Michael Palin, Unapologetic comedian and Avid traveller

AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE By Surabhi Sunil

Widely recognized for being part of one of the best satire ensembles of all time, Michael Palin started his acting career very early on in life. At the tender age of 10, Palin made a comedy monologue and read a Shakespeare play to his mother while playing all the parts.

“You can't get a suit of armour and a rubber chicken just like that. You have to plan ahead.” ― Michael Palin

Image by Heathcliff O’Malley, Telegraph
“Armageddon is not around the corner. This is only what the people of violence want us to believe. The complexity and diversity of the world is the hope for the future.” ― Michael Palin

From writing and acting in plays at college as a part of various societies, Palin met the other Pythons. The influence of Monty Python in comedy has been compared to that of the Beatles in music. Loosely structured as a sketch show, but with an innovative stream-of-consciousness approach aided by Terry Gilliam’s animation, it pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in style and content and is regarded as an important moment in the evolution of television comedy. The enduring icons of 1970s pop culture is another title given to Monty Python.

Image by ALAMY, The Times

A self-contained comedy unit responsible for both writing and performing their work, Monty Python’s influence on comedy has been compared to the Beatles’ influence on music.

Author Neil Gaiman writes, “A strange combination of individuals gave us Python. And you needed those people, just in the same way that with the Beatles you had four talented people, but together you had the Beatles. And I think that’s so incredibly true when it comes to Python.

After the Monty Python series ended, Palin wrote and acted in various projects with other Pythons such as Ripping Yarns, Jabberwocky and Time Bandits. Along with various other accolades spread over his career, he also won a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in A Fish Called Wanda. 

Besides his work in comedy, Palin is also very well known for his travel documentaries. His first one was an episode of the 1980 BBC Television series Great Railway Journeys of the World, entitled “Confessions of a Trainspotter”. His natural wit carried the episode as he recalled stories of his trainspotting hobby as a young child.

Image by Basil Pao, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” ― Michael Palin

It was 1989 that he got the chance to present his own travel series titled ‘Around the World in 80 days with Michael Palin.’ The concept of the show was to follow the path Jules Verne wrote in his famous book as closely as possible without aircraft. This 7 seven-part series led to many more being made with unique concepts such as retracing the steps of Ernest Hemmingway and travelling Pole to Pole tracing the longitude line.

Palin’s travel documentaries even brought a dedicated series to the Himalayas about which he later published a book, Himalaya with Michael Palin. In 2018, his travels even took him to North Korea. Palin’s travel programmes are responsible for a phenomenon termed the “Palin effect”: areas of the world that he has visited suddenly become popular tourist attractions.

As of 2020, Michael Palin continues his adventures with the same dazzling wit and unapologetic humour. Reflecting on his TV documentaries with a selection of famous fans, Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime is a collection of memories of pre-pandemic journeys past.