David Dickinson was born in Cheadle Heath, Stockport, Cheshire, to Eugenie Gulesserian (born 1919 in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Lancashire). Eugenie was a member of an Armenian textile trading family, whose father Hrant Gulesserian, had moved from Constantinople to Manchester in 1904. Dickinson had corresponded with his biological mother in her later life in Jersey, but they never met. Dickinson's biological father is unknown.
David was adopted by the Dickinsons, a local couple. Mr Dickinson died when David was 12, and as his adoptive mother worked hard to keep the family together, David was in part brought up by his French adoptive grandmother, Sarah Dickinson. Dickinson began an apprenticeship at an aircraft factory when he was 14, but quickly left to work in the cloth trade in central Manchester. At 19, Dickinson served three years of a four-year prison sentence, the majority spent at Strangeways in Manchester, for mail-order fraud.
Dickinson set up again in Manchester with the assistance of an old customer as silent partner, and the business ran until 1991 when, in light of forthcoming recession, the shop was closed. Dickinson decided to concentrate on selling antiques at prestigious fairs, taking stands at Olympia and other major antiques fairs three or four times a year, dealing in 18th and 19th century furniture and works of art.
In 1998, a chance meeting with a TV producer at a barbecue led to Dickinson's TV appearance, a two-part documentary for the BBC made about him and his preparation for a show at Olympia. His dark complexion (often implied to be a fake tan, but he claims that it is because of his Armenian ancestry) and numerous catchphrases quickly caught the viewers' attention.
Dickinson came to public attention as an antiques expert on This Morning and BBC Two's The Antiques Show owing in part to his facial resemblance to the fictional antiques dealer from the BBC drama series Lovejoy. His career break as a television celebrity came from presenting the game show Bargain Hunt on BBC One at lunchtimes which gained a keen following amongst daytime viewers including students.
A primetime evening version of Bargain Hunt was broadcast for a few years following the success of the daytime show. Dickinson left the daytime edition of Bargain Hunt in 2003 and was replaced by Tim Wonnacott on the daytime slot while Dickinson carried on presenting the primetime, celebrity and Christmas versions of the show. He went on to present a reality show, Dealing With Dickinson on BBC One in 2005 which was cancelled after only one series. Dickinson left the BBC once the primetime editions of Bargain Hunt were cancelled.
Dickinson moved to ITV in 2006 to present a new daytime antiques programme, Dickinson's Real Deal which is broadcast on daytime weekday afternoons. Old episodes are frequently repeated. The show visits locations around the UK and asks people to come in and either sell their antiques and collectables for valuation by an antiques dealer who may offer to buy the item for cash. Alternatively, the participants can take a gamble and go to auction if the dealer's offer is refused or no offer is made to buy the object. The participant risks taking a lower price than offered by the dealer if the object fails to exceed the dealer's offer or fails to meet its reserve. Dickinson's job is to act as a mediator to help the sellers obtain the best prices from the dealers or to help them with the decision about whether to refuse the offer and to take the item to auction.
From 17 May 2010, The David Dickinson Show, a celebrity variety show, was broadcast on ITV for 10 episodes. In 2017, he presented David Dickinson's Name Your Price for ITV."Real bobby-dazzler" (particularly excellent items). Dickinson's biography is entitled What a Bobby Dazzler.
"Cheap as Chips" (bargains)
In 2002, Dickinson appeared as a guest on Shooting Stars joining Team B led by Ulrika Jonsson and Johnny Vegas.
In 2004, Dickinson was one of several celebrities to have their portraits painted in the BBC One television series Star Portraits with Rolf Harris, and, also in 2004, he appeared in the first series of Strictly Come Dancing.
In 2005, Dickinson appeared on the ITV reality show I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, where he first announced that he had used heroin in his younger years. He also presented information slots for viewers on how to bid on satellite shopping channel Bid TV. He also appeared in one episode of the ITV drama Heartbeat, playing an antiques dealer.
Dickinson explored his family background in an episode of the third series of the BBC genealogical documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast in the UK on 4 October 2006. He was able to trace relatives in both the UK and Istanbul.
On one radio episode of Dead Ringers, The Doctor (voiced by Jon Culshaw) 'phoned up Dickinson to ask him how much he could get for a magnetic core extractor that was believed to have been owned by the Doctor when he was played by Jon Pertwee. Dickinson described the extractor as "a bit of a bobby dazzler".
In March 2014, Dickinson appeared in the eleventh series of Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway. The duo disguised themselves with prosthetics and fake accents to dupe Dickinson into believing there was a live argument and subsequent car crash on the set of his new 'fake' show Long Lost Treasures. During the aftermath of the wind up and following the big reveal from Ant & Dec, Dickinson said "you two have done me up like a kipper!"
He played the Emperor in the third episode of The Keith & Paddy Picture Show ("Star Wars: Return of the Jedi").