Former cricket umpire Dickie Bird has described saying “goodbye” to Sir Michael Parkinson the day before he died – with the friends having an unspoken feeling it would be their final chat.
Bird was emotional as he recalled his final words with his friend of 74 years – who died on Wednesday night after a short illness.
“I was completely shocked because I only spoke to him yesterday. We had a long chat yesterday,” he told Sky News.
“I know he hasn’t been well, he hasn’t been well at all, and his voice yesterday – it didn’t sound as if it was strong. It was a weak voice. I knew then there was something wrong with him.”
The 90-year-old broke down as he remembered his parting conversation with the TV presenter.
“We cracked a few jokes together, we had a few tears in our eyes, and we said goodbye – goodbye to each other at the end of the phone call – as if we had this feeling we wouldn’t see…
“I had this feeling we wouldn’t see each other again and we said goodbye, and that was it.”
Sir Michael died aged 88 after a career that made him one of Britain’s best-loved TV personalities, with his interview style and warmth attracting the world’s biggest names.
His show first ran from 1971 to 1982, before relaunching in 1998 until he retired in 2007.
Dickie Bird told Sky News he was a “very, very special friend” and they had known each other since they were teenagers in Barnsley.
They were both sons of coal miners and played on the same cricket team in their youth – with Bird saying ‘Parky’ kept future England cricketer Sir Geoffrey Boycott out the team.
“I was so sad when I heard the news this morning – I slumped in my chair and shed a few tears,” said the 90-year-old.
He recalled how they would regularly chat on the phone and that Sir Michael travelled from Berkshire to say a few words at this birthday in April – despite being unwell.
Bird said he told him “he would have walked” to get there such was their friendship.
‘He made it effortless’
Comedian Rory Bremner told Sky News that Sir Michael was “the greatest interviewer there’s been” and remembered fondly the “twinkle in his eye”.
He said his success was based around being “genuine and authentic” and rooted in his Yorkshire upbringing.
“He made it effortless, but it wasn’t effortless at all,” said Bremner.
“It was a lot of work. It was the instincts of a journalist, the warmth and wit of an intelligent and warm and funny human being. He was a lovely man.”
Bremner said the calibre of guests Sir Michael attracted spoke for itself.
He said: “You look at those shows he had in the 70s, the people he had – Charlton Heston, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Kenneth Williams, Bob Hope, Dirk Bogarte.”
Actors, comedians and TV stars have been lining up to pay tribute to Sir Michael in the hours since his death was announced.
Stephen Fry described being interviewed by him as “impossibly thrilling”.
“The genius of Parky was that (unlike most people… and most of his guests, me included) he was always 100% himself,” he wrote on Instagram.
“On camera and off. ‘Authentic’ is the word I suppose.”
Comedian Eddie Izzard remembered him as the “king of the intelligent interview”, while British singer and actress Elaine Paige described him as “legendary”.
‘The ideal interviewer’
Sir David Attenborough said he was an “ideal interviewer who asked interesting and often important questions because he genuinely wanted to know the answer”.
“He also had a great sense of humour and didn’t take himself too seriously,” said the famous naturalist.
Sir Michael Caine, who appeared on the interviewer’s final show, tweeted: “Michael Parkinson was irreplaceable, he was charming, always wanted to have a good laugh. He brought the best of everyone he met.”
The television legend grew up as an only child in a council house near Barnsley and despite being a promising cricketer he left school at 16 and went into journalism.
He worked on a local paper before moving on to jobs at The Guardian in Manchester and the Daily Express.
He got his break in TV as a producer at Granada, moving to Thames TV before landing his chat show Parkinson at the BBC.
He also had a short-lived term at TV-AM as part of the original line-up alongside the likes of Angela Rippon and David Frost.
A knighthood for his decades of work followed in 2008, with Sir Michael giving the modest reply: “I never expected to be knighted – I thought there was more chance of me turning into a Martian really.”
In 2013, he revealed he was being treated for prostate cancer but said he had no intention of stopping working.
Sir Michael was married to his wife Mary for more than 60 years and the couple had three sons.