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Michael Parkinson was the most successful of the British chat show hosts who proliferated in the 1970s and earned a lasting reputation as a viewers’ favourite.
A Yorkshireman to the core, Michael Parkinson started out as a newspaper journalist but later moved to Granada, where he worked on current affairs programmes, and thence to the BBC, where he joined the 24 Hours team and also indulged his enduring love of sport, producing sports documentaries for London Weekend Television.
Priding himself on his Yorkshireman’s “gift of the gab,” he made his debut as a chat show host with his own Parkinson show in 1971.
Broadcast every Saturday night for the next 11 years, the show became an institution and set the standard for all other television chat show hosts.
Relaxed, well-groomed, and attentive to his guests’ feelings, he nonetheless proved adept at getting the best out of the celebrities who were persuaded to come on the show, without causing offence.
The questions he put were innocuous and in reality invitations to the guest concerned to assume the central role.
The best interviews were with those who had a tale to tell and the confidence to tell it without much prodding from the host. Parkinson was sensible enough not to interrupt unless it was absolutely necessary.
At the top of the list of guests, Parkinson had the most success in interviewing were Shirley MacLaine, Miss Piggy, Dame Edith Evans, Peter Ustinov, and boxer Muhammad Ali. In 1974, however, Ali railed at Parkinson, emphasising in no uncertain terms: “You do not have enough wisdom to corner me on television. You do not have enough. You are too small minded to tackle me”. After the show, Parkinson’s father told him he should have thumped Ali.
But if Parkinson ever took a personal dislike to a guest, he tried not to let it show (though viewers were quick to detect any animosity).
Among those he later confessed to finding most difficult were comedian Kenneth Williams, who appeared a total of eight times on the show and was quick to use Parkinson as a verbal punchbag, and Rod Hull’s Emu who attacked an unusually dishevelled Parkinson in his naughty bits and wrestled him to the floor to the delight of the audience and the barely-concealed fury of the host himself. The outburst prompted fellow guest Billy Connolly to comment that if *he* were attacked he would break the bird’s neck and Hull’s arm.
Michael Parkinson was born in Cudworth, Yorkshire on 28th March 1935. He attended Barnsley Grammar School, and began his career as a newspaper journalist, originally with local newspapers and eventually the Guardian, the Daily Express and the Sunday Times.
Parkinson was also the co-founder of TV-AM in 1983 and continues to host successful radio shows.