Expertise and eloquence made Sir Michael Parkinson one of the greatest – Patrick Collins

He interviewed over 2,000 of the world’s biggest stars on his long-running TV chat show, but Sir Michael Parkinson’s considerable talents as a sports journalist – he was the SJA’s Columnist of the Year in 2002 – deserve high acclaim, as his successor as SJA President explains in his personal tribute…

By Patrick Collins, former President of the SJA

Patrick Collins with Sir Michael Parkinson, arriving for the 2011 SJA British Sports Awards

Sir Michael Parkinson, who has died at the age of 88, was President of the Sports Journalists’ Association from 2004 to 2015.

Patrick Collins was Sir Michael’s successor and served in the role for eight years before stepping down in April. Here, he writes a personal tribute to his friend…

The tributes have been pouring in; sincere, and thoroughly deserved.

Some spoke of Michael as an entertainer, others as a talk show host, while some thought him an appealing ‘personality’.

But I always believed that it was his journalism which underpinned all his other talents.

It was the ability to construct cogent, appealing pieces of written journalism which informed his broadcasting eloquence.

Sir Michael Parkinson, pictured in 2011 (image: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Even the ‘reporter’ cliche appealed to him, as he once recalled: “When I was 16 years old and working on the local paper in Barnsley, it was my ambition to be ‘Bogie’, to wear the trenchcoat and trilby, cradle the phone and say, ‘hold the front page!'”

He never actually got to interview his role model, but he did speak to just about every other major sports or showbusiness figure in the second half of the 20th century.

And with all of them, the journalistic training shone through – frame the argument, ask the question, leave a silence that the interviewee feels compelled to fill, draw out the real personality beneath the image.

His colossal Saturday-night viewing figures were testimony to his success.

And all this without a swollen head or an extravagant ego. It was an extraordinary achievement.

In private – just like the rest of us – his opinions would be expressed in more robust terms. But even his public words could carry a fearsome lash.

He was never afraid of offending those who needed to be offended. On South Africa and apartheid tours, for example, he was completely resolute, and he would regularly castigate the MCC and others for what he viewed as collaboration.

Michael used his status to admirable effect when he became President of the SJA in 2004. He gave us his wisdom and his effort; seducing sponsors and enhancing our influence. He offered us security and significance, and we owe him an enormous debt.

Patrick Collins

When, in 2015, he asked me to succeed him, we marked the occasion with a convivial lunch. As time went by, he started to reminisce about his sporting heroes.

He spoke of George Best, of course, and of Shane Warne, Geoffrey Boycott and, Sir Matt Busby.

I mentioned his famously fractious interview with Muhammad Ali, when the Greatest took serious offence with Michael’s line of questioning and seemed to issue threats which went way beyond play-acting.

“Some night that was,” he said. “Muhammad was still furious after the show. Next day, I called my Dad to ask him what he thought. ‘Bloody outrageous!’, he said. ‘You should have stuck one on him!'” And Michael’s shoulders shook at the memory.

Sir Michael Parkinson was a decent and gifted man, and one of our greatest journalists.

The Sports Journalists’ Association will never forget him.

Further reading…

‘A giant of sports journalism’: A tribute to Sir Michael Parkinson by former SJA chair David Walker