Reviewed by Ian Lipke
This book is regarded as more than simply a collection of reminiscences about Michael Parkinson’s father. The author sets out to record his father’s sporting obsessions, his sense of humour and his determination to produce a cricketer worthy of playing for Yorkshire. The book is intended to contain two viewpoints to prove that this family has a fascinating story to tell.
From this reviewer’s point of view, this book should never have been published with the intention of releasing it to a wider audience. It is a eulogy, not a true biography. It should have been released to a reading audience of family or close friends. ‘In general [Parkinson’s father] was a figure who inspired disquiet and anxiety, and we looked for protection to our mum, who in turn…was not emotionally equipped to be a strong barrier and could look to no one near her for help’ (209). The book has many similar quotes disparaging of family members and of relevance only to them. Furthermore, Chapter 2 is a history lesson, researched by Parkinson’s son and covers subject matter relating to his grandfather (51). The book contains non sequiturs in argument, contradictions (47,49), broad statements the writer is unqualified to make (155) and, on occasions, such as the following, terrible prose:
This concerned difficulties with my self-esteem that stemmed from growing up in a long shadow and wondering where and how you’ll find your place in the sun without being compared or having where you are or what you achieve always accompanied by the stain or accusation of nepotism (210).
The book consists of four specific foci and a general one, the four being characters, cricket, the coal industry and the place of women. This reviewer will touch on just two of these major characters. The first is Parkinson’s father. He is described by his son in a manner which suggests that hero worship overwhelms judicious judgement. Parkinson describes his father as ‘a perfect grandfather and ideal father-in-law’ (131), but the old man’s stupidity in insisting on playing cricket on an open beach, in a howling gale, has the effect of placing his wife in bed sick for the remainder of her holiday (131). The old man was a stickler to practices of a by-gone age (89), he considered himself a brilliant teacher whose philosophy was that life lessons can be learned on a sports field. He indulged in what we would call basic juvenile humour (118,134). Yet Parkinson admits that his father was a cheat (137). But then in the last chapter, Parkinson makes the statement, ‘He died as he had lived, without making a fuss’ (233), a statement which conflicts with the descriptions throughout the book.
Mike Parkinson (Michael Parkinson’s son) claims that his father was not an easy man to get close to (148). This reviewer wonders about the relevance of this snippet of information. He goes on to describe about his struggle with the father-figure (202). Michael Parkinson begins a contemplative statement about men and love between father and son. This comes too late in the book (205) and is followed by talk of an unhappy home (215), that should have not been revealed publicly.
Parkinson’s father saw cricket as a game worshipped by everyone. His constant referral to cricket must surely have curtailed his reading audience (166) and his one-sided argument (73-81) and his constant harping about the intricacies of cricket (97) would be of interest only to cricket fans. Sometimes there can be nothing more boring than a fan who has only one subject in his memory banks.
We are treated to a long, long description of life as a coal miner and the position of the coal industry, thus taking our attention away from the real subject of the book. The old man’s perception of coal as a product is inward looking (74-75, 79-80). His comment on Margaret Thatcher’s ‘being hell-bent on revenge for the humiliation heaped on the Heath administration by the miners’ strike of the early 1970s’ (80) reveals his lack of knowledge in areas other than cricket.
Having read through the book, we are left with confusion over the parts played by the women in the Parkinson family life. Whole passages appear ostensibly in admiration of Parkinson’s mother, but which actually tell us more about Parkinson’s attitude to his mother, which is not admiration but something else that leads us confused as to its identity (45). Michael appears, if anything, to be speaking in a patronising tone. Only on one occasion, a boxing episode, does the mother step out of the grey dawn into the light (108). There is confusion also over the place of the grandmothers. One is described as a great positive influence on Michael Parkinson. But he then uses words like strong, stern, unforgiving and suffocating (149). The other grandmother seems to live always in the background and is reticent about revealing her talent for knitting (151). Some of her jumpers were worn by the Beatles, but nobody in the family knew (151).
This book would be of interest to people close to the Parkinson family and to others attracted by the Michael Parkinson television shows. It is not recommended for general reading.
By Michael and Mike Parkinson
Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Aust
$32.99; 256 pp