Michael Palin: interview

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  • There’s a lot of food – endless accounts of meals.

    Yes, someone else said that. I always loved food and I was always with people who liked food – Graham and Terry Jones were great gourmets. We wouldn’t just eat, we’d be interested in the menus, and in the exotic things that Graham liked to cook, like lamb stuffed with salmon…

    Bleurgh!

    Actually, I think that might have been a terrible mistake in the Chapman kitchen, which was always in crisis. Perhaps it goes back to moments of contentment. Meals were moments when we wound down from a long writing session or a meeting. They were a time for contemplation, and of course we drank a lot, apart from John, who didn’t do that as much as the rest of us.

    I was surprised by how much stage work you did in the early days of ‘Python’.

    If you had a successful TV show, people wanted to see you live. Promoters had had practice with pop groups, and ‘Python’ achieved a similar status. We also had lots of rock star fans – George Harrison, Pink Floyd, Robert Plant. Promoters saw that and liked it. And a week at Drury Lane paid a lot better than the TV series. You clutched at anything else that was around. I was never very keen on the stage shows. I was very bad at projecting my voice. I used to do this Gumby Flower Arranging sketch which involved shouting, and I could never do it right, and at one point my voice went completely. Eric is completely different. He loved stage work and in many ways ‘Spamalot’ is possibly what he always wanted to do with Python.

    Family and home are very important to you. You’ve lived in the same house in Gospel Oak for nearly 40 years.

    Oh yeah. Helen, my wife, who is a discreet presence in the diaries, was always a wonderful judge of mood, and that was very important. The kids growing up is a separate strand to your life. However bad a day you’ve had, that’s the most important thing and you have to remember that. With a diary it’s the high points and low points you remember. When you’re just happy, you don’t tend to write that down. Go into any bookshop and the shelves are full of books about the awful lives people have. But we’re not so good at dealing with the times when we’re unspectacularly happy and content.

    Michael Palin’s ‘Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years’ is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ‘Spamalot’ is on now at the Cambridge Theatre.

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