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Matthew Francis Parris (born 7 August 1949 in Johannesburgmarker) is an Englishmarker journalist and former Conservative politician.

Early life and family

Parris is the eldest of six children (three brothers and two sisters) and grew up in several British colonies where his father was working as an electrical engineer (South Africa, Cyprusmarker, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Swazilandmarker and Jamaicamarker). He attended Waterford Kamhlabamarker School in Swaziland. His parents ended up working and living in Cataloniamarker, an autonomous region of Spain, where he also bought a house.

At the age of 19, Parris drove across Africa to Europe in a Morris Oxford; the trip was traumatically punctuated when he and the girl he was travelling with were attacked, and he was forced to witness her rape. After obtaining a first class degree in law from Clare Collegemarker, Cambridgemarker, he studied international relations at Yale Universitymarker. He was offered a job as a spy, but worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Officemarker for two years. In 1976 he left this secure career because he did not like its formality, and because he wanted to become a Member of Parliament. He eventually joined the Conservative Research Department and moved on to become correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher. He was awarded an RSPCA medal (presented by Mrs Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition), for jumping into the Thames and rescuing a dog.

Parliamentary career

He served as the Conservative MP for the rural parliamentary constituency of West Derbyshiremarker from 1979 until 1986. Competing prospective candidates for the seat included Peter Lilley and Michael Howard, later Conservative leader. The start of his career was overshadowed by a letter which he had written to a council tenant on behalf of Margaret Thatcher, which became featured in Labour Party election publications. As an MP he voiced his support for gay rights. Parris eventually left politics to pursue a career in journalism.

Radio and television work

Parris is now a radio and television presenter and pundit. As an MP he took part in a World In Action documentary during 1984 requiring him to live in Newcastlemarker for a week on £26.80, the state social security payment set for a single adult by the government he supported as a Conservative. The experiment came to an embarrassing end when he ran out of money for the electricity meter. Twenty years later, in 2004, he attempted the experiment again for the documentary "For the Benefit of Mr Parris, Revisited".

Parris "took the Chiltern Hundreds" by applying for the position of Steward of the Manor of Northstead and left Parliament specifically to take over from Brian Walden as host of ITV's influential Sunday lunchtime current-affairs series Weekend World in 1986. The series, broadcast since 1977 with Walden at its helm, ran for two more years under Parris before being cancelled in 1988.

He presents BBC Radio 4's Great Lives biography series, and has appeared on the comedy news programme Have I Got News For You and presented After Dark.

In 2007, Parris presented two light-hearted but caustic documentaries for Radio 4 on politicians' use of cliché and jargon, entitled "Not My Words, Mr Speaker".

Writing and journalism

Parris is a prolific writer and has written many books on politics and travel. In 1991, a compilation of his pieces in The Times appeared, entitled So Far, So Good. Since then there have been further compilations. Scorn, a book he has edited of quotations about curses, jibes and general invective, was published in October 1994.

His success has been as a parliamentary reporter, due to his knowledge and understanding of politicians and ability to express this well. He is regarded as one of the leading critics of Tony Blair, and is thought of by many as one of the most powerful commentators on Fleet Streetmarker. He worked as parliamentary sketch writer for The Times newspaper from 1988 to 2001. His writing has largely concerned current events rather than a historical account of his own time in politics. He has weekly columns in The Times and The Spectator magazine.

In 2004 Parris became Writer of the Year in Granada Television's What the Papers Say Awards. In part, this was for reporting on elections in Iraqmarker and Afghanistanmarker. His previous accolades include Columnist of the Year in the 1991 and 1993 British Press Awards, and in the What the Papers Say Awards 1992. In 1990 he received the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace Outstanding Reporter of the Year Award.

Criticism of Tony Blair

Parris has suggested that Tony Blair has a deep flaw in his personality which made him unsuitable for the role of Prime Minister. On 18 March 2006 he wrote:

Travel writing

Parris has made several expeditions abroad, including to Mount Kilimanjaromarker in 1967 and 1989, Zairemarker in 1973, the Sahara in 1978, and Perumarker and Boliviamarker. In 1990 he published Inca-Kola, about his travels in Peru.
L'Avenc
He spent the Antarctic winter of 2000 on the French possession of Grande Terre (also known as Desolation Islandmarker, part of the Kerguelenmarker Archipelago in the Indian Oceanmarker) with a few dozen over-winterers, mostly researchers. One of them was fatally shot in a tragic accident, an event about which he writes movingly.

In 2005 Parris published A Castle in Spain about his family's project to refurbish a derelict sixteenth-century mansion, L'Avenc, in Catalunyamarker, close to the foothills of the Pyreneesmarker, and make his home there.

2007 cyclists controversy

In his article for The Times on 27 December 2007, Parris took a strong line against cyclists, beginning his column with "A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists", going on to denounce cyclists on a number of grounds, particularly their alleged propensity for littering. This came as a shock to many cyclists, including some who had previously been caught by similar wires. Responses in the paper have included letters and a column in reply mentioning, among other things, that litter is often found along all-motor vehicle routes. Comparisons have been made to other issues of incitement and hate speech, which have been a controversial issue in the UK in recent years. Parris, who is openly gay and therefore a member of another potentially targeted minority, opposed the idea of a gay-protecting law in another column.

On 3 January, Parris apologised, "It was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry."

Personal life

Parris announced he was gay in one of his weekly newspaper columns. In a live interview on Newsnight during the Ron Davies scandal of 1998, he famously told interviewer Jeremy Paxman that there were two gay members of the then current Labour Cabinet, one being Peter Mandelson. He has stated that there are between thirty and sixty unannounced gay members of the UK parliament. In July 2006, in a list compiled by the Independent on Sunday, Parris was voted the 73rd most influential gay man in the United Kingdom.

In August 2006, Parris entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner, Julian Glover, a political journalist (not to be confused with the actor of the same name). At the time of their partnership, they had been together for eleven years.

Parris was a keen marathon runner, taking part in the London event several times. His personal best was 2:32:57 which he recorded at the age of 34. He decided he wanted to go out on top and arguing that serious running is not good for health, he stopped running marathons after that. No British MP – sitting or retired – had equalled Parris's marathon timing in the 20th century.

He owns homes in Spainmarker, Derbyshiremarker, and the Docklandsmarker of East Londonmarker.

Bibliography

  • Mission Accomplished!: A Treasury of the Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said Matthew Parris, Phil Mason (JR Books Ltd, 2007) ISBN 9781906217358
  • A Castle in Spain (Viking, 2005) ISBN 0-670-91547-5
  • Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics (Viking, 2002) ISBN 0-670-89440-0
  • The King's English (Oxford Language Classics Series) Henry Fowler, Frank Fowler, Matthew Parris (introduction) (Oxford University Press, 2002) ISBN 0-19-860507-2
  • Off Message: New Labour, New Sketches (Robson Books, 2001) ISBN 1-86105-479-3
  • I Wish I Hadn't Said That: The Experts Speak - and Get It Wrong! Matthew Parris (foreword), Christopher Cerf, Victor Navasky (HarperCollins, 2000) ISBN 0-00-653149-0
  • Against the Law: The Classic Account of a Homosexual in 1950s Britain Peter Wildeblood, Matthew Parris (introduction) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999) ISBN 0-297-64382-7
  • The Great Unfrocked: Two Thousand Years of Church Scandal (Robson, 1998) ISBN 1-86105-129-8
  • Scorn with Extra Bile Matthew Parris (editor) (Penguin Books, 1998) ISBN 0-14-027780-3
  • I Couldn't Possibly Comment: More Sketches from the Commons (Robson Books, 1997) ISBN 1-86105-095-X
  • Read My Lips: A Treasury of Things Politicians Wish They Hadn't Said (Parkwest Publications, 1997) ISBN 1-86105-043-7
  • Great Parliamentary Scandals: Four Centuries of Calumny, Smear and Innuendo (Robson Books, 1995) ISBN 0-86051-957-0
  • Scorn with Added Vitriol (Hamish Hamilton, 1995) ISBN 0-241-13587-7
  • Scorn: A Bucketful of Discourtesy, Disparagement, Invective, Ridicule, Impudence, Contumely, Derision, Hate, Affront, Disdain, Bile, Taunts, Curses and Jibes (Hamish Hamilton, 1994) ISBN 0-241-13384-X
  • Look Behind You!: Sketches and Follies from the Commons (Robson, 1993) ISBN 0-86051-874-4
  • So Far So Good...: Selected Pieces (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991) ISBN 0-297-81215-7
  • Inca Kola: A Traveller's Tale of Peru (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990) ISBN 0-297-81075-8
  • Coping with the Soviet Union Peter Blaker, Julian Critchley, Matthew Parris (Conservative Political Centre Bookshop, 1977) ISBN 0-85070-599-1


References

  1. "What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?" [Cyclists.], The Times
  2. "British Film Industry: WORLD IN ACTION > FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR PARRIS" Thames TV, January 23rd 1984
  3. "ITV TV Classics - World In Action" Published: 4th May 2007, Retrieved: 16th July 2009
  4. "British Film Industry: FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR PARRIS, REVISITED" ITV1, January 29th 2004
  5. "Liberty Bell - For the Benefit of Mr Parris"
  6. Website of production company Open Media
  7. Matthew Parris's account of stay on Kergulen in 2000, The Times
  8. What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?, The Times, 27 December 2007
  9. Don’t kill the cure, The Times, 31 December 2007
  10. A joke that will sicken cyclists, The Times, 31 December 2007
  11. quickrelease.tv » Blog Archive » Should we decapitate homosexual columnists?
  12. We gays are not so weedy that we can't take insults, The Times, 11 October 2007
  13. Cycling fury at beheading 'joke', BBC, 3 January 2008


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