Sir Michael Palin is the world's favourite television traveller who came to fame as part of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the sketch show that reinvented comedy on television.
Born in Sheffield, Sir Michael made his first television appearance in a pop show for children before teaming up with Terry Jones to write sketch shows. Later they joined the writing team behind The Frost Report and started working with John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle for the first time.
A number of projects followed and were well received but no one expected the success that Monty Python's Flying Circus garnered. Credited with becoming one of Britain's most influential series in any genre, the writers and performers were confirmed as the most important and internationally influential comedy team in television ever.
Sir Michael's own series, Ripping Yarns, followed, but attention was now turned to filmmaking. Palin co-wrote and co-starred in all three Monty Python films – Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian and Monty Python's Meaning of Life – while other notable projects included Brazil, A Fish Called Wanda, The Wind in the Willows and Fierce Creatures.
However, by the late 1980s Palin's career was taking the road less travelled and he was reinventing himself as the armchair traveller's favourite television guide. His first journey for television was a train ride from London to the Kyle of Lochalsh in west Scotland for Great Railway Journeys of the World.
The BBC then came up with the idea of tracing the route the fictional Phileas Fogg took in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, and turned to Palin. That journey is arguably still the best received. The brief was to circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days, using any means of transport except by air, starting and ending at London's Reform Club. The time limit added tension to proceedings, which soon became avid viewing.
Pole to Pole came next and required Palin to travel from the North Pole to the South by the most direct route possible, over the most land.
For Full Circle, Palin visited 18 countries around the Pacific Rim, covering 15,000 miles in total. Next up was Hemingway Adventure, which saw Palin visit places that Ernest Hemingway had been to before him and which is widely thought of as the funniest of Palin's travels, not least because he spends some time dressing as Mr Gumby from his Monty Python days.
Sahara saw Palin cross the largest desert in the world and an increase in enquiries to holiday companies about visiting the endless sands. Unfortunately the monotony of sandy plains and yellow hues resulted in fewer viewers than Palin was used to. However, he didn't let that deter him from exploring one of the world's other magnificent places for Himalaya, an area that he had yet to visit. This time he not only had the altitude to contend with, but was also in a political hotspot, near Kashmir, Tibet and Nagaland – and tension, missing since 80 Days Around the World, was back, albeit of a different kind.
New Europe chronicled Palin's travels to 20 countries in an area that's changed beyond measure since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Iron Curtain. An anniversary programme celebrating 20 years since 80 Days Around the World saw Palin return to Dubai and Mumbai more recently.
Palin won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in A Fish Called Wanda and won the BAFTA Special Award in 2005. In 2000, Palin received the CBE for services to television. In 2018, Palin was awarded a knighthood, taking his official nomenclature to Sir Michael Edward Palin KCMG, CBE, FRGS.
Sir Michael Palin's journeys are chronicled in books of the same name:
- Around the World in 80 Days
- Pole to Pole
- Full Circle
- Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure
- New Europe