HOW WE MET; MICHAEL PARKINSON AND DICKIE BIRD

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The Independent Culture
Michael Parkinson, 61, was born in Cudworth, South Yorkshire. Best-known for the television talk show he hosted between 1971 and 1982, he now does most of his journalism for Radio 5 Live and the Daily Telegraph. Married with three sons, he lives in Berkshire. Dickie Bird, 63, was born in Barnsley. After a brief career as a county cricketer, he began umpiring at 32 and went on to become the world's most celebrated Test umpire; he will umpire his final Test at Lord's next month. In 1986 he received the MBE. Unmarried, he lives in Barnsley

MICHAEL PARKINSON: I met Dickie when we were young kids playing in the Barnsley first cricket team. I would have been 14, Dickie 16. He was not the most talented cricketer I'd ever seen but he was determined. Dickie and I used to open the innings and we had one or two long partnerships. My father and his father used to sit together when Dickie and I opened. In those days if you got 50 runs they passed a hat round, and the first person to get 50 got the biggest collection. If Dickie and I were batting together it would be a race to see who got 50 first, and then a race to get to the bar, to stop our fathers drinking it all.

Dickie and I were the youngest people on the side, next to very old men of 20 and 30 - we were pimples on the bum of Barnsley Cricket Club. We didn't drink much in those days - one sniff of the barmaid's pinny and we'd be totally riotous! Dickie was a funny, nice kid; but he was shy and socially uneasy. He thought somehow that he'd come from a poorer background than most, and probably he had. He was a bag of nerves. He used to chew his fingernails through his batting gloves, and when you consider they were stuffed with half an inch of horse-hair, that took a certain amount of dedication. Dickie was once - spectacularly and famously - so nervous that he buckled his pads together, so that when he stood up he fell flat on his face.

Dickie was a better cricket player than I was and signed for Yorkshire. I wasn't envious because he deserved to be a county cricketer and wanted it more than I did. I wanted to be a journalist. He wanted to be Len Hutton and I wanted to be Humphrey Bogart. Dickie was treated very badly by Yorkshire, who let him go, and kept worse players. But he was saved from oblivion by deciding to become an umpire - the rest is history.

In all the years that I've known Dickie he hasn't changed a bit. He's the only person I know who has been totally unaffected by fame and success. He retains his wonderful simplicity, his magnificent deadpan northern humour which makes me laugh so much, and he is still a gibbering mass of worry. If he is flying to the West Indies, he will worry that he has left the gas on, and whether he is on the right aeroplane, but his worst worry is whether the pilot knows the way. When he was invited to lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace he was so worried he'd be late that he turned up at 8.30am.

There is nothing to dislike about Dickie Bird - he is a superb human being. I've never heard him be nasty about anybody - he doesn't spend time on malicious gossip like the rest of us. I'd much rather have him as a friend than me - he's a far nicer man. It's interesting when you talk to cricketers about him: umpires are not generally top of their Christmas card list, but Dickie is. I once asked Dickie why he thought that was, and he said, "They trust me." I think that's right - people do trust him and they are right to.

Dickie is on the move all the time so I see him very occasionally. We often speak at the same cricket dinner or bump into each other at test matches and county grounds - we rarely arrange to meet. You don't have to do all that fanny if you've got a real friend, and Dickie and I have the perfect friendship. We occasionally glance off each other; but we each know that if anything happened to the other, there would be no question about how we might respond.

Dickie has a very simple lifestyle. He lives alone in Barnsley, and his sister does the odd bit of cleaning and washing for him. Our worlds are very different, but none of that matters. We talk about mutual acquaintances and cricket, and I find I'm incredibly comfortable in his company and he in mine. The nice thing about Dickie is that there is no envy in him. He comes to my house and sits by the river and looks around and says, "My goodness, it's a bloody nice place this, Mike." But there's no feeling that he thinks, "God, why haven't I got this?" He is just a very easy man whom it's always a joy to see.

Dickie has never married - he always says he is married to cricket - and I do worry that now he's retiring there will be a great vacuum in his life. His friends will have to keep a watch on him. Perhaps we'll take turns living next door. That would be a great joy - to live next door to Dickie Bird!

DICKIE BIRD: I've known Michael since our schooldays. He went to Barnsley Grammar and I went to Raley Secondary Modern, but we played cricket together at Barnsley Cricket Club. I thought grammar school boys were little toffee- noses, but I took to Michael because he shared my love for cricket, and I soon realised he was very down-to-earth.

After school we'd practise in the nets, then sit on the boundary and talk cricket. My idols were Sir Leonard Hutton and Johnny Wardle; and Michael looked up to these great players too. We had other things in common. We were both coal-miners' sons. I'm shy, and deep down Michael is the same. He's had those famous nervous habits of flicking his ear, scratching his nose and putting his hand through his hair all his life. Perhaps it's something about Barnsley boys, because I have nervous mannerisms, too. When I'm umpiring I twitch my arms and tug at my jacket and cap.

Michael and I opened the batting for Barnsley and held the record for the opening partnership. As far as I know, it still stands. Our fathers were proud of us. On Saturday afternoons they'd watch us and take the mickey out of each other. Michael's father would say his lad was better than me, and my father would say I was better than Michael.

When we played away at Scarborough or York, Michael and I had tremendous fun. At Scarborough we liked to walk along the sea-front. Michael was a bit more outgoing than me and used to pull the girls, but there was never any rivalry between us. Even when we weren't playing cricket we were together. Michael loved film stars - Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne - and I'd go with him to the Rock Cinema in Cudworth. In winter, when we couldn't play cricket, we played football and supported Barnsley Football Club.

Like all Yorkshire kids, we had an ambition to play cricket for Yorkshire. After we left school, we received invitations to try out in the nets at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. It was an honour for any youngster and, as we walked through the gates at Headingley, we could hardly contain our excitement. But I had a terrible time, and so did Michael. It was a rain-affected pitch and we were batting against three of the best bowlers the world's ever seen - Freddie Trueman, Bob Appleyard and Johnny Wardle. I never laid bat on ball for 15 minutes and afterwards Arthur Mitchell, the Yorkshire coach, said, "Tell me, what does tha' do for a living?" I said, "I work in the fitting shop at Monk Bretton Colliery." He said, "Tha' hasn't shaped too well here today. If tha's going to play like that, don't come back. What does tha' mate, Parkinson, do?" I said, "He works on the local newspaper." "I've some advice for him," said Mitchell. "Tell him to stick to journalism."

The experience didn't put us off, though, and we carried on playing for Barnsley. When I was 19, on the weight of my runs in the Yorkshire League, Yorkshire County Cricket Club asked me to sign. If Michael was disappointed not to be asked, it never showed. I always felt he wanted me to do well.

Soon after, he got stuck into journalism and moved away - first to the Manchester Guardian and then to Fleet Street. To get to the top from being a coal-miner's son has taken application, dedication and mental strength, and I'm proud of his achievements. He always had that will to succeed. If he had really wanted to be a county cricketer he would have gone to another county club and done it. Instead he chose journalism, and he probably made the right decision because he's had a tremendous career.

Michael and I have been friends for nearly 50 years, and have the same relationship we had when we were lads, except we don't see each other as often. It's difficult with our careers. But we ring each other and have a natter. Cricket is still one of Michael's passions and I see him at matches and dinners. Some evenings we've laughed at cricketing stories until tears streamed down our faces. I've stayed with Michael and his wife, Mary - a great Yorkshire lass. They've a magnificent home on the Thames with a boat at the bottom of the garden. I've had marvellous days with Michael and we've sailed up and down the river and talked about cricket - the only thing I can talk about!

Michael has three lads and they've all played cricket. I never married and had children, and although I'm not envious, that's what I've missed. If I'd had a lad who played cricket - even locally - it would have given me a lot of satisfaction. Now, of course, Michael has a grandson who he hopes will play for England!

He won't agree with me but, for all his success, Michael is a modest man and, like me, a homely type. He has an expensive lifestyle - but then, he can afford it! Mind, I'm comfortable. I've a beautiful 17th-century cottage with a tremendous view of the Pennines. We've both done well for ourselves. !

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