Michael Parkinson death: Remembering South Yorkshire miners son who said 'he would not change a thing'

Remembering South Yorkshire miners son and TV icon Michael Parkinson, who has died aged 88
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Iconic South Yorkshire television personality Sir Michael Parkinson has died, aged 88.

A statement from Sir Michael's family said: "After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family. The family request that they are given privacy and time to grieve."

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He was a well known figure in Sheffield. Our pictures show his visits to he city for the Sheffield Cricket Lovers Society, as well as the day he received an honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University at Sheffield City Hall in 2017.

Sheffield Cricket lovers Society 50th Anniversary dinnerPresident of the Society Sir Michael Parkinson shares some memories and a joke with Secretary David DrabbleSheffield Cricket lovers Society 50th Anniversary dinnerPresident of the Society Sir Michael Parkinson shares some memories and a joke with Secretary David Drabble
Sheffield Cricket lovers Society 50th Anniversary dinnerPresident of the Society Sir Michael Parkinson shares some memories and a joke with Secretary David Drabble

Before his TV career, he started life as an only child, growing up in a council house in the coal mining village of Cudworth, near Barnsley.

Grimethorpe Colliery

As a teenager, his father, a miner, took him down the pit, Grimethorpe Colliery, to put him off working there.

When his dreams of playing cricket for Yorkshire were dashed, he left school aged 16 and began working at his local paper, later joining the Manchester Guardian and then the Daily Express.

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His first TV job was as a producer at Granada, and he later moved to Thames TV, before landing his chat show Parkinson at the BBC.

The chat show host interviewed some of Hollywood's biggest names throughout his illustrious career - with names such as Jimmy Cagney, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergmann on the list.

BBC career

Parkinson first aired on the BBC on June 19 1971, and enjoyed a successful run until 1982. In 1998, the chat show was revived on the BBC and proved an instant hit.

It switched from the BBC to ITV1 in 2004 and ran until 2007 - the same year Sir Michael retired from his Sunday morning Radio 2 programme.

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His career saw him welcome the likes of boxer Muhammad Ali, sporting star David Beckham and Rod Hull - with puppet Emu - onto his chat shows during a long and distinguished career.

During the hundreds of episodes of his talk show, he also interviewed stars including David Bowie, John Lennon and Celine Dion.

I had the best of it and I wouldn't change a thing, except perhaps Emu

Michael Parkinson

Headline making interviews throughout his career included those with actresses Dame Helen Mirren and US star Meg Ryan.

He famously introduced stage and screen star Dame Helen as the "sex queen" of the Royal Shakespeare Company during their 1975 chat show encounter, and asked if her "equipment" hindered her being recognised as a serious actress.

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In 2003, his interview with Ryan made headlines following a frosty one-on-one with the Hollywood actress while she was promoting the poorly received erotic thriller In The Cut.

Ryan sat stony-faced for the sit-down, delivering one-word answers after allegedly being rude to her fellow guests on the show, the fashion double act Trinny and Susannah.

TV-am career

He had a short-lived term at TV-am as part of the original presenting line-up alongside the likes of Angela Rippon and David Frost, and appeared on the shows Give Us A Clue, one-off drama Ghostwatch and Going For A Song.

Sir Michael brought down the curtain on more than 30 years of his chat show at the end of 2007 with a final show featuring Beckham, Sir Michael Caine, Sir David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Edna Everage, Sir Billy Connolly, Peter Kay and Jamie Cullum in a two-hour special.

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Speaking on the final show, he said: "Over the years it has been a privilege to meet some of the most intelligent and interesting people. It has always been a great joy and I shall miss it."

As well as his television career, he was a respected radio broadcaster, having hosted Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 as well as his own sports shows on Five Live. He was also an award-winning sports writer, having been a lifelong cricket fan.

Sheffield Hallam University

He received an honorary doctorate in 2008, alongside cricket umpire and his good friend Dickie Bird, at the Barnsley campus of Huddersfield University. He received an honourary degree at Sheffield Hallam University in 2017

Michael Parkinson receiving his degree at Hallam University in 2017. Picture: Chris EtchellsMichael Parkinson receiving his degree at Hallam University in 2017. Picture: Chris Etchells
Michael Parkinson receiving his degree at Hallam University in 2017. Picture: Chris Etchells

He was knighted by the late Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2008, and said of the accolade: "I never expected to be knighted - I thought there was more chance of me turning into a Martian really."

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In 2013, he spoke openly about being diagnosed with prostate cancer following a routine health check.

He had three sons with wife Mary, who he married in 1959.

Sir Michael once revealed he had "no idea" how the first episode of his hit BBC show had gone, but there had been "something in it that I wanted to pursue".

The veteran broadcaster said he had been happy to get through the show without "falling down the stairs or forgetting the name of the guest sitting opposite".

The first episode of Parkinson aired on June 19 1971.

Seen as a temporary 10-week filler programme, it recorded over 650 episodes featuring interviews with over 2,000 guests and was voted by the BFI one of the top 10 UK television programmes of all time.

50th anniversary

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In 2021, to mark the programme's 50th anniversary, Sir Michael was interviewed by his son and producer Michael Parkinson Jr, as part of a BBC documentary: Parkinson At 50.

Asked if he had ever imagined he would present so many episodes of the show, he said: "I was just happy to get through the first show without falling down the stairs or forgetting the name of the guest sitting opposite.

"I had no idea how it had gone.

"I knew there was something in it that I wanted to pursue but I had no idea how it would turn out."

Sir Michael's first guests on the show in 1971 were celebrity snapper Ray Bellasario and comedy actor Terry-Thomas, as well as US singer Marion Montgomery.

The signature tune was played by the Harry Stoneham Five.

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Over the next three decades he would interview some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Jimmy Cagney, Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergmann.

Sir Michael admitted that in the early days of the show it had been "difficult not to get tongue tied" when faced with the likes of Bergmann and Bacall.

South Yorkshire memories

"I used to imagine getting married to (them) when I was child watching them from the back row of the Rock Cinema in Barnsley," he said.

However, despite the vast array of actors, musicians, and other high profilers, the interview Sir Michael was most proud of was with scientist and humanist Dr Jacob Bronowski.

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Part of the interview featured in Parkinson At 50, during which Dr Bronowski recounts "in a simple, compassionate and articulate way" a visit to the Auschwitz death camp.

"It's an excerpt I can barely watch and as you will see in the programme it brings me to tears," Sir Michael said, ahead of the documentary's airing.

"But it is the interview I am most proud of, not because of any role I played in it but because Bronowski was such an extraordinary man, possessed of a mind like a Swiss watch."

Other infamous interviews including those with Dame Helen Mirren, Meg Ryan and Rod Hull and Emu.

Attacked by Emu

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The puppet famously attacked Sir Michael on the chat show sofa, and wrestled him to the ground. He later joked that his career would be remembered for "that bloody bird".

In an interview with the Radio Times in 2007, shortly before his final show, Sir Michael said that his initial fear of forgetting guests' names had occasionally come true - including with Hollywood legend John Wayne.

"I simply couldn't think of his name, so I stared at my crib sheet and it said 'Duke', which was his nickname, of course, but that didn't do me much good," he said.

He also revealed the questions his guests have told him they would rather not be asked, including requests from comedian Woody Allen and actor Rex Harrison.

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After premiering in 1971, Parkinson enjoyed a successful run until 1982. In 1998, the chat show was revived on the BBC and proved an instant hit.

It switched from the BBC to ITV1 in 2004 due to a clash with football highlight show Match Of The Day.

Sir Michael told the Guardian at the time that the BBC was "shocked" at his decision but said the broadcaster had "sold my playing field".

Parkinson ran on ITV until 2007 - the same year Sir Michael retired from his Sunday morning Radio 2 programme.

Wish list

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For one of his final episodes Sir Michael put together a "wish-list" of stars to join him.

Sir Michael Caine, Sir David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Edna Everage, Billy Connolly, David Beckham, Peter Kay and Jamie Cullum appeared on the two-hour special.

Jazz star Cullum played the classic track Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone in tribute to the host, who had helped launch his career by featuring him on his show when he was an unknown.

The final show did not have any guests but was a lifetime retrospective and was broadcast on Saturday December 22 2007.

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Speaking in 2021 ahead of Parkinson At 50, Sir Michael said: "I did a talk show at the best time, without the constraints of social media that turn many celebrities into people as mysterious as our next-door neighbour.

"I had the best of it and I wouldn't change a thing, except perhaps Emu."