Sir Michael Parkinson has been remembered as “one of the northern lads” whose transfer from news to light entertainment was the result of his “good looks, personable manner and ready wit”.
Dame Maureen Lipman, Sir Rod Stewart, Sir David Attenborough and former cricket umpire Dickie Bird, were among those paying tribute to the celebrated chat show host following his death.
Sir Michael died peacefully at home at the age of 88 “after a brief illness” and “in the company of his family” on Wednesday night.
Known as Parky, he interviewed some of Hollywood’s biggest names throughout his illustrious career, though remained firmly grounded in his northern roots.
Sir Michael became a familiar face on both the BBC and ITV because of his intimate celebrity interviews, most notably on BBC show Parkinson which first aired on June 19 1971.
It enjoyed a successful run until 1982 before being revived by the BBC in 1998 and proving again to be an instant hit.
The show switched to ITV1 in 2004 and ran until 2007 – the same year Sir Michael retired from his Sunday morning Radio 2 programme.
In a statement shared with the PA news agency, Dame Maureen said her husband, the late playwright Jack Rosenthal, had known Sir Michael from his days at Granada TV.
“He was one of the northern lads for whom Granada was an extension of university. His transfer to light entertainment was a result of his good looks, personable manner and ready wit,” she said.
“He often drank in the Stables bar with our theatre company and George Best and other actors.”
Dame Maureen appeared on Parkinson as well as one of his early episodes of Desert Island Discs, which he hosted briefly from 1986.
“I appeared on his chat show a couple of times and he was brilliant because he gave you time,” Dame Maureen told PA.
“You were not sitting on a sofa with several other people and you could actually speak without having to be scatalogically hilarious or play silly buggers.
“He will be missed and rightly celebrated.”
Sir David Attenborough, 97, remembered Sir Michael as a “proud Yorkshireman”, adding in a statement to PA that “he was beyond region or class – he was himself”.
“He was also an ideal interviewer who asked interesting and often important questions because he genuinely wanted to know the answer.”
Sir David added: “He also had a great sense of humour and didn’t take himself too seriously.”
Former international cricket umpire and Yorkshire batter Bird, 90, spoke of his “dear friend” saying, “there will never be another Parky”.
The pair opened the batting for Barnsley Cricket Club together in their youth and remained friends, with Bird telling PA: “He was so close to me.
“His friendship meant more to me than anything else. If I wanted any advice I would ring Parky up. He helped me in so many, many ways.
“There will never be anyone better than him in your lifetime, my lifetime or anyone else’s lifetime.”
Sir Michael’s famous interviews included those with boxer Muhammad Ali, footballer David Beckham and comedian Rod Hull – with puppet Emu, and Sir Rod Stewart.
Posting a picture of the pair and a clip from their interview, Sir Rod wrote: “In all my career, I’ve dreaded doing interviews on television.
“But with Michael, it was the opposite. I happily looked forward to our chats. He was authentic, truly the best and will be missed.”
Sir Michael Caine, who appeared in 2007 as a guest on the final Parkinson instalment, wrote on Twitter: “Michael Parkinson was irreplaceable, he was charming, always wanted to have a good laugh. He brought the best of everyone he met.
Michael Parkinson was irreplaceable, he was charming, always wanted to have a good laugh. He brought the best of everyone he met.Always looked forward to be interviewed by him.
— Michael Caine (@themichaelcaine) August 17, 2023
“Always looked forward to being interviewed by him.”
Sir Michael also made headlines with some more difficult encounters, including 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 a 1975 chat show, and asked if her “equipment” hindered her being recognised as a serious actress.
In 2003, a frosty one-on-one with Hollywood actress Ryan while she was promoting the poorly received erotic thriller In The Cut, saw her stony-faced for the sit-down, delivering one-word answers after allegedly being rude to fellow guests.
Sir Michael grew up as an only child in a council house in the coalmining village of Cudworth, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.
He left school aged 16 and began working at a local paper, later joining the Manchester Guardian and then the Daily Express.
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.
He was also a respected radio broadcaster, hosting Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 as well as his own sports shows on 5 Live, and an award-winning sports writer.
Sir Michael was knighted by the late Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2008, and in 2013, 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.