Like so many, I grew up watching Michael Palin on TV. Too young for Monty Python, it was his globe-trotting adventures Around The World In 80 Days that captivated me.
A Conversation with Michael Palin
Grand Opera House, York
Sat Mar 18
His laid back narrative and insightful story-telling brought the world to life on tiny screen in a small living room in a little village.
And this is exactly how it was in person, at the Grand Opera House.
Here as part of York Literature Festival he was interviewed by Robert Ross, writer and self-titled British comedy historian, and was introduced with the classic Dead Parrot sketch from Monty Python.
Frost to Python
Palin took the audience on a gentle perambulation through his life of comedy, rock and roll friends, drama and school in Sheffield. The humour was gentle but genuine, with a self-effacing warmth.
He showed a little initial nervousness on the sofa, but Ross was a great compere. He teased more out when Palin tailed off but never rode roughshod over his stories.
Singled out at school for singing flat, the cross-dressing lumberjack cut his teeth as a BBC apprentice writing for the satirical Frost Report. It was through David Frost that he and the other five members of Monty Python came together.
— Katy Brough (@KatyBrough1) March 18, 2017
The Python recounted tales of LA, recording with George Harrison and Every Sperm not being sacred enough to win a BAFTA for best song. They were pipped to the post by Up Where We Belong, which he admitted they weren’t.
Change of tone
A change of tone was heralded after the interval with a clip from Channel 4’s early 90s drama GBH.
Palin had clearly warmed up a little and livelier discussions led the audience to his travels. With the never-ending stream of reality TV it’s easy to forget how warts-and-all his BBC documentary Around The World In 80 Days was.
It doesn’t get more raw than diarrhoea over the bow of a dhow, crossing the Arabian Sea to Bombay (now Mumbai).
He and his crew actually completed the circumnavigation in 79 days, only to be barred from crossing the finishing line at the Reform Club due to a private function. “Couldn’t you have got here yesterday?” they were told. Palin’s incredulity is palpable nearly 30 years later.
A few quality questions from the audience included “Is there anywhere you haven’t been?” The Python’s reply of “I used to say Middlesbrough, but I went a few years ago” proves what a dedicated globetrotter he is.
We had covered a lot of miles in what turned out to be a rather fitting 80 minutes. Palin is happy just chatting. Whether with a theatre audience or a Tibetan yak herder.
It felt like a comfortable Saturday night in with the telly – only the star was sat on the sofa opposite us.