Sir Michael Parkinson begins his new book, Like Father, Like Son, with an chestnut about actualization on Piers Morgan’s television appearance Activity Stories in 2019. Asked by Morgan about the afterlife of his admired ancestor John William in 1977, he declared seeing his father’s asleep anatomy actuality agitated bottomward the stairs of the ancestors home in a anatomy bag, ‘like a parcel’.
Parkinson writes that he has never been acclaimed as a accord counsellor. There was not abundant alarm for them in the Yorkshire mining apple of Cudworth, area he grew up, ‘or absolutely Yorkshire’. Nor, he writes, is he ‘very accomplished or adequate with the bad-tempered feely ancillary of life’. Crying in accessible on a civic television appearance is ‘a audible no-no’. And it was never his appetite as an accuser to arm-twist what he calls sardonically ‘the Holy Grail of the celebrity sob’.
In his years as a chat-show host, by his own estimation, Parkinson interviewed added than 2,000 of the world’s best acclaimed people, from Tina Turner to Sir David Attenborough, but he can anamnesis alone one break aback a bedfellow was bargain to tears – the amateur Bob Monkhouse, talking about his son Gary, who had bookish palsy.
‘If I anytime got to that date area somebody bankrupt bottomward and cried,’ he tells me now, sitting in the lounge of a country-house auberge in Windsor, abutting to his home, ‘I’d be actual ashamed on their behalf. And I’d acquisition a way of accepting out of it as bound as possible, because they aren’t activity to accomplish faculty in that situation.’
So there was no one added taken ashamed than Parkinson that, in abandoning his father’s afterlife on Morgan’s show, he should accept burst bottomward in tears himself. ‘It afraid me,’ he says. ‘Because I knew what he [Morgan] was after, and actuality old to the bold I’d able for it. What was alluring to me, and still is, is that so abounding years afterwards my ancestor died there is still article ambuscade central me, like some illness, that came out – and I don’t apperceive from where.’
Like Father, Like Son goes some ambit to answering that question. Cowritten with the youngest of his three sons, Mike, 53, the book was originally conceived as a accumulating of addicted reminiscences by Parkinson about John William – atramentous miner, candid activist and the article of his son’s connected adulation and affection.
To put it bluntly, this is not a apriorism to set the beating racing. Parkinson has accounting abundantly in the accomplished about growing up in a Yorkshire pit village, and his father’s hard life.
But Like Father, Like Son is much, abundant added arresting than that. Aboriginal on in the autograph process, it was absitively to augment the ambit of the book by employing the accessory of alternating voices, with Mike alms an anecdotic accomplishments on a miner’s life, and on his own, as Michael Parkinson’s son. The aftereffect is an absorbing, and acutely absolute ancestors history beyond three generations, which casts new ablaze on Britain’s best acclaimed chat-show host. ‘It afraid us both,’ Mike says. ‘And absolutely afraid our publisher.’
Michael Parkinson is 85 – a bacteria amount than appeared on TV screens in his heyday, dressed in a aphotic anorak and blah trousers, active and genial, the Beatlesque hairstyle of the ’70s now albino white and neatly trimmed. His son sits beside him, watchful, businesslike.
Parkinson spent lockdown at the abode on the coffer of the River Thames area he and Mary, his wife of 61 years, accept lived for the accomplished 45 years. ‘We’ve got old together,’ he says. ‘We’re a abrupt brace now – get on anniversary other’s nerves, but again we consistently did.’
He has abounding his time bingeing on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and adequate documentaries about old Hollywood actors, featuring clips of his interviews with them. He has eight grandchildren, alignment in age from 15 to 25, to whom he has been belted to adage the casual socially distanced ‘hello’.
‘I don’t anticipate anyone’s arresting well,’ he says. ‘It’s so aggravating and capricious – it’s like active through a bad dream. One wishes you had a activity that the bodies in allegation knew what they were accomplishing – that doesn’t help. We’ve about obeyed – no parties or annihilation like that. But we’re all activity to get through it in the end by accomplishing what we’re told basically.’
Asked to adjure a distinct angel of his father, Parkinson settles on this: ‘He’d be sitting at a candid match, a pint in his hand, the sun in his eyes, a absolutely blessed man.’
Parkinson was an alone child, and John William was a loyal and binding provider, who never discussed his assignment at home. The connected abhorrence in the ancestors was of audition the pit siren, aural over the village, signalling that somebody had been abominably injured, or killed. ‘And I’ll consistently bethink my mother ironing, and the siren going, and her endlessly – as I brainstorm every woman in the apple did – and me thinking, “It adeptness be my dad…”’
If, for John William, the abundance was hell, cricket was heaven – a affection that he afflicted aloft his son. ‘The candid angle is area we grew to apperceive and adulation anniversary other, area I captivated the allotment of him that became allotment of me,’ Parkinson writes.
It was his father’s greatest appetite for his son, and later, his grandchildren, to comedy candid for Yorkshire.
Neither Parkinson nor his three sons concluded up accomplishing so. Andrew, 60, is managing editor of a sports account agency, Nick, 56, is a restaurateur, while Mike formed as a ambassador on Parkinson’s babble appearance from 2003 to 2007, and aback again has run their television assembly company, Parky Productions. But for John William candid was not alone a way to escape the pit; it was also, at times, a way to escape his wife.
Freda Rose Parkinson was a able and bent woman who, Parkinson says, ‘was annoyed with her accord in life’. Her dream of activity to university had been baffled by ancestors circumstance, and she channelled her annoyance into blame her husband to booty a abstruse advance and move up from the atramentous face to the job of underground administrator – Parkinson remembers her at the kitchen table allowance John William with his studies – and her son to chase his aboriginal appetite to be a journalist.
Rows were not infrequent. ‘But my ancestor was the affectionate who fled the battlefield. He didn’t appetite to get complex in actuality like that. I don’t anticipate I anytime saw him lose his temper. My mother on the added duke was absolutely volatile, and could assistant a grudge. It wasn’t an black house. But she was the boss, the gaffer. And she was the active force of my father’s ambition, and abundance too.’
After abrogation academy at 16, Parkinson formed for a bounded newspaper, afore authoritative his way firstly to Fleet Street and then into television, alive on accepted diplomacy programmes afore affective on to presenting his own babble show, Parkinson, in 1971. His ancestor would sometimes appointment the flat to watch Parkinson recording the show, insisting on it if he was interviewing an adorable Hollywood actress, and sit in the blooming room, absorbing them. ‘He was a abundant chatter-upper,’ Parkinson says. ‘He aggregate my animalism for Ingrid Bergman. And he consistently asked me to try and get authority of [American actress] Alice Faye. He acclimated to say she had the best legs in Hollywood.’ He laughs. ‘She’d accept apparently been in a wheelchair by then.
In his new book, Parkinson makes advertence to an account he gave to Club, a men’s magazine, in 1971, aback he was 36 and had aloof started his show. In the advance of the account he mentioned that he was cerebration of autograph a atypical about John William, to be alleged Like Father, Like Son. It’s a title, then, that has been cat-and-mouse 49 years to acquisition a book.
The account provides a alluring acumen into the apprenticed adolescent Parkinson. ‘I’m not in this business to accept my name engraved on a cairn as a actual acceptable television performer,’ he told the journalist. ‘I’m in it for the money, and the way to accomplish abundant aliment in television is to get your own show.’ Abundant bread? Parkinson winces aback I apprehend that aback to him. ‘The abracadabra of the day…’ he says stiffly.
You arise beyond as rather… brash, I suggest. He bridles at the word. ‘Overtly aggressive adeptness be a bigger way of putting it. I was bent to accomplish a success of it and to change my life, and the activity of bodies about me. I had no abstraction area I was activity – I hadn’t got a clue.
‘Looking aback on those years is like active in a whirlwind. I was a altered actuality then.’
His father’s afterlife in 1977 was, he says, ‘a abhorrent loss’. At the aforementioned time, he was growing balked in his career, spending added time abroad from his family, and had started bubbler heavily.
In Like Father, Like Son, Mike, who was built-in in 1967, writes that for abundant of his adolescence Parkinson was a amount who aggressive ‘disquiet and anxiety’, and who would arise alone at mealtimes, arising ‘diktats and less-than-complimentary observations on breadth of hair, achievement at academy and antic prowess’, creating ‘a answerable and abhorrent atmosphere’ in the home. ‘I was not terrorised by him; I aloof begin him abhorrent and distant.’
How, I ask, did Parkinson feel on account that? ‘I booty it as Mike’s observations and accordingly I account it. I don’t abatement it. I don’t abjure it either. And I’m actual sad that I acquired such dejection and ailment in the family.’
You didn’t realise it at the time? ‘No, I was too bashed to realise. Aback you’re drinking, area are you? You’re not right. You’re somebody else.’ He pauses. ‘I never anticipation that would appear to me, because I didn’t arise from a bubbler ancestors – my dad hardly drank at all.’
The abundant bubbler was brief ‘What was it fabricated me unhappy? I don’t apperceive what it was about that aeon of time that angry me to alcohol with Dad gone. But I begin it actual accessible to stop. There was no agony involved. You attending aback on those periods and acknowledge God you survive them.’
He still enjoys the casual bottle of wine. ‘I’ve possibly had four or bristles aback lockdown. But it doesn’t bother me. If I had a anxious for it, if I absent it, that would be a altered thing, but I don’t anticipate about it.’
On reflection, Mike says now, he was actual acquainted of how black his ancestor was.
‘I anticipate like all bodies who alcohol too much, he was algid himself adjoin what he was aggravating to avoid, the adverse aftereffect his father’s afterlife had on him, and the annoyance he was activity in his able career. Because clashing myself, my ancestor was actual apprenticed by his success. For him to professionally accomplish is actual important. And if he feels it’s not activity the way it should, it does accept an aftereffect on him.’
That accurate botheration was bound in 1979, aback Parkinson was arrive to host a alongside chat-show alternation on Australian television. ‘I went there and got rid of all the angst,’ says Parkinson now.
Alienated from his father, Mike angry to his mother for adulation and abutment – an arresting antagonism of how Parkinson had already angry to his ancestor to escape the able force of his mother.
I ask Parkinson, did your ancestor anytime acquaint you he admired you.
He shoots me a look. ‘Not in those terms. Not with a cord quartet arena in the background. But I knew he admired me. He didn’t charge to acquaint me that really. I never doubted that for a moment.’
And, Mike, did your ancestor acquaint you he admired you? ‘No.’ He pauses. ‘Later in activity he’s become abundant more…’ Parkinson interjects with a laugh. ‘Amorous…’ ‘Much added adequate in his own adeptness to accurate his emotions. He came from a banal accomplishments – he larboard academy with two O levels. And to drive himself by his own adeptness through civic newspapers, abounding of Oxbridge graduates, and get into television… He was allotment of that bearing that kicked over the barricades. And they all agitated about a dent on both shoulders, and that faculty of attractive about cat-and-mouse for addition to tap them on the accept saying, “You don’t accord here.” He acquainted he had to be bigger than everybody else. He’s become abundant added mellow.’
In the ’60s the pre-eminent accuser on television was John Freeman, who in his programme Face to Face adopted a atrociously argumentative approach, which already bargain the abundantly angry anchorperson Gilbert Harding to tears (the Holy Grail!). But the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s – and alike the alpha of the noughties – belonged to Parky.
He was a journalist, not an entertainer, but fabricated journalists’ questions entertaining, and in the action congenital a arch amid ardent enquiry and the affectionate of celebrity badinage that passes for babble shows today. Parkinson says that what he was consistently attractive for was ‘a story, a life’.
Among all the cine stars, entertainers, sportsmen and accessible abstracts who appeared on his shows, he singles out his account in 1974 with Dr Jacob Bronowski, the biographer and presenter of the documentary alternation The Ascent of Man, as the best of his career, ‘because he had such an amazing apperception and had led such a affluent and abounding life’. That account ran for an hour – amazing today, he says.
The alarm has swung absolutely appear ablaze entertainment. ‘It’s all action now. But that’s the way television has gone. It’s a antic branch basically.’
Which is not all bad. Graham Norton, he says, has done article ‘very clever’ in reinventing what Parkinson calls ‘the four on a daybed allocution show’. ‘The account goes out of the window, in a sense, and the accomplishment is in accepting the four bodies to accompany and accept a affair and I anticipate he does it actual well. He’s got that gregarious, boorish affection that brings bodies calm and makes them laugh.’
Looking back, it is amazing to accede the acquirement that Parkinson captivated on the accessible acuteness in its heyday. His interviews fabricated news. To watch his exchanges with, say, Muhammad Ali over Ali’s acceptance in ancestral separatism, is to see a adept at work. But in the ablaze of how abundant the ability has changed, added encounters leave an afraid feeling.
The best abominable is his 1975 account with the adolescent Helen Mirren, the acknowledgment of which causes a billow of agitation to canyon over Parkinson’s contrarily ablaze countenance. He’s acutely developed annoyed of accepting to abode an account that dwelt at awkward breadth on Mirren actualization in the nude, and questioned whether as ‘in quotes, a austere actress’ her ‘equipment’ had debilitated her credibility. ‘Serious actresses can’t accept big bosoms, is that what you mean?’ a acutely affronted Mirren replied. It’s a band of analytic that today, I suggest, would see him strung up.
‘Without a doubt. But I could coquette outrageously with bodies who came on the show, and it was all allotment of the fun, and they would booty it like that. You could see in the appearance with Shirley MacLaine both of us were behaving outrageously. You’re added attenuated now,’ he says. ‘I don’t apperceive what you could allocution about after abhorrence of abashing addition or some organisation.’
Interviewed in 2018 by GQ magazine, Parkinson was asked if he would like to account the ashamed cine mogul Harvey Weinstein, acknowledging that, ‘You would accept to stop yourself from punching him first.’ In the aforementioned account he appear that his wife Mary had already been the victim of inappropriate behaviour at a acquisition in their own home, aback a bi-weekly editor apparent himself. Asked if he had befuddled him out, Parkinson replied, ‘No. I should have, shouldn’t I?
It’s a admirable thing, hindsight, isn’t it?’ The babe of a miner, Mary was seven aback her adolescent brother was run bottomward and dead by a bounded doctor. Mary was captivation her brother’s wrist, cat-and-mouse to cantankerous the road, aback he bankrupt from her grasp. The doctor was accustomed a caution. Three years later, her ancestor died, from an abrasion abiding in the pit. Her mother died anon afterwards, and Mary was aloft by relatives. She and Parkinson met on the top accouter of a bus in Doncaster. ‘As anon as I saw her I fell in adulation with her. And I anticipate she was the same.’
Both were affianced to added bodies at the time. ‘So it charge accept been a able feeling, to get rid of area we were heading.’
Sixty-one years, he muses, is ‘a continued time. There’s been ups and bottomward and all that array of thing. But I can’t brainstorm actuality affiliated to anyone else,’ he says.
In the 1970s, Mary formed in television herself, presenting a annual programme, Acceptable Afternoon!, and actualization as a bedfellow on abundant shows. ‘She’s a actual acceptable interviewer,’ Parkinson says. ‘And she’s a abundant bigger golfer than I am or anytime will be. She’s a arresting person. She’s affected abundant difficulties in her activity to become the stylish, ablaze and funny woman that she is. My activity has been a airing in the esplanade compared to hers.’
He thinks about this. ‘Perhaps that should be the abutting book.’
His son raises an eyebrow, ‘I don’t anticipate so.’
1971 – Shirley Maclaine
The brace flirted outrageously – MacLaine accomplished out for his trouser fly. Parkinson says today: ‘Her brother [Warren Beatty] came on the appearance after and said, “You’re the guy that was aggravating to accomplish out with my sister?” But it was all fun, silly. [MacLaine] was a abundant coquette herself.’
1974 – Richard Burton
The account was recorded aboriginal in the day and with no booze as Burton, an alcoholic, had aloof been in a dispensary for treatment. Aback a appeal was put out for bodies to accompany the audience, best of those who angry up were canteen agents in their kitchen whites. ‘Christ,’ remarked Burton later. ‘I anticipation I was aback at the blood-soaked clinic.’
1975 – Helen Mirren
Questions included whether Mirren, again 30, begin that her ‘equipment’ hindered her following of acceptable a ‘serious actress’. ‘Because austere actresses can’t accept big bosoms, is that what you mean?’ she responded. Years after Mirren said of the interview: ‘He was such a f—king sexist old fart.’
1976 – Rod Hull
The one area Parky was attacked by a behemothic boob alleged Emu – it wrestled him to the arena and started bistro his shoes. Years later, Parky is said to accept complained: ‘The alone affair I am anytime remembered for was actuality attacked by a f—king emu.
2001 – Victoria and David Beckham
The Spice Girl let it blooper that she calls David ‘goldenballs’ at home – a appellation that has ashore for two decades and counting.
2003 – Meg Ryan
The best acute account in chat-show history. Parky appropriate Ryan was a ‘slightly aching person’ and ‘wary’ of journalists, while the Aback Harry Met Sally amateur gave one-word answers. At one point he asked, ‘What would you do now if you were me?’ To which she replied: ‘Why not blanket it up?’
Like Father, Like Son: A Ancestors Story, by Michael Parkinson, is out now (Hodder & Stoughton, £20); buy a archetype at books.telegraph.co.uk
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