Sir Michael Parkinson recalls 61 years in journalism at NCTJ gala dinner

Sir Michael Parkinson entertained delegates with tales of his journalism career at this year’s NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference at the Nottingham Contemporary on 28 November.

The veteran journalist and broadcaster told delegates he “never had a cause to regret” that he became a journalist since the day he left Barnsley Grammar School at the age of 16 and joined the South Yorkshire Times apprenticeship scheme.

Now one of Britain’s best known broadcasters, Sir Michael recalled how, at a young age, he was fascinated by journalists in the movies and bought himself a trilby and trench coat for his first job in homage to his idol Humphrey Bogart.

On a more somber note, he told a captivated audience how the reality of his profession was revealed when he was sent to interview the mother of a soldier who had been killed while on national service. “I’m 17 years of age, I’m dressed like a clown and I’m about to tell this woman that her son’s been killed and I couldn’t do it,” he said.

“It changed me totally and utterly. All the ideas I had in my mind about what this job was about changed and I understood that, no matter how glamorous it might seem and how exciting it was in all the ‘Bogey’ movies, that when you became a journalist you intruded on people’s lives.”

Sir Michael went on to detail his progression from trainee journalist at the Barnsley Chronicle to features writer for the Manchester Guardian and the Daily Express, before his move into television, first as a producer at Grenada and, eventually, as a broadcast journalist with his own critically acclaimed chat show, a role he described as “the best job in journalism”.

His talk show Parkinson was launched in 1971 and ran until 1982. It was re-launched in 1998 and ran on the BBC and then ITV for a further nine years. Sir Michael, was awarded a CBE in June 2000 and a knighthood for services to broadcasting in the 2008 New Year’s honours’ list

“More times than one I’ve had to pinch myself and think how lucky I was to make that choice about being a journalist,” he said.

Sir Michael, who also presented students and trainees with their NCTJ Awards for Excellence, said: “Today I see in all of those young faces around me real eagerness and excitement, and so you should be eager and excited. It’s a wonderful job.”

He added: “If you have half as much fun doing it as I did, you’ll do very well indeed.”

While probably best known for his BAFTA award-winning talk show, he has also had a successful career on radio. In 1996 Michael launched a Sunday morning show on Radio 2 – which ran for 12 years. He has won numerous awards and in 1998 was separately honoured for his work in journalism, radio and television.

Sir Michael is currently the Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, a position he was awarded in 2008.