Welcome to “Celebrities” our weekly interview programme. In today’s programme Mary Smith interviews Michael Palin, a famous actor well-known for his comedy roles as part of the Monty Python team, but also for his being an explorer. He is one of Britain’s most loved comedians and travellers.
Mary: Good afternoon, Michael, and welcome to our programme.
Michael: Thank you. It’s a pleasure being here today.
Mary: Michael, many British children have been inspired by your taste for adventure, but when you were a child, did you experience travelling and adventure yourself?
Michael: No, not really. I was living in Sheffield then, in the north of England, and unlike now when you can probably get onto a plane for ten pounds and go across Europe, travelling was very expensive and there was very little chance for me to go anywhere, so I was really travelling through other people’s experiences and through geographic magazines and programmes on television and things like that.
Mary: Where does your passion for travel come from? Is this a family thing?
Michael: No, not really. They are not great travellers… But I found a notebook belonging to my Irish great-grandfather. He was a scholar at Oxford University and he once went walking on his own in the Alps and he left behind his diaries when he was about 38… And he very much liked… what I like really… what he saw and what he enjoyed, you know… well there’s a fellow spirit you know, he loved getting away, and he loved the mountains and all that. I think with travel… I do love landscapes, you know, and I can find places that are beautiful, spectacular, but it is usually people that engage me most of all.
Mary: Your first career was in acting. Did you have your travel passion at the same time as your drama and comedy?
Michael: Yes I did. I mean I remember the excitement of feeling that we were doing something like Monty Python and this would take us abroad to do some filming… We went to Tunisia I remember to film ìThe Life of Brianî, one of our films, and then we went to America to do publicity for it, and ended up in New York, Los Angeles… but I didn’t really feel I was seeing much of the world, I was seeing the inside of television studios, hotels, conference centres… and then suddenly youíd be at home again. So in a way I had the opportunity to travel but it wasnít the right kind of travel.
Mary: Back in the sixties you did Monty Python and now you are doing travel. Which of these jobs do you enjoy most, do you prefer seeing yourself as a travelling actor or as an actor travelling Michael: Well… I think I somehow managed to put the acting to one side and the travelling to another side. So generally speaking travel is myself talking about things through my own eyes rather than through the eyes of an actor.
Mary: How has being a professional comedian helped you later on and what has it taught you?
Michael: I think being a comedian probably gives you a certain freedom to look at the world. As a comedian, you know, your job is to comment on things or see the human things going wrong that other people might take terribly seriously in a rather different way. And I feel sometimes as a comedian that I am on the outside looking in, and itís quite useful, I found it especially useful during travels.
Mary: Really? Are you suggesting that humour is somehow related to travelling?
Michael: Yes, indeed. Humour is something that is shared all over the world and you know you can make as big an idiot of yourself as we all do, you know, not learn the language, not learn the customs, and do all sorts of wrong things according to another culture and yet, if you can do it with humour, it somehow brings you closer to the people and everyone says ìWell… never mind… we all do things like that.
Mary: Your first trip round the world became a successful TV programme, but I believe it was originally all planned by the BBC. What was the experience like?
Michael: Well… In fact I was very uncertain of what we were going to do. When I was offered the journey, they said: we are going to actually see if you can get round the world in 80 days, there will be a camera following you all the way… and … and allI heard was… we will be travelling around the world and I thought Well… Yes!, I’ll do that! Fantastic! The BBC can organize it for me. What I wasnít really hearing was there was going to be a camerathere all the time, you’re gonna have to interview people… but there was no script! It is all gonna be based on me improvising! I’m just going to meet people and talk to them and I thought… ìWould anyone be interested? How are we gonna do this?î So until we got going I was really very worried.
Mary: You must have seen places in your travels where the environment has been abused. Do you think our society should do something?
Michael: Well… I donít believe in interference without consultation. You know what I mean… I don’t think we can say… well we know the answers… and this is what you should do. I don’t think we can impose our way of life on anyone else. So you have to understand why people are the way they are, why they live the way they do, and also learn lessons from poor people.
Mary: What kind of lessons?
Michael: For instance, we have a lot more than we need and we produce a lot of waste, so I suppose at the end of the week I send about twenty plastic bottles of water off to recycling,but if you throw one plastic bottle somewhere in Africa people will pick it up and use it, and I think this is exactly what should happen, so I think we can learn lessons about how to look after the planet from people who have less rather than from people who have more.
Mary: I’m afraid weíve run out of time. Thank you, Michael, for being with us today.
Michael: My pleasure. Thank you.