Presenter, Writer, Producer
The chat show king of British television throughout the 1970s, Michael Parkinson outdistanced rivals Russell Harty and David Frost and became a Saturday night fixture on BBC1 with his long-running series Parkinson (1971-82). Although he was not the first late-night TV chat show host on British television (The Eamonn Andrews Show had a popular following on ITV from 1964 to 1969), he helped pioneer the celebrity interview format which few have been successful in emulating.
Born in Cudworth, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in 1935, he left grammar school at the age of 16 with two O-levels and began his career at the Barnsley Chronicle. He did National Service, becoming the youngest captain in the Army, and eventually arrived in Fleet Street to join the Daily Express. His big break came in 1965 with a weekly sports column in The Sunday Times.
His work in television began when he was invited to join the production team of regional current affairs programme Scene at 6.30 (Granada TV, 1963-66) and as a reporter for other local Granada programmes. Producer Paul Fox brought him to the BBC to work on the late-night news review Twenty-Four Hours (1965-72) with Cliff Michelmore. In 1969 he left television journalism to become the presenter of Granada's perceptive film magazine series Cinema (ITV, 1964-75), following previous presenters Derek Granger and Michael Scott. He stayed with Cinema for two years before he was offered his own show by the BBC, Parkinson.
It was in this television format that Parkinson excelled, projecting to the viewer his affable, commonsensical, plain-speaking Yorkshireman personality. During an era when celebrities were rarely seen to speak at length about themselves on television, Parkinson and Parkinson soared in both the ratings and the viewers' affections.
His famed encounters during the series' eleven-year run (on both BBC1 and BBC2) included Muhammad Ali (a torrent of Black Muslim power), the sultan-like Orson Welles, the genial Hollywood actors David Niven, Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Gene Kelly, and James Cagney, the multiple visits of Kenneth Williams with his humorous but oddly-slanted ideas on life and behaviour, and the intimidating Rod Hull and Emu in 1976.
When the series came to an end in 1982, David Frost persuaded him to join a celebrity syndicate in a bid for the breakfast TV franchise. Known as "The Famous Five", Parkinson, Frost, Angela Rippon, Anna Ford and Robert Kee formed TV-am. He co-presented the morning show Good Morning Britain (ITV, 1983-92) in its early days, but when the station ran into trouble due to internal management difficulties he left to host a range of popular programmes, including Thames TV's Give Us a Clue (ITV, 1979-91) from 1984, LWT's All Star Secrets (ITV, 1985-86), and Yorkshire TV's Parkinson One-To-One (ITV, 1987-88).
The BBC revived their 1965-77 antiques valuation series Going for a Song in 1995 with Parkinson as host, and he stayed with the daytime show for four years while also hosting a comeback of Parkinson (BBC, 1998-2004). At a time dominated by such youth culture platforms as The Jack Docherty Show (Channel 5, 1997-99) and various Jonathan Ross interview programmes, Parkinson's guests now reflected the new generation of celebrities: Geri Halliwell, Robbie Williams, Ewan McGregor and George Michael, among others.
However, this revised Parkinson series ended in a disagreement with the BBC in circumstances not unlike his previous departure from the Corporation. In 1982, Parkinson had quit when his request for a five-nights-a-week format to the show was rejected; this time the row was over scheduling (his prime 10 pm slot was to be given over to Premiership football highlights). Host and show were quickly snatched up by ITV and Parkinson (ITV, 2004- ), in its comfortably familiar format and fashion, continues as before.
During his career Michael Parkinson has been the recipient of numerable awards and honours, including a Fellowship of the BFI (1997), the Variety Club's Media Personality of the Year (1998), the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Light Entertainment Performance (1999), and, in 2001, the Parkinson series won the National Television Award for Most Popular Talk show for the fourth time.
More informationFILM & TV CREDITS
From the BFI's filmographic database
Selected creditsGhostwatch (1992)
Fascinating pseudo-documentary investigating a haunted house
Related people and organisationsHull, Rod (1935-1999)
Comedian, Presenter, Writer2003-14 © BFI Screenonline | credits