It’s Christmas and before I listen to Fairytale Of New York yet again, I wanted to send big warm, slightly squishy with a hint of fortified sherry, greetings to all out there who have spent time on the website over the past year, or indeed who might have just dropped in by mistake as they looked for Sarah Palin. I really appreciate your continued interest in the various things I'm doing and have done.
I see from my Big Issue that the silly walks which John performed so brilliantly over fifty years ago have recently been promoted by doctors as very good for your health, so look out for silly walks at the next Olympics and in the meantime a link-up between Cleese and Gwyneth Paltrow to provide some comforting genital spray after a long day’s silliness.
In the aforementioned sketch I played Mr. Putey, the man with the not very interesting walk wanting a grant from the Ministry. It involved my mastering a very slow and wobbly walk and a long speech, as I pleaded my case in front of Mr Teabag (JC). In 1976, on the last performances of our Python live show in New York, to my horror, I almost completely lost my voice. With the help of some whisky from Neil Innes, I just about struggled through Mr Putey's speech. At the end of which there was a long pause before John came up with a new line : 'I’m sorry, what was that again ?'.
As a warm and sluggish Christmas descends on the capital I recollect the winters of my youth in Sheffield, when it seemed that we had the sledge out every other day. But this is maybe just the mistiness of old age, like the day I remember sitting on Queen Victoria’s knee. Which was unexpectedly knobbly.
Thanks to good viewing figures for the journey to Iraq it does look as if I might slip away somewhere else next year, but in the meantime I have the unglamorous task of completing work on the book about my enigmatic Great-Uncle Harry. It’s been fascinating diving into the family archives of his short life, and trying to work out just what sort of man he was. And, if all goes well, it should be a fascinating read !
Despite having to spend days at my desk, I do get out every now and then, and the other week I gave a reading at a carol service in support of one of my most valued charities - The National Churches Trust, which tries to raise money to keep our huge number of remarkably beautiful church buildings open and of use to the community. As a perk, two of my fellow supporters were two blokes I admire greatly - Hugh Dennis and Bill Bryson.
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a wild, rollicking New Year.
Two episodes of the series have now been transmitted and from the latest figures it looks as if some 2 million people have been getting into Iraq each week. And yesterday was the first night of my stage tour, From North Korea Into Iraq. Friendly audience at the Arts Depot in North Finchley for a mixture of photos, reminiscences, and some of the most memorable clips from the series.
I head for Colchester on Saturday to start my short round Britain tour at the Charter Hall. It’s so good to be back again live. I have a rough script that can be changed and tweaked according to the audience reaction, so no two shows are ever the same. It’s good fun, and for a 79-year old better than any stay-younger pill.
The interest in war-battered Iraq is really pleasing. I feel people are interested in how countries get through tough times. Not that I really needed to leave our shores.
To those of you who’ve bought tickets I really look forward to seeing you, and to all those who’ve bought the book or e-book or listened to my reading on Audible huge thanks. Let’s hear it for Iraq!
Buy the book: Into Iraq by Michael Palin
Find out more: Into Iraq
Very sad news of the Queen’s death. She was a pivotal figure in my lifetime, quietly and consistently holding things together in often bewildering times.
She had a strong sense of humour and could tell a story well. My wife and I were very fortunate to have been entertained at Windsor Castle. Her Majesty, very relaxed, indicated the impressive carpet we were standing on and how it had replaced another, damaged when a strand got caught in a vacuum cleaner and with the maid totally oblivious, the carpet slowly unwound behind her. Far from being angry at the loss of a good carpet, the Queen told the story with fully mimed actions and much laughter. Lovely to have a monarch who liked slapstick.
I’m really sorry it’s been so long since my last post, and for all those of you who still find time to read this stuff I should follow my apology with an explanation. The first couple of months of the year were spent in the great waiting room of life whilst the possibility of another travel series was being debated. In the meantime I spent thirty hours in a basement studio in Clerkenwell trying to stop my tummy rumbling as I recorded the unabridged version of my first volume of Diaries, The Python Years.
Then suddenly, in the appropriately mad month of March, things sprang to life. Our idea of filming a series in Iraq was green-lit by Channel 5 and ITN, and before I knew it I was re-united with my North Korea crew in the baggage hall at Heathrow.
By the end of March we were back from battle-hardened Iraq having travelled for almost three weeks and seen things, people and places the like of which I’d never seen before in all my travels. The scenes weren’t always happy. Many of them reflected the violence of the past few decades when Iraq was disfigured by war and the threat of war. But we met some souls who’d been through it all and whose resilience was an inspiration.
And at least there is peace there now. Peace, with its own set of problems.
Back home in April and down to my Clerkenwell basement again. This time to record the fat 656 pages of Halfway To Hollywood - my diaries of the 1980’s. As day succeeded day I cursed myself for writing so much about my life, and promised myself I’d cut down. But I’ve already failed, as you can see.
In May, as my 79th birthday rolled by, despite my trying to ignore it, I worked through my Iraq diaries and voice recordings whilst they were still fresh in my mind and within a month had put together a book of the journey.
Into Iraq is the working title of book and three-part series. Both are now in the oven and should be nicely ready by September, but I’ll let you know.
If there’s anyone still out there, that is.
Ken Branagh's film Belfast is an overwhelming and moving experience. It reminds us that the human spirit is resilient. That there is a flame of goodness and decency and compassion in all of us that can flicker and fade but will never be blown out.
Because of the events that Branagh deals with, the vicious sectarian violence and the heavy handed military response which followed, Belfast became a city to avoid. A city synonymous with grief and anger, with lives and hopes cut short.
In 1981, when I was asked to put on a one-man show at the Arts Theatre Belfast during the Festival, I readily agreed. Friends were guarded about my decision. There were bombs going off, and killings and reprisal killings were still a regular feature of life in the city. But the rationale for my travels has always been see it for yourself. If you want to know what people think you first have to meet them.
This was the first time I'd ever done a one-man show, and I'd loaded myself with a paraphernalia of costume and prop changes which I knew had to be done fast otherwise I'd lose my audience. So well-rehearsed was I that I ran out of material after 35 minutes. I threw myself on the audience, announcing an early interval (' Drink as much as you like') and a whole second half of Q and A.
The response was fantastic, including a suggestion I try and break the Arts Theatre record for running from the stage, round the auditorium and back onto the stage again which I was told had been set by Sir John Gielgud at 19.5 seconds. ( I beat it by three seconds !) I learnt a valuable lesson in Belfast that night. Listen to the audience. Hear what they say about where they live.
I returned to the Festival two years later with a show called More Than Thirty Five Minutes with Michael Palin. I went back there throughout the 80's. Though I was offered the Grand Opera House I always preferred the shabby intimacy of the Arts Theatre. It was twenty years before I ever felt the need to do my one-man show anywhere else.
Thank you Belfast.