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Desert Island Discs

“The Humphrey Bogart of South Yorkshire”

Parkinson (right) with Peter Sellers in 1974. Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty

When Michael Parkinson was at grammar school, he wanted to be a cricketer, he told Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs, originally broadcast in 1972. “Very much.” But the only thing he learned apart from the rules of the sport was how to smoke, and he became “a very good smoker”. When this started to hamper his sporting ambition, he came up with another plan: to be “Humphrey Bogart in one of those films where he wore a snap brim”. He kept up wearing the hat even when he got his first job as a district reporter. “The only problem was, I couldn’t cycle and wear my trilby hat with a snap brim. So I got some knicker elastic, and I tied it into the rim and under my chin… like the Humphrey Bogart of South Yorkshire.”

Parkinson, who died this week age 88, worked as an Army press officer during the Suez invasion in 1956 – “it was eventful, and quite hilarious” – before eventually winding up at The Manchester Guardian. It was there where he started working on a TV series for ABC television – something he’d always wanted to do, “because I’m very vain and wanted to be recognised”. After his first show, he walked into the pub over the street, expecting people to “come flocking, autographs and all that kind of thing”. After five minutes, “the landlord came up to me and said: ‘My God lad, there’s been a fella on television who looks just like you.’ I just stood there, and then he said: ‘Don’t look disappointed, they were bloody terrible.’”

✈️🥂 Parkinson shared his success with his family, says Jack Blackburn in The Times, at one point buying his 67-year-old father his first aeroplane ticket, in first class. When the steward asked if Parky Sr would like a drink, he replied: “Pint of bitter, please.” When it was explained that bitter wasn’t available, but champagne was, he replied: “I can’t afford champagne!” Finally, he was told the fizz would be gratis. “Free?” he said. “Bring it on.” He got so drunk, his wife later recalled, “that after his meal he offered to wash up”.

🎵 Singin’ In The Rain – Gene Kelly
🎵 Messiah – George Frideric Handel
🎵 Here’s That Rainy Day – The Stan Getz Quartet
🎵 I Wish I Were In Love Again – Frank Sinatra
🎵 Mad About The Boy – Blossom Dearie
🎵 How High The Moon – Stan Kenton and His Orchestra
🎵 If Ever I Would Leave You – Robert Goulet
🎵 As Time Goes By

📕 Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway
🎁 Typewriter and paper