Michael Parkinson: ‘I dreamed of living with Ingrid Bergman near Barnsley FC’

I was born in Cudworth, a mining village near Barnsley. My father worked down Grimethorpe colliery. There’s a great tradition in Yorkshire of brass music and I would listen to the Grimethorpe Colliery Band rehearsing on Sunday mornings above a nearby pub.

I imagined that the only way out of my pit village was to run away. I didn’t realise that you could educate your way out. I hated my school and I left as soon as possible, at 16. I walked into a newspaper office – the South Yorkshire Times – and said: “Gizza job.”

I’ve since been asked to tour with several orchestras. The brass sections are always from Lancashire factory bands or Yorkshire pit bands. I never would have dreamed that the kids I heard rehearsing above a pub in my pit village would one day be playing in these wonderful orchestras.

They are also raucous individuals and very good drinkers. I went on a tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the brass section were from up north. On the opening night in Sunderland, they put a bloody whoopee cushion on my seat. I walked on stage as stylishly as I could in front of 1,000 people, took my seat ready to narrate Peter and the Wolf or whatever, and this great fart came out. I knew it had to be the lads in the brass section.

When I first saw Fred Trueman bowl, I’d never seen anything as graceful or as beautiful: strange adjectives to use about a six-foot man who was built like a brick coalhouse. He had a big bum, muscular legs and a permanent scowl. He’d mark his run, turn to approach the wicket, reach to the crease and arch up with his delivery stride and left elbow pointing down the wicket, with his arm high and his floppy hair. It was poetry in motion. It was profound, because I began to understand the aesthetic value of sport.

I knew I wanted to write about cricket. I worshipped John Arlott from afar, until I finally met him in a press box in Yorkshire. As a broadcaster, he was the voice of cricket on the BBC. He was also a very good poet and had a wonderful sense of imagery.

In later life, I was hired to write Trueman’s biography, but for various reasons the job went to Arlott. I said to John: “I couldn’t get anywhere near him. How did you get on?” He said: “I never bothered talking to him.” “You’ve written a book about him!” “I didn’t need to talk to him. I’ve seen him bowl, that’s all I needed.” I thought: “That’s the difference between a poet and a scrubber.” I’m the scrubber and he’s the poet.

The first time I heard Louis Armstrong on the radio as a teenager, I knew my choice of music had been determined. From that point, I worshipped the man. He was the one man I really, really wanted to get on the talkshow. I mean, he invented jazz. He was uneducated, yet he was the greatest trumpet player there’s ever been. It was the mystery that fascinated me. How do you explain his genius?

There were so many questions that I wanted to ask, so we tried and tried to get him on, but eventually my good friend David Frost got the interview. I was so jealous; I could have killed him, I really could have. David was a wonderful interviewer and a dear friend, but he had no interest in jazz – at all! He might as well have been interviewing the dustbin man. So I never got to interview Louis Armstrong – he died before the opportunity arose again.

My mother was a huge cinema fan. She made a living by selling knitting patterns to a company called Patons and Baldwins. She was very clever and creative, but circumstances had denied her the chance to be what she really wanted: a designer.

Anyway, she would sit next to me, knitting in the movie house. At the end, the lights would go up and she’d hold up this jumper or pullover. How on earth she did it in the dark, I do not know. All her click-clacking annoyed people, but she couldn’t give a damn. She demonstrated that, no matter the circumstances, you should be what you want to be. It’s an important lesson to learn.

I used to go to the movies with my mum. We would watch Jimmy Cagney, Edward G Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. I fell in love with all these wonderfully beautiful women like Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.

I used to imagine myself, maybe, one day, meeting Ingrid Bergman and inviting her to come and live with me in Barnsley. I’d already picked the house – near Barnsley football club – where we would live. Then came the day: “Ladies and gentlemen, my next guest is Ingrid Bergman.” And down the stairs came this gorgeous, mythical woman, who was as nice as she was beautiful.

When she was in hospital, dying from cancer, I sent her flowers – unsigned – saying how much I loved her and all that. She wrote back and said: “I know it was you who sent me those flowers.” Life has a funny way of dealing with ambitions and attitudes.

I have had a very interesting life. I wouldn’t change a moment. I grew up in a pit village – where men had died – safe, because my parents told me I was never going to follow my father’s footsteps. They allowed me to be very independent-minded. I was reading The Grapes of Wrath at grammar school and this old Victorian teacher went: “Parkinson! What’s that?” I said: “It’s about the American depression,” and he dropped it in the wastebasket.

I wasn’t a bad cricketer. I progressed from the local league to Barnsley. My opening partner was Dickie Bird. And batting at number three or four – wanting my job as an opener – was Geoffrey Boycott. The three of us went to the Yorkshire nets for assessment. Boycott and Bird were accepted and I was kicked out: a failure as a cricketer. I’ve never forgiven Yorkshire and I’ve never forgotten Boycott and Bird, even though we are still great mates.

I have been very, very lucky, doing the talkshow, just spending an hour or two with all these politicians, sport stars and actors. Just make sure that you say that David Frost and I were best friends because I don’t want to seem like I was jealous of him. Even though I was.

Parky – My Kind Of Jazz starts Sun 13 June, 9pm, Jazz FM.

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