Malignant parotid tumours are uncommon and present a significant management challenge. Fifty-one such patients (25 male, 26 female, median age 64 years) operated on in the Newcastle Plastic Surgery Unit between 1983 and 1994 were retrospectively evaluated. Preoperative investigations included FNA cytology (n = 20), and for staging CT and/or MRI scans (n = 21). Of the 35 primary tumours 32 were epithelial and three lymphomatous. Metastatic tumours were squamous cell carcinoma (7), melanoma (6), renal cell carcinoma (2) and sebaceous carcinoma (1). FNA cytology correctly diagnosed malignancy with an 88% sensitivity (false negatives = 2). A total or radical parotidectomy was required in 60% of patients, the rest undergoing superficial parotidectomy. In continuity neck dissection was undertaken in 23 (45%) cases. Postparotidectomy reconstruction included 10 free, 3 myocutaneous, and 4 local transposition/rotation flaps. Thirty-seven patients (73%) received postoperative radiotherapy. Seventy-two per cent of patients are alive after a mean follow-up of 42 months. The crude 5- and 10-year survival rates were 68% and 49% respectively while the loco-regional control rate (Kaplan-Meier method) at 10 years was 79%. Fifteen patients (30%) have permanent facial palsy. It is concluded that radical surgery with appropriate reconstruction followed by planned postoperative adjuvant radiotherapy gives effective control of malignant parotid tumours.