments in later reveals when interviewees refused to carry out: a drunken Robert Mitchum answering monosyllabically, a disdainful Meg Ryan advising him to wrap up an interview that was not getting wherever.

And, after all, the comic Rod Hull’s emu puppet, which launched an unprovoked assault in 1976 and wrestled Parkinson to the bottom. “The one factor I’ll ever be remembered for,” he later complained, “is being attacked by a fucking emu.”

Over time there have been treasured few stars who didn’t seem on the present. It took 20 years to get Madonna to come back on, however finally she did. Billy Connolly bought his nationwide present enterprise break on the present after a taxi driver suggested Parkinson about his comedian potential. John Lennon refused to reply questions in regards to the Beatles until Parkinson requested them in a sack and he duly clambered right into a bin bag to take action.

Typically the present produced greater than well-rehearsed tales, as when Eric Morecambe described his first coronary heart assault or Victoria Beckham confided that her identify for her footballing husband was Golden Balls.

There have been sports activities stars too, cricketers corresponding to Parkinson’s buddy Geoffrey Boycott railing on the means he had been handled by Yorkshire, Bobby Charlton and a drunken George Greatest and, 4 instances, Muhammad Ali, who belligerently advised him on one event: “You do not need sufficient knowledge to nook me on tv. You might be too small mentally to deal with me,” whereas wanting as if he was about to punch Parkinson’s lights out.

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Helen Mirren being interviewed by Michael Parkinson in 1975. It brought on a storm when he requested her through the present about her ‘bodily attributes’. He later defended himself by saying he was simply being ‘Yorkshire’. {Photograph}: BBC

Their friendship mellowed later and Parkinson mentioned after the boxer’s dying that he was probably the most superb man he had ever met.

Born in Cudworth, close to Barnsley, South Yorkshire, Michael was the one little one of Jack Parkinson, a miner at Grimethorpe colliery, and his spouse, Freda (nee Dawson), who determinedly inspired her son to learn and took him to the cinema 4 instances per week. He described her because the engine of his ambition. “She opened up the prospect of a life past the confines of a pit village,” he mentioned later. From his house on a council property he received a scholarship to Barnsley grammar college. Simply to verify he by no means ended up down the pit, his father took him into the mine as a boy to indicate what working circumstances underground have been actually like.

What his father did bequeath him, although, was a lifelong love of cricket – and he was an achieved membership cricketer, too, taking part in on degree phrases for Barnsley within the Yorkshire league with the younger Boycott and the longer term take a look at umpire Dickie Chook. He claimed to have had a trial for Hampshire whereas serving regionally throughout nationwide service, solely to be dissuaded by his father with the phrases: “It’s not like taking part in for Yorkshire, is it?”

Parkinson left college at 16 with simply two O-levels – English and artwork – and have become a trainee reporter on the South Yorkshire Occasions, overlaying flower reveals, magistrates courts and native Girls’s Institute conferences, to which he pedalled on the workplace bike, earlier than shifting as much as bigger native papers.

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Michael Parkinson interviewing Meg Ryan. It didn’t go effectively, together with her telling him to ‘wrap it up’ because it was going nowhere. {Photograph}: Richard Kendal/BBC

His nationwide service coincided with the Suez disaster, the place he discovered himself appointed as a press liaison officer – promoted on the age of 20 to be one of many youngest captains within the British military – to shepherd reporters overlaying the Anglo-French invasion. “I wished to be them. It was no good going house and overlaying native bingo winners,” he wrote later.

Again in Yorkshire, he was really useful to the Manchester Guardian by Dick West, one of many paper’s reporters who had fallen asleep the more severe for put on at a gathering they have been each overlaying and woken as much as discover the younger tyro serving to to file his story to the paper. On the Guardian he labored within the options division alongside the longer term novelist Michael Frayn, vying to write down the lead story on the paper’s miscellany web page every day, for which they might be awarded an additional 5 shillings of their wages.

That was adopted inside a few years by a transfer to London to work on the Day by day Specific for double the wage the Guardian paid after which into tv: initially for Granada, the impartial station again in Manchester, working as a information reporter. All the time bold and continuously on the transfer upwards searching for higher cash, quickly there have been programmes to current: the native information programme and later a weekly present about cinema.

When he lastly left Granada he offered his colleagues with the important thing to his locked desk. Opening it when he had gone they discovered sheaves of clean resort and restaurant receipts from everywhere in the north of England, ready for use to cowl shortfalls in bills. It grew to become identified within the newsroom because the Parkinson bequest.

He additionally lined onerous information tales, the Moors murders trial and, later, as soon as he bought to London, the Nigerian civil warfare and the Arab/Israeli six-day battle for programmes corresponding to World in Motion and the BBC’s 24 Hours, although he in the end determined he was not courageous sufficient to be a warfare correspondent.

In 1971, he bought his break with the Parkinson present, which ran for 11 years till in 1982 he was enticed away to grow to be one of many launch crew on the primary breakfast information channel, TV-AM, alongside Anna Ford, Robert Kee, David Frost and Peter Jay. The launch was famously a catastrophe: its opening date postponed by the Unbiased Broadcasting Authority after which pre-empted when the BBC hurriedly launched a breakfast present of its personal three weeks earlier than they went to air.

Parkinson and his colleagues could have been well-known broadcasters, however they lacked managerial expertise and the type of populist contact wanted for early morning reveals they usually have been quickly ousted.

Parkinson, consuming closely throughout this era, left for Australia, the place he had a chatshow.

He was not away for lengthy and tackled his consuming behavior with the help of his spouse, Mary (nee Heneghan), whom he had married in 1959 after recognizing her on the highest deck of a bus – although he was so shy that he bought a buddy to ask her out on his behalf. Mary, then a health trainer, herself grew to become a daytime tv presenter for a time.

There have been quickly different programmes and documentaries, together with a quick stint presenting Desert Island Discs following the dying of its unique presenter, Roy Plomley. There have been additionally sports activities documentaries, presenting stints on different reveals, on radio and tv, and sports activities columns to write down. “Parky” popped up in all places, an immediately recognisable and genial determine as a broadcaster, although he might be testy with these despatched by newspapers to interview him.

In 1998 got here the revival of Parkinson. On his retirement from the present in 2007, Parky mentioned that solely two interviewees had evaded him: Frank Sinatra and the good Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman. Later, on the launch of his 2021 Jazz FM radio present, My Sort of Jazz, he mentioned his hero Louis Armstrong was “the one man I actually, actually wished to get on the talkshow …however finally my good buddy David Frost bought the interview. I used to be so jealous; I may have killed him.”

Jazz and cricket remained his overriding pursuits in life. He settled in Bray, Berkshire, and continued to make one-off documentaries and printed his memoirs, naturally entitled “Parky”, plus numerous spin-off books of interviews from his reveals so as to add to an earlier biography of his buddy Greatest and collections of his sporting journalism. He was typically publicly important of the state of tv, blasting the “cult of youth”, and saying in 2009, “Please God, no extra so-called documentary reveals with titles like My 20-Ton Tumour … and The Quickest Man on No Legs”.

From 2012 to 2014 he hosted a Sky Arts Masterclass sequence.

Parkinson was appointed CBE in 2000 and knighted in 2008. He advised the Day by day Mail in 2012: “If I look again on my life, I took the financial choice after I typically assume I ought to have targeting my writing … I’d have been far poorer, however perhaps extra contented.”

Mary and their three sons, Andrew, Nicholas and Michael, survive him.


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