I’m still a huge Michael Palin fan, and watching Travels Of A Lifetime these last two Sunday nights has been wonderful. It was through Palin’s travelogues that I was introduced to Monty Python. Something about this calm, pleasant, intelligent Englishman explore the more exotic parts of the world of a Sunday evening really captured my imagination: not only did it make my feet itch and want to see what Palin was showing us for myself, but it also made me curious about what else he had done. Hence I was introduced to, and fell in love with, dead parrots and transvestite lumberjacks.
Those shows were first broadcast in the early Nineties, when I was eight or nine and still at school. I remember them giving me a warm, cozy yet reassuring feeling, like when my Dad or Mum were reading a bedtime story, but tinged with curiosity and wonder. They told me that the world was out there to be explored, with great cities to see and adventures to be had; but whatever might happen, there will always be friendly people, good food and a warm bed at the end of the day. Binge-Watching Pole To Pole just now, I felt precisely the same coziness; but I now view it through adult, educated eyes. In Episode Two, for example, Palin visits St. Petersburg and shows us the Winter Palace. My mind immediately went back to AS History and what I learned of the Russian Revolution, which gave what Palin was saying far greater depth. This might be homely Sunday evening TV, but there is a depth and profundity underlying it. After all, we’re being shown parts of the world most of us would never normally see.
No wonder the beeb is screening a four part retrospective of Palin’s work in the same time slot that his shows originally aired; right now, I daresay it’s what most of us need. It’s great to see these programs recognised as the pioneering TV they were, and also to hear people like Joanna Lumley and Ade Adepitan noting what an impact Palin’s travelogues had on their later shows. Added to that, the input of the greatest broadcaster ever, Sir David Attenborough, make this fantastic Sunday night telly.
I must note, though, that Michael Portillo has been conspicuous in his absence, at least for the first two episodes of Travels Of A Lifetime. Surely he too owes a lot to Palin for his new career making programs about train journeys, but I somehow get the impression that the old Tory sees his shows as separate from others, as if he pioneered his own genre. (Is it me or does Portillo think he is Palin, or the Conservative equivalent of him?)
That aside, this really is succulent, outstanding television – the best type of telly for cold Sunday evenings.