Sir Michael Parkinson: Sir David Attenborough and David Beckham lead tributes

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Watch: Memorable moments from Parkinson’s star-studded show

By Steven McIntosh
Entertainment reporter

Stars who were interviewed by Sir Michael Parkinson over the years – from Sir David Attenborough to David Beckham – have paid tribute to the “TV legend” following his death at the age of 88.

Sir Michael interviewed many of the world’s biggest stars on his long-running self-titled chat show.

Sir Elton John said he was “a TV legend who was one of the greats”, and Beckham wrote: “We say goodbye to the best.”

Dame Judi Dench told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme Sir Michael was “a one-off”.

“I don’t remember being frightened of being interviewed by Michael, because it was just like talking to a really good friend,” she said.

“His enjoyment and love of doing it, it was a complete joy to watch. He never shunned asking a direct question.”

In his tribute, Sir Elton added: “I loved his company and his incredible knowledge of cricket and Barnsley Football Club. A real icon who brought out the very best in his guests.”


Beckham appeared on Parkinson with wife Victoria in 2001, when she famously revealed his Goldenballs nickname.

The former footballer wrote: “I was so lucky to not just be interviewed by Michael but to be able to spend precious time talking about football and family, our 2 passions. Plus the GoldenBalls moment…”

Actor Sir Michael Caine said: “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.”

A statement from the chat show host’s family on Thursday said: “After a brief illness Sir Michael Parkinson passed away peacefully at home last night in the company of his family.

“The family request that they are given privacy and time to grieve.”

Sir David Attenborough on Sir Michael Parkinson

As told to BBC Radio 4’s The World At One

Sir Michael Parkinson interviewing Sir David Attenborough and Sir Billy Connolly in 1998

As a viewer, you knew if Michael was asking the questions, there were going to be good questions, and they would elicit good answers.

As a network controller, I thought he was the best freelance interviewer in the business. He was always knowledgeable, he was absolutely classless. You knew he was not a southerner, you knew he was a northerner, and that was a very refreshing voice in those days.

You knew that he would do his homework, and that he would ask questions that didn’t occur to you, as well as those that did. I thought he was the best interviewer in the business at that time.

He was extremely generous. He wanted you to shine, and not particularly himself. He would always laugh at your jokes, and give you an opportunity to make them sound funnier than in fact they were. When you were told that he was going to be the interviewer, it was like meeting a friend. Though in fact we didn’t meet very often, but you knew that he was on your side as much as on his own.

He was Saturday night television, and there’s nobody like him doing the sort of things that he did when his career was at its height. Television doesn’t give that kind of space to interviews these days, to its loss, and of course Michael did it better than anybody.

Sir David Attenborough and Sir Michael Parkinson pictured in 2013

I remember he was interviewing me and Billy Connolly together, and of course Billy Connolly made both of us laugh a lot but he laughed even at my jokes, and my stories, and, as it were, looked after me to make sure I wasn’t swamped by Billy Connolly, who is after all a very big character.

With Michael, it was always friendly, always thorough, always intelligent, always a pleasure to do it, and I think that came over no matter who his interviewee was.

He always knew what the interesting bits were, and he steered you through that sort of thing. He was always generous in the way he framed his questions. He wanted you, his interviewee, to shine.

I didn’t ever see him uncomfortable, he was unflappable. It didn’t matter what you did, whether it was a puppet that tried to consume him, or if he was interviewing a great intellect, he was always in charge, but not dominantly so.

Comedian and travel presenter Sir Michael Palin described the broadcaster as “incisive and very sharp”.

Sir Michael told The World At One: “He wanted to get people on his show who entertained him and therefore who he thought would entertain the audience. He was not picky. He was not trying to diss anybody. He was an enthusiast and he was very positive.

“It didn’t always work,” he noted. “In some cases, [interviewees] suspected what they saw as the difficult questions he might ask in among all the fun and the enjoyment.

“Because he was a very good journalist, and a very proud journalist, and it was very important for him not to give people an easy ride. But he did basically choose people he liked, because he liked to be entertained himself.”

On social media, TV presenter Davina McCall described Sir Michael as “unique and always so well researched”.

“[He was] loved by all the biggest stars in the world and they were all desperate to be interviewed by him,” she continued. “Funny, self deprecating, sharp, charming, strong, honest and a fantastic listener. His legacy is enormous.”

Former prime minister Theresa May said she and Sir Michael shared a passion for cricket (the pair pictured at Lord’s cricket ground in 2018)

Former prime minister Theresa May said Sir Michael was “a remarkable man and an outstanding broadcaster”.

“We knew each other well through his charitable work in my constituency and our mutual passion for cricket. My thoughts and prayers are with his family,” she added.

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker described Sir Michael a “a truly brilliant broadcaster and wonderful interviewer”, while presenter Dermot O’Leary said he was “one of the greats”.

“But above all else he listened… in a world full of noise,” O’Leary added. “RIP Michael, thanks for the education.”

Boxer Frank Bruno praised Sir Michael’s ability “to frame and gift wrap the guest to deliver to the TV viewer”.

TV presenter Piers Morgan said Sir Michael was the greatest of TV interviewers. “Wonderful character, great writer, sublimely talented broadcaster, and hilarious lunch partner. Loved him,” he said.

Sir Michael Parkinson was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008

Sir Michael was described as a “giant” by comic and impressionist Rory Bremner.

Good Morning Britain host Susanna Reid said Sir Michael “was the King of Interviewers”.

“He also enjoyed being interviewed. [I’m] lucky to have had that pleasure. He was authentic, funny and charming. Thank you for being the best.”

Ofcom chairman and former TV executive Sir Michael Grade described the chat show host as “a master of his craft”.

“He was charming, not aggressive, not looking for a cheap soundbite,” he told BBC News. “He prodded and probed, but he wanted to give the stars the opportunity to express themselves, tell us who they were.

“The show was about who was on, it wasn’t about Michael, he saw his role really as a journalist, to get the best out of his subject. His library of interviews is like a popular history of the 20th Century.”

Sir Michael Parkinson pictured in 2017

Sir Michael introduced the first Parkinson show in 1971 on BBC television. The series ran initially for 11 years and spanned hundreds of episodes in which Sir Michael combined an avuncular style with a journalistic background.

He returned to the BBC in 1998 for another run of the show. Sir Michael estimated he had interviewed more than 2,000 guests in total. Of the many celebrities he interviewed, Sir Michael said Ali was his favourite.

His TV career also included ITV’s TV-am breakfast show, Give Us a Clue and BBC One’s Going For a Song, while he had a three-year stint hosting Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 in the 1980s.

He was made a CBE in 2000 and was knighted in 2008.

The presenter revealed he was receiving radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer in 2013, and said he got the all-clear from doctors two years later.

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