Michael Palin: Travelling To Work
The Empire Theatre
IT was back in October 1989 that the BBC started screening Around The World in 80 Days, the documentary series that transformed Michael Palin from the nicest of the Monty Python team into television’s most popular travel guide.
So the opening section of Palin’s show, the travel one, came with a warning from the comedian and author that he was about to inflict "25 years of holiday snaps" on the Eden Court audience.
Possibly, but then Palin’s holiday snaps are a good deal more interesting than most other people’s — as demonstrated by a section titled "Things you’ve never seen before" with Palin apparently wearing a tree for some sort of fertility ceremony on the Baltic or a commuter service for goats in the western Sahara.
As to be expected from one of the most influential figures in British comedy, there were plenty of laughs along the way, but there was poignancy too at how some things had changed over the last quarter of a century with locations such as the fabled Khyber Pass and the desert city of Timbuktu in Mali both now too dangerous to revisit.
With Palin’s cosy commentary, it was perfect fare for the armchair traveller with none of the discomfort of taking tea on top of a moving train or having to do a piece to camera in -50C temperatures at the South Pole — then having to do it all over again when you realise your choice of words might give the wrong impression about Captain Scott’s relationship with Roald Amundsen.
The second half of the show, part of a tour promoting the third volume of Palin’s collected diaries, travelled in time rather than space.
This was the work section, work in this case being Palin’s comedy career, going back to the start of his love affair with laughter listening to Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers doing funny voices as a youngster in dull post-war Sheffield — "Something wrong with the radio, dear boy?" his dad would ask when he stumbled across Palin Jnr listening to The Goons. He asked a similar question when he first heard Elvis too.
In a mild digression from the work theme, Palin also cemented his reputation as the nicest man in showbusiness with a sweet tale about a holiday romance with the girl who would become his wife. It was hard to resist an "awww!" when Palin said they had now been married for 48 years.
"John Cleese thinks that’s absolutely pathetic," Palin added. That being the same John Cleese who recently staged a much publicised one man show of his own to pay off his alimony.
Instead of holiday snaps there was a home movie of the young Pythons horsing around at Blenheim Place, memories of filming and touring and Palin reading out some lesser known material including an outtake from The Life of Brian and a couple of pieces from Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys And Girls, co-written with Terry Jones as the most inappropriate children's book ever published, with bad news for Timmy the dog as he encounters the Viking hordes in The Famous Five Go Pillaging.
That was as close to the old subversive spirit of classic Monty Python as the evening came, but this was never meant to be a comedy gig.
It was a night of reminiscence and traveller’s tales and if there was not that much that was truly novel or revealing that hardly mattered given the warmth of Palin’s personality.
How to sum up this evening at Eden Court? A nice one, of course.