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Case Study 2 - Michael Parkinson


hen you think of chat shows, you think of Michael Parkinson. His name has become a byword for the genre, and the list of guests who have appeared opposite the genial host is stellar. From Hollywood movers and shakers to Prime Ministers, everyone who's anyone queues up to talk shop. His shows have brought us many golden memories, such as his interview with Mohammed Ali where he barely managed to get a word in, or the unforgettable assault by the late Rod Hull and his sidekick Emu. Yet who's there to ask the questions of the host himself? The Family Detective has taken a look at his roots, and reveals some interesting talking points concerning his background.


Who is Michael Parkinson related to?


ichael Parkinson was born in 1935 in Cudworth near Barnsley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the son of a coal hewer John William Parkinson and his wife Freda. Coal mining was a profession that was in the Parkinson blood; at least three generations of Parkinson worked in the pits, all living in Brierly, a village in the district of Hemsworth. John's father Samuel was born in 1876, and found employment as a colliery lampman, ensuring that fellow workers had sufficient light by which to hack away at the coalface. In 1899 he married Florence Kate Sawyer, the 19-year-old daughter of a soldier who appears never to have known his daughter; Richard Sawyer served as a private in the Royal Horse Guards, and married Florence's mother Anne Batterham in London near to his barracks in Knightsbridge. Only seven months later Florence was born, suggesting a shotgun wedding (no pun intended) but by this date Anne had moved back to her parents home in Lincolnshire, and Richard was later listed as having died. It was left to Florence's grandparents Abraham and Frances Batterham to raise her from the age of only a few months old until the time she met and married Samuel Parkinson. The Batterhams were clearly quite a strong couple, as they also provided a home for another young grandchild William, only a few months older than his cousin Florence

Samuel's father William Parkinson was a labourer down the pit in Brierly, and his story is no less remarkable. He was born in 1830 in Brierly, the son of Thomas and Hannah. The couple ran a very small farm of only 5 acres, where William first started his working life, and - like the Batterhams - the family also supported an unattached grandchild. By 1861 William had left home and was living with his sister Emma whilst working as a labourer; however, it appears that he harboured a secret. Although unmarried he was living with his eight-month old son and this probably explains his sister's presence in the household. Fast forward ten years, and by 1871 he was head of an enlarged household, a widower supporting his mother (now 84), unmarried sister and her four children. There is no sign of his own son, and he has risen to the status of a farmer of 80 acres. These mysteries are perhaps strange enough, without the revelation of his second marriage in 1873 where he lies about his age, claiming that he was only 40. There is a very good reason for this deception; his bride, Frances Anne Langley, is stated to be only 15 years old whilst her bride was thirty years her senior. Both parties signed with their mark, suggesting illiteracy, and two years after he was listed as a farmer of 80 acres, William was described as a colliery sinker, a huge chance in circumstances. His son, Samuel Parkinson, was born in 1876, a year after his older sister Emma; but by 1881, their mother was no longer part of the household and William's siblings Jane and Joseph were now resident. One possible explanation was that Frances had died young, but William is clearly listed as 'married' rather than 'widower' in successive census records, suggesting that she left - or her family forced her to leave.

Written record only takes us back so far and leaves tantalizing clues as to the internal dynamics of a family, but in circumstances such as those revealed here it is tempting to speculate about what William's life must have been like. One wonders what questions Michael would have asked his great-grandfather if he had been sitting opposite him - what were the circumstances behind the appearance and disappearance of his first son Samuel; why did he decide to leave the farm and go down the mines; and what on earth did his family think of his marriage to a teenager one third his age? Perhaps it is just as well that history has cloaked the answers.

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