Michael Parkinson – Life, Career & Death

Michael Parkinson was a familiar face on our TV screens. He’s famous for his interviews, television shows, and journalism.

Over the course of a fifty-year career, he interviewed some of the biggest celebrities on the planet from Muhammad Ali to Meg Ryan and John Lennon. All of his interviews were conducted in his gritty South Yorkshire accent which provided a refreshing change from the usual Received Pronunciation of others.

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Growing Up

On the 28th of March 1935, Michael Parkinson was born in the town of Cudworth in Barnsley. He was educated at Barnsley Grammar School and eventually went on to play for the town’s cricket team.

It was here that Michael played alongside two people more associated with the sport, Geoffrey Boycott and Dickie Bird. Michael famously scored a century to keep Boycott out of the team.

Although Parkinson had long remained a huge fan of the sport, his calling came from another profession which he became famous for.


The Beginning of Michael Parkinson’s Career

In July 1955, Michael spent two years in the National Service where he became a captain during the Suez crisis aged 19. Michael also had a brief spell working for local newspapers before moving into television, working for the BBC and Granada in Manchester.

He first appeared in front of the camera on a late night film review show called “Cinema” in 1971. In one of his episodes, he managed to land his first celebrity interview with Lawrence Olivier.

This specific interview became the catalyst for his career. A new show was commissioned on BBC which became known as “Parkinson”.

Parkinson Show

Originally, the show was to be an eight-week summertime filler. The first run of this chat show began in July of the same year – 1971.

The format of the show was very simple where each episode would have three guests of which Michael would chat to for around fifteen minutes. Afterwards, they would remain present on set during the next person’s interview only interjecting on request by the host.

Over the years, this show has provided some interesting combinations of celebrities who come from completely different fields. Throughout it all Parkinson was at its centre.

Michael’s interviewing style won him many accolades starting with thorough research of his subject. It was from this that he was able to guide them and the viewer gently through a set narrative.

He learnt very early on in his career that it was important to listen to the subject and only interject when necessary. Michael’s relaxed, attentive manner enabled the interviewee to fully express themselves leading to very colourful results.

Highlights of Michael’s Shows

In the first series of his show, Michael interviewed heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali. His opening gambit was:

Parkinson: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

Ali: “You’re not as dumb as you look.”

After this initial conversation, the interview took a more serious tone. Parkinson eased into the topic of the reasons behind Ali’s adoption of the Muslim faith which then led to a spectacular tirade against America.

This is an example of how Parkinson goes about his interviews. To begin with he uses humour to put the subject at ease before giving them the confidence and platform to share their opinions with the audience.

Other highlights from the early Parkinson shows include his famous encounter with Rod Hull and Emu in 1976 and his interview with John Lennon questioning him about his musical “creative phase” at the time. The results were an angry Lennon lambasting the British Press over their supposed disapproval of his divorce and subsequent relationship with Yoko Ono.

A Controversial Career

The Parkinson show ended for the time being in 1982 and made way for a controversial period in the broadcaster’s career. Michael became involved with the troubled beginnings of TV-am in 1983.

It was his job to host the weekend edition of “Good Morning Britain” and briefly became a director of the TV franchise behind it. Michael also became the presenter of Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs” in 1986.

This series was criticised for having too many guests who had associations with his native Yorkshire and was later replaced by Sue Lawley in 1989. Michael also had a stint at hosting “Film ‘85”, briefly replacing Barry Norman.

Parkinson One on One

Some Yorkshire folk will remember Michael’s return as a chat show host between 1987-88. He presented on Yorkshire television called “Parkinson One on One” in which he interviewed one celebrity guest at a time. After only sixteen episodes, this show ended.

Low Point of Michael’s Career

The 90’s proved to be a slow start for Michael and at the time his career seemed to have hit a dip. He made the odd TV appearance, most notably in “Ghostwatch” in 1992 which is a mockumentary screened on Halloween.

Two years later, he went back to his sporting roots to host “Parkinson on Sport” on Radio 5 until 1996. After that, he hosted a morning show on Radio 2 called “Parkinson’s Sunday Supplement” which Michael presented until his retirement in 2007.

Re-birth of the Parkinson Show

The year 1988 saw the re-birth of the Parkinson chat show and the now veteran broadcaster found himself amongst a new world of celebrities of Hollywood A-Listers. The second series maintained the same multi-guest format and provided its fair share of controversial and memorable moments.

In 2003, Michael encountered arguably his most awkward subject Meg Ryan who refused to answer his questions. When asked “what would she do if she were in his shoes”, she replied “close the interview”.

This moment in the show sparked a lot of controversy with the film star. Meg Ryan branded Michael Parkinson a “nut” who “behaves like a disapproving father”.

Another interview was with Victoria and David Beckham in 2001. It was revealed that Victoria had nicknamed her husband David “Goldenballs”.

Five years later, Tony Blair became the first serving Prime Minister to be interviewed on the Parkinson Show. Tony shared with Michael and the audience that he would be “judged by God” over his decision to invade Iraq.

During this time, the show created controversy. It officially moved to ITV in 2004.


In 2007, Michael Parkinson took the decision to retire after the end of the second run of his chat show. Two years later he published his autobiography.

Within his retirement, Michael had often been an outspoken commentator on the modern day media and celebrity culture. In 2009 he stated that he was:

“Fed up with the rise of celebrities hosting shows, ridiculously titled documentaries, and property shows.”

It’s also known that Michael had blasted modern day celebrities. These include the late Jade Goody, and Russell Brand.

A Big Hit in Australia

Michael Parkinson had proved to be a big hit in Australia. It was here that the first series of his chat show was shown from 1979 to 1982.

The South Yorkshire presenter also decided to try his hand at acting and performing. He embarked on a theatre tour across the country and also appeared in the much loved “Neighbours”.

Michael Parkinson’s Comeback

Michael Parkinson didn’t retire for long and made his comeback in 2012 in the shape of the Sky Arts “Masterclass” series. He interviewed a range of artists at the top of their field about the techniques behind their craft. Guests have included singer Jamie Cullum, magician Dynamo, and deaf musician Dame Evelyn Glennie.

In July 2013, it was announced that Michael Parkinson was suffering from prostate cancer. He made a full recovery and became a prominent campaigner in the awareness of the disease.

During his life, Michael Parkinson had provided two generations of viewers with laughs, controversy, sadness and mirth from the 2,000 plus celebrities that he had interviewed. His relaxed and chatty style had greatly benefited from his down to earth South Yorkshire accent and made a great contribution to his broadcasting career.

Michael Parkinson’s Death

This charming South Yorkshire lad sadly passed away on the 16th of August 2023 at home after a brief illness. He truly was a remarkable broadcaster who will be missed.