Michael Palin: interview
Monty Python's London Guide, TO, May 1973
I was impressed that you kept in your record of the moment Eric turns up at a ‘Life of Brian’ writing session with ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and you’re all rather sniffy about it. ‘Not strong’, you say.Oh dear, yes.
Some diarists start off very flamboyant and self-conscious. But in yours the tone is consistent, as if you always knew what you were doing and why.Well, I felt they sputtered along a bit to start with, because I didn’t make the effort to integrate them into my life for a while. In the first year, 1969, I didn’t really have the time to keep it up. It was like starting an engine on a cold day. Then it gets going and there’s a bit of a narrative. I feel unsure about the early entries. But they are what they are, complete with trite observations, repetitions and split infinitives. You have to bear in mind that entries were usually written very quickly, soon after the event. There was a great temptation to trim and change, but by and large I haven’t done that, just minor surgery.
They’re very generous and fair-minded, on the whole.Well, there were days when you felt far from fair – very angry and exasperated, especially in the area of ‘Python’ and how we wrote. People not doing the work. Frustration with the BBC’s obstructive attitude and lack of support. On the whole I was pleased when I read them that three days later I tend to come back and say, ‘Oh, it was all okay.’
There are times when the reader gets cross on your behalf, especially with John Cleese’s passive-aggressive ‘Now I need “Python”, now I don’t’ flip-flopping.Really? [Laughs]
And there’s one moment where you lose it completely and write ‘Do you know what? I just don’t care any more’Yes, I remember that. But in any group there have to be tensions. The thing about ‘Python’, and I’m not sure this comes across but it underlies everything, is that when we were doing comedy together and writing well, there was nothing better. It was a lovely process and we all supported each other and made each other laugh and there was a really good feeling of something constructive being done and it didn’t matter if we disagreed on investment policies or stuff like that. But when it wasn’t going so well, we were just a group of people who had different priorities. And remember, we didn’t know where we were going. The ‘legendary “Python” shows’, as they’re known now, fizzled out in 1972! It was only three or four years at the most. We didn’t know what we were going to do next. And I suppose there was a certain amount of jealousy in me at other people getting the chance to do this and that, but also that we’d split
You know – why did we split? We’d all had such a good time. ‘Python’ was just being discovered in the early ’70s, the ratings were going up; but John was already getting bored with it. But then you look at John’s record – he only did 12 episodes of ‘Fawlty Towers’. Brilliant shows. He was brilliant at quality control. He knew that when he was good, he was brilliant, and when things weren’t going so well he wasn’t interested.
The smaller Pythons – Terry, Eric and myself – we messed around. Some things worked, some things didn’t. We were more laidback and didn’t mind too much. But John got very cross if things didn’t work. He’d get very concerned about why it wasn’t working and why we would want to do something that wasn’t working. [Pauses] The trouble with diaries is there aren’t points where you say, ‘This is a wonderful chap.’ You just don’t sum it up like that. I hope I’m not sounding too harsh because my admiration for John is unbounded.
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