Michael Edward Palin, CBE FRGS (born 5 May 1943) is an English comedian, actor, writer and television presenter best known for being one of the members of the comedy group Monty Python and for his travel documentaries. Palin wrote most of his comedic material with Terry Jones. Before Monty Python, they had worked on other shows such as The Ken Dodd Show, The Frost Report and Do Not Adjust Your Set. Palin appeared in some of the most famous Python sketches, including "Argument Clinic", "Dead Parrot", "The Lumberjack Song", and "The Spanish Inquisition".
Palin continued to work with Jones after Python, co-writing Ripping Yarns. He has also appeared in several films directed by fellow Python Terry Gilliam and made notable appearances in other films such as A Fish Called Wanda, for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted the 30th favourite by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
After Python, he began a new career as a travel writer and travel documentarian. His journeys have taken him across the world, including the North and South Poles, the Sahara desert, the Himalayas and, most recently, Eastern Europe. In 2000 Palin was honoured as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to television. Michael is currently the president of the Royal Geographical Society. 
Early life and career
Palin was born in Broomhill, Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, the second child and only son of Mary Rachel Lockhart (née Ovey) and Edward Moreton Palin. His father was a Shrewsbury School and Cambridge-educated engineer working for a steel firm. His maternal grandfather, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Lockhart Ovey, DSO, was High Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1927. He started his education at Birkdale Preparatory School, Sheffield, and later Shrewsbury School. His sister Angela was nine years older than he was. Despite the age gap the two had a close relationship until her suicide in 1987.
When he was five years old, Palin had his first acting experience at Birkdale playing Martha Cratchit in a school performance of A Christmas Carol. At the age of 10, Palin, still interested in acting, made a comedy monologue and read a Shakespeare play to his mother while playing all the parts. After his school days in 1962 he went on to read modern history at Brasenose College, Oxford. With fellow student Robert Hewison he performed and wrote, for the first time, comedy material at a university Christmas party. Terry Jones, also a student in Oxford, saw that performance and began writing together with Hewison and Palin. In the same year Palin joined the Brightside and Carbrook Co-Operative Society Players and first gained fame when he won an acting award at a Co-Op drama festival. He also performed in the Oxford Revue with Jones.
In 1966 he married Helen Gibbins, whom he first met in 1959 on holiday in Southwold in Suffolk. This meeting was later fictionalised in Palin's play East of Ipswich. The couple have three children and a grandchild. His youngest child, Rachel (b.1975) is a BBC TV director, whose work includes Masterchef: The Professionals, shown on BBC2 throughout October and November 2010. While still a baby, his son William briefly appeared in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as "Sir Not-appearing-in-this-film". His nephew is the theatre designer Jeremy Herbert.
After finishing university in 1965 Palin became a presenter on a comedy pop show called Now! for the television contractor Television Wales and the West. At the same time Palin was contacted by Jones, who had left university a year earlier, for assistance in writing a theatrical documentary about sex through the ages. Although this project was eventually abandoned, it brought Palin and Jones together as a writing duo and led them to write comedy for various BBC programmes, such as The Ken Dodd Show, The Billy Cotton Bandshow, and The Illustrated Weekly Hudd. They collaborated in writing lyrics for an album by Barry Booth called Diversions. They were also in the team of writers working for The Frost Report, whose other members included Frank Muir, Barry Cryer, Marty Feldman, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Dick Vosburgh, and future Monty Python members Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Eric Idle. Although the members of Monty Python had already encountered each other over the years, The Frost Report was the first time all the British members of Monty Python (its sixth member, Terry Gilliam, was at that time an American citizen) worked together. During the run of The Frost Report the Palin/Jones team contributed material to two shows starring John Bird: The Late Show and A series of Bird's. For A series of Bird's the Palin/Jones team had their first experience of writing narrative instead of the short sketches they were accustomed to conceiving.
Following The Frost Report the Palin/Jones team worked both as actors and writers on the show Twice a Fortnight with Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Jonathan Lynn, and the successful children's comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set with Idle and David Jason. The show also featured musical numbers by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, including future Monty Python musical collaborator Neil Innes. The animations for Do Not Adjust Your Set were made by Terry Gilliam, who joined the cast on Cleese's recommendation and began working with the Palin/Jones team for the first time. Eager to work with Palin sans Jones, Cleese later asked him to perform in How to Irritate People together with Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor. The Palin/Jones team were reunited for The Complete and Utter History of Britain.
During this period Cleese contacted Palin about doing the show that would ultimately become Monty Python's Flying Circus. On the strength of their work on The Frost Report and other programmes, Cleese and Chapman had been offered a show by the BBC, but Cleese was reluctant to do a two-man show for various reasons, among them Chapman's reputedly difficult personality. At the same time the success of Do Not Adjust Your Set had led Palin, Jones, Idle, and Gilliam to be offered their own series and, while it was still in production, Palin agreed to Cleese's proposal and brought along Idle, Jones, and Gilliam. Thus the formation of the Monty Python troupe has been referred to as a result of Cleese's desire to work with Palin and the chance circumstances that brought the other four members into the fold.
Main article: Monty Python
In Monty Python, Palin played various roles, which ranged from manic enthusiasm (such as the lumberjack of the Lumberjack Song, or Herbert Anchovy, host of the game show "Blackmail") to unflappable calmness (such as the Dead Parrot vendor, Cheese Shop proprietor, or Postal Clerk). As a straight man he was often a foil to the rising ire of characters portrayed by John Cleese. He also played timid, socially inept characters such as Arthur Putey, the man who sits idly by as a marriage counsellor (Eric Idle) makes love to his wife (Carol Cleveland), and Mr. Anchovy, a chartered accountant who wants to become a lion tamer. He also appeared as the "It's" man at the beginning of most episodes.
Palin frequently co-wrote sketches with Terry Jones, including "The Lumberjack Song" and "Spam". Palin also initiated the "Spanish Inquisition sketch", which included the catchphrase "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"
After the Monty Python television series ended in 1974, the Palin/Jones team worked on Ripping Yarns, an intermittent television comedy series broadcast over three years from 1976. They had earlier collaborated on the play Secrets from the BBC series Black and Blue in 1973. He starred as Dennis the Peasant in Terry Gilliam's 1977 film Jabberwocky. Palin also appeared in All You Need Is Cash (1978) as Eric Manchester (based on Derek Taylor), the press agent for The Rutles.
In 1980, Palin co-wrote Time Bandits with Terry Gilliam. He also acted in the film.
In 1982, Palin wrote and starred in The Missionary, co-starring Maggie Smith. In it, he plays the Reverend Charles Fortescue, who is recalled from Africa to aid prostitutes.
In 1984, he reunited with Terry Gilliam to appear in Brazil. He appeared in the comedy film A Fish Called Wanda, for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Cleese reunited the main cast almost a decade later to make Fierce Creatures.
After filming for Fierce Creatures finished, Palin went on a travel journey for a BBC documentary and, returning a year later, found that the end of Fierce Creatures had failed at test screenings and had to be reshot.
Apart from Fierce Creatures, Palin's last film role was a small part in The Wind in the Willows, a film directed by and starring Terry Jones. Palin also appeared with John Cleese in his documentary, The Human Face. Palin was in the cast of You've Got Mail, the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy as a subplot novelist, but his role was eventually cut entirely.
He also assisted Campaign for Better Transport and others with campaigns on sustainable transport, particularly those relating to urban areas, and has been president of the campaign since 1986.
Palin has also appeared in serious drama. In 1991 Palin worked as producer and actor in the film American Friends based upon a real event in the life of his great grandfather, a fellow at St John's College, Oxford. In that same year he also played the part of a headmaster in Alan Bleasdale's Channel 4 drama series G.B.H..
Palin also had a small cameo role in Australian soap opera Home and Away. He played an English surfer with a fear of sharks, who interrupts a conversation between two main characters to ask whether there were any sharks in the sea. This was filmed while he was in Australia for the Full Circle series, with a segment about the filming of the role featuring in the series.
Michael Palin, Nightingale House, Nov 2010
Palin's first travel documentary was part of the 1980 BBC Television series Great Railway Journeys of the World, in which, humorously reminiscing about his childhood hobby of train spotting, he travelled throughout the UK by train, from London to the Kyle of Lochalsh, via Manchester, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Edinburgh and Inverness. At the Kyle of Lochalsh, Palin bought the station's long metal platform sign and is seen lugging it back to London with him.
In 1994, Palin travelled through Ireland for the same series, entitled "Derry to Kerry". In a quest for family roots, he attempted to trace his great grandmother – Brita Gallagher – who set sail from Ireland 150 years ago during the Great Famine (1845–1849), bound for a new life in Burlington, New Jersey. The series is a trip along the Palin family line.
Starting in 1989, Palin appeared as presenter in a series of travel programmes made for the BBC. It was after the veteran TV globetrotter Alan Whicker and journalist Miles Kington turned down presenting the first of these, Around the World in 80 Days, that gave Palin the opportunity to present his first and subsequent travel shows. These programmes have been broadcast around the world in syndication, and were also sold on VHS tape and later on DVD:
Following each trip, Palin wrote a book about his travels, providing information and insights not included in the TV programme. Each book is illustrated with photographs by Basil Pao, the stills photographer who was on the team. (Exception: the first book, Around the World in 80 Days, contains some pictures by Pao but most are by other photographers.)
All seven of these books were also made available as audio books, and all of them are read by Palin himself. Around the World in 80 Days and Hemingway Adventure are unabridged, while the other four books were made in both abridged and unabridged versions, although the unabridged versions can be very difficult to find.
For four of the trips a photography book was made by Pao, each with an introduction written by Palin. These are large coffee-table style books with pictures printed on glossy paper. The majority of the pictures are of various people encountered on the trip, as informal portraits or showing them engaged in some interesting activity. Some of the landscape photos are displayed as two-page spreads.
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 – for example, the significant increase in the number of tourists interested in Peru after Palin visited Machu Picchu. In a 2006 survey of "15 of the world's top travel writers" by The Observer, Palin named Peru's Pongo de Mainique (canyon below the Machu Picchu) his "favourite place in the world".
He is currently working on a new TV travel series and book about Brazil which is expected to be broadcast in four parts in late 2012.
Art and history
In recent years, Palin has written and presented occasional documentary programmes on artists that interest him. The first, on Scottish painter Anne Redpath, was Palin on Redpath in 1997. In The Bright Side of Life (2000), Palin continued on a Scottish theme, looking at the work of the Scottish Colourists. Two further programmes followed on European painters; Michael Palin and the Ladies Who Loved Matisse (2004) and Michael Palin and the Mystery of Hammershøi (2005), about the French artist Henri Matisse and Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi respectively. The DVD Michael Palin on Art contains all these documentaries except for the Matisse programme.
In November 2008, Palin presented a First World War documentary about Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, when thousands of soldiers lost their lives in battle after the war had officially ended. Palin filmed on the battlefields of northern France and Belgium for the programme, called The Last Day of World War One, produced for the BBC's Timewatch series.
In July 2010, Palin sent a message of support for the Dongria Kondh tribe of India, who are resisting a mine on their land by the company Vedanta Resources. Palin said, "I’ve been to the Nyamgiri Hills in Orissa and seen the forces of money and power that Vedanta Resources have arrayed against a people who have occupied their land for thousands of years, who husband the forest sustainably and make no great demands on the state or the government. The tribe I visited simply want to carry on living in the villages that they and their ancestors have always lived in".
On 2 January 2011 Palin became the first person to sign the UK-based Campaign for Better Transport's Fair Fares Now campaign.
Class 153, no. 153335 'Michael Palin' at Cambridge
Each member of Monty Python has an asteroid named after him. Palin's is Asteroid 9621 Michaelpalin.
In honour of his achievements as a traveller, especially rail travel, Palin has two British trains named after him. In 2002, Virgin Trains' new £5m high speed Super Voyager train number 221130 was named "Michael Palin" – it carries his name externally and a plaque is located adjacent to the onboard shop with information on Palin and his many journeys. Also, National Express East Anglia have named a British Rail Class 153 (unit number 153335) after him. In 2008, he received the James Joyce Award of the Literary and Historical Society in Dublin.
Palin was instrumental in setting up the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children in 1993.
In recognition of his services to the promotion of geography, Palin was awarded the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in March 2009, along with a Fellowship to the Society.
In June 2009 Palin was elected for a three-year term as President of the Royal Geographical Society.
Because of his self-described "amenable, conciliatory character" Michael Palin has been referred to as unofficially "Britain's Nicest Man."
All his travel books can be read at no charge, complete and unabridged, on his website.
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
Evening Standard British Film Awards
- 1986 Won – "Peter Sellers Award for Comedy"
Writers' Guild of Great Britain
DVD Exclusive Awards
British Comedy Awards
- 2002 Won – British Comedy Award for "Lifetime Achievement"
- 1984 Nominated – BAFTA Award for "Best Original Song" (the award was discontinued after the 1985 ceremonies) for Every Sperm is Sacred from The Meaning of Life (shared with André Jacquemin, Dave Howman and Terry Jones)
- 2005 Won – BAFTA Special Award
- 2009 Won – BAFTA Special Award as part of the Monty Python team for outstanding contribution to film and television
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- ^ "Timewatch – The Last Day of World War One". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/timewatch/last-day-of-ww1.shtml. Retrieved 1 November 2008.
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- ^ Lee, Marc (24 August 2009). "Michael Palin: he's not a Messiah, just a very nice man". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/starsandstories/6055546/Michael-Palin-hes-not-a-Messiah-just-a-very-nice-man.html.
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- Novick, Jeremy (2001), Life of Michael: an Illustrated Biography of Michael Palin Headline Publishing (a division of Hodder Headline) ISBN 0747235295
- Ross, Robert (1997). Monty Python Encyclopedia B.T. Batsford Ltd, London ISBN 1-57500-036-9
- Wilmut, Roger (1980). From Fringe to Flying Circus: Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960–1980 Eyre Methuen Ltd ISBN 0-413-50770-X
- Jones, Mark (2010), The Famous Charisma Discography The Record Press/Bristol Folk Publications ISBN 978-0-9563531-1-5 – discography of Monty Python's record label, includes foreword by Michael Palin
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