Biography of Michael Palin

Michael Edward Palin

Michael Edward Palin was born on 5 May 1943 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, UK, to Mary and Edward Palin. He had one sibling, a sister named Angela who was 9 years older. He attended Brasenose College, Oxford University, and graduated with a degree in Modern History. In 1966, he married his childhood sweetheart, Helen Gibbins (she was 25 and he was 23). Together they had three children: Thomas (b. 1969), William (b. 1970) and Rachel (b. 1975).

In 1966, around the time he and Helen got married, he hosted a music-oriented show called Now! Also around that time, he appeared with Oxford friend Terry Jones in The Late Show. In late 1967 he teamed up with Terry Jones, a graduate of Cambridge named Eric Idle, and a quirky American named Terry Gilliam for a children's television series named Do Not Adjust Your Set. The show ran for just over a year, and around that time he also starred in a program called How To Irritate People, with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Connie Booth (the show was also presented by Cleese as well as written by him and Chapman). In early 1969, he and Terry Jones put together (and starred in) a short-lived comedy show with a more historical theme called The Complete and Utter History of Britain.

In May 1969, he joined Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones and Terry Gilliam to begin work on a new sketch comedy program which would be known as Monty Python's Flying Circus, which ran for 45 episodes between October 1969 and December 1974. Over the series' run, they performed several stage shows in the UK and Canada, as well as several well-known stints in America after the series ended. He co-wrote and appeared in all of the Python movies, as well as several of fellow Python Terry Gilliam's films such as Time Bandits. He also performed in the Amnesty International shows organized by John Cleese, including Pleasure At Her Majesty's and The Secret Policemen's Balls.

After Python ended, Michael teamed up with Terry Jones for a series called Ripping Yarns, which modeled on early 1900's comic serials. The series ran for nine episodes from 1977 to 1979. He also followed Eric Idle in hosting a few episodes of Saturday Night Live, the first in 1978 and the last in 1984 which he co-hosted with his mother. In 1980 he brought his love of railway travel to screen when he appeared in a special called Great Railway Journeys: Confessions of a Train Spotter. In this offering he rides several railway locomotives from England to Kyle of Lochash. This was followed by another special in 1994 called Irish Railway Journey: From Derry to Kerry. In this sequel of sorts, Michael talks about how he discovers his grandfather had married a girl who had traveled to America from Ireland during the Potato Famine (Michael's film American Friends is sort of autobiographical in this respect). We travel along with Michael as he traces some of his family roots. During this timee authored several children's books and appeared in more films, among them A Private Function, The Missionary, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and a short film entitled The Dress in which his daughter Rachel also appeared.

World travel came a-calling in September 1988, when he left the Reform Club in London for his first journey Around the World in 80 Days, accompanied by a BBC TV team. This was followed four years later in 1992 by Pole to Pole, and then in 1996 by Full Circle. Each series was broadcast on television and was supplemented by a book authored by Michael. He displayed his keen interest in the life of author Ernest Hemingway with a novel called Hemingway's Chair in the mid 1990s, and ultimately another journey in 1998, Hemingway's Travels.

Also in 1998, he joined the surviving Pythons for a reunion at the Aspen Comedy Festival, and in October 1999 for the Pythons' 30th Anniversary. On New Year's Eve, 1999, he was named a Commander of the Order of British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth.

In 2001, Michael trekked across the Sahara, and in 2003 he trekked across central Asia for his next documentary, Himalaya. More information can be found at his website, Palin's Travels. In 2002, he was present at the tribute concert for George Harrison, giving a stirring rendition of the Lumberjack Song, and was presented with the Comedy Lifetime Achievement Award. He reunited with the other Pythons on March 17th, 2005, for the opening night of Spamalot, a new musical adaptation of sorts of Holy Grail, on Broadway. His thirst for travel unending, he trekked across Eastern Europe for Michael Palin's New Europe in 2006, as well as Brazil for Michael Palin's Brazil in 2012.

He has also appeared in several documentaries related to art, such as The Ladies Who Loved Matisse and Hammershoi. In 2006, he began publishing collections of his personal diaries. As of this writing, they can be found in three volumes: The Python Years 1969-1979; Halfway to Hollywood 1980-1988; and Travelling to Work 1988-1998. Michael has given many lectures based on his travels as well as Python in recent years. Also, in 2013 he authored a novel titled The Truth and in late 2014 he appeared in a murder-mystery TV miniseries called Remember Me. In the summer of 2014, he and his fellow surviving Pythons reunited for one last (?) stage show entitled Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go.  In 2015 he began narrating the childrens TV show The Clangers. Also in 2015 he joined the world of social media via his own Facebook page, plus a new website separate from Palin's Travels called The Official Michael Palin Website. Throughout 2016 Michael is slated to appear in two of Terry Gilliam's new movies: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and The Death of Stalin.

Most recently (mid-2016), Michael has expressed that he no longer wishes to do travel documentaries, citing differences with the BBC as well as wishing to spend more time with his family (particularly his grandchildren!). We certainly understand and we wish Michael well in all he does!

(A List of Creative Works Michael Has Contributed To)

Television (some titles can be purchased - follow links to IMDB entries, YouTube videos, or see the shop at Michael's own website for info)

Now! (1965)

The Late Show (1966; filmed segments with Terry Jones)

Twice A Fortnight (1967; with Terry Jones)

Do Not Adjust Your Set (December 1967 - May 1969; with Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam)

Frost on Sunday (1968; one episode)

Do Not Adjust Your Stocking (December 25, 1968; with Idle and Jones)

How To Irritate People (1968; with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Connie Booth)

The Complete And Utter History of Britain (January to February 1969; with Terry Jones)

Monty Python's Flying Circus (October 1969 to December 1974; with Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones and Gilliam)

Ending It All (early 70s; one source says 1973, another 1971, and still another, 1970; PSA about "driving too close in the wet")

Bird's Eye Frozen Peas Relaunch (industrial film made in 1971; with Cleese, Chapman, Idle and Jones)

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus, show Eins (filmed in summer 1971 for Bavarian television; with Pythons)

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus, show Zwei (filmed in Sept-Oct 1972 for Bavarian television; with Pythons; aired on BBC as "Schnapps With Everything", November 1973)

Harmony Hairspray (industrial film made circa 1973; with Cleese, Chapman, Idle and Jones)

Closeup Toothpaste (industrial film made in February 1973; with Idle and Jones)

Look North (May 23, 1973; with Chapman and Jones)

The Midnight Special (1973; with Chapman, Idle, Jones and Gilliam)

Henry Cleans Up (training film made in early (pre-Holy Grail, anyway) 1974 sponsored by Guinness; with Jones and Carol Cleveland)

In Vision (BBC2; December 5, 1974; with Chapman, Jones and Gilliam)

BBC Film Night (December 19, 1974; interviewed on Holy Grail set with Pythons and others)

KERA TV Dallas (March 15, 1975; appearance on U.S. PBS station to promote Flying Circus and Holy Grail; with Chapman, Jones and Gilliam)

AM America (April 25, 1975; appearance on ABC morning show in U.S. promoting Holy Grail with Chapman, Idle, Jones and Gilliam)

Three Men In A Boat (December 31, 1975; BBC-2 TV movie with Tim Curry and Stephen Moore)

Tompkinson's Schooldays (January 1976; "pilot" for Ripping Yarns; with Terry Jones)

The Mike Douglas Show (April 1976; with Jones, Gilliam and Carol Cleveland)

Festival 40 (August 1976; special Python sketch; with Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones and Gilliam)

Ripping Yarns, series 1 (5 episodes; 1977)

The Red Dress (1977)

To See Such Fun (1977; with Chapman and Idle)

The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (NBC TV movie, March 1978; with Eric Idle)

Saturday Night Live (April 8, 1978; host)

Ripping Yarns, series 2 (4 episodes, 1979)

Saturday Night Live (January 27, 1979; host)

Good Morning America (May 11, 1979)

Saturday Night Live (May 12, 1979; host)

Evening Magazine (August/September 1979; with Jones)

Tom Snyder Show (September 1979; with Jones and Cleese)

Good Morning America (September 12, 1979; with Idle)

Friday Night, Saturday Morning (November 1979; with Cleese)

Saturday Night Live (March 15, 1980; special appearance on the 100th episode of SNL)

Great Railway Journeys: Confessions of A Trainspotter (November 1980)

TISWAS (Spring, 1981; appears in several sketches on one episode of this UK children's Saturday morning show)

The Innes Book of Records (September 1981; guest appearance)

Saturday Night Live (October 30, 1982; guest appearance)

Late Night With David Letterman (November 1982 and April 1983)

Comic Roots (August 1983)

Saturday Night Live (January 21, 1984; host with his mother Mary)

The Dress (1984)

Hot Properties (March 1985)

20 Years Of Monty Python (AKA "Life of Python"; September 1989; with Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Jones and Gilliam)

Around The World In 80 Days (1989)

GBH (1991)

Pole To Pole (1992)

Great Railway Journeys: From Derry To Kerry (aka "Irish Railway Journey: From Derry To Kerry"; 1994)

Palin's Column (1994)

Full Circle (1997)

Live At Aspen (March 1998; with Cleese, Idle, Jones and Gilliam)

Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure (1999)

Python Night (BBC2, October 1999; 30th Anniversary Special with Cleese, Idle, Jones, Gilliam and Cleveland)

Late Night With Conan O'Brian (April 2000)

The Human Face (2001; with Cleese)

Sahara (2002)

Himalaya (2004)

New Europe (2007)

Brazil with Michael Palin (2012)

Michael Palin in Wyeth's World (2013)

The Wipers Times (2013)

Remember Me (2014)

The Clangers (2015)

Films (most titles can be purchased - follow links to IMDB entries)

And Now For Something Completely Different (1971; filmed north of London in October-November 1970; with Pythons and Carol Cleveland)

Monty Python & The Holy Grail (1975; filmed in Scotland in mid-1974; with Pythons, Neil Innes and Carol Cleveland)

Jabberwocky (1977; filmed mostly at Shepperton Studios, UK, in July-September 1976; with Gilliam and Jones)

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979; filmed in Tunisia in September - November 1978; with Pythons, Carol Cleveland and George Harrison)

Time Bandits (1981; filmed summer 1980; with Cleese)

The Missionary (1982)

Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl (1982; film of Python performance of late September, 1980; with Pythons, Carol Cleveland and Neil Innes)

Monty Python's Meaning of Life (1983; filmed in summer 1982; with Pythons and Carol Cleveland)

A Private Function (1984)

Brazil (1985)

A Fish Called Wanda (1988; filmed in summer 1987 with Cleese)

American Friends (1991; with Connie Booth)

Wind in the Willows (1996; with Cleese, Idle, and Jones)

Fierce Creatures (1997; filmed in 1995 and 1996; with Cleese)

Books (most titles can be purchased; follow links to Amazon entries)

Monty Python's Big Red Book (Methuen, 1971) - with the other Pythons

The Brand New Monty Python Bok (Methuen, 1973) - with the other Pythons

Bert Fegg's Nasty Book For Boys and Girls (Methuen, 1974) - with Terry Jones

Bert Fegg's Nasty Book of Knowledge (1976) - reprint of above book

The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book (1976) - contributes a column for book by Eric Idle

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Book) (Methuen, 1977) - with the other Pythons

Ripping Yarns (1978) - with Terry Jones

More Ripping Yarns (1978) - with Terry Jones

Great Railway Journeys of The World (1981) - contributes a section entitled "Confessions of a Train Spotter"

Time Bandits: A Screenplay (1981) - with Terry Gilliam

Small Harry and the Toothache Pills (1982)

The Missionary (1982, 1983)

Dr. Fegg's Encyclopedia of All-World Knowledge (1985) - with Terry Jones

Limericks (1985, 1986)

Cyril and the House of Commons (1986)

Cyril and the Dinner Party (1986)

The Mirrorstone (1986)

Happy Holidays: The Golden Age of Railway Posters (1987) - contributes introductory text

Around The World In 80 Days (1989)

Pole To Pole (1992)

The Weekend (1994)

Great Railway Journeys (1994) - contributes one chapter, "From Derry to Kerry"

Hemingway's Chair (1995)

Full Circle (1997)

Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure (1999)

Sahara (2002)

Himalaya (2004)

Diaries, 1969-1979: The Python Years (2006)

New Europe (2010)

Diaries, 1980-1988: Halfway to Hollywood (2011)

Brazil (2012)

The Truth: A Novel (2013)


Monty Python's Flying Circus (1970)

Another Monty Python Record (1971)

Monty Python's Previous Record (1972)

The Monty Python Matching Tie & Handkerchief (1973)

Monty Python Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1974)

The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Album of the Film of Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975)

The Worst Best... Monty Python (aka The Worst of Monty Python aka The Worst/Best of Monty Python; 1976)

Monty Python Live! At the City Center (1976)

The Monty Python Instant Record Collection (1977)

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (1980)

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)

Monty Python: The Final Rip Off (1988)

Monty Python Sings (1989)

Further Reading

Now obviously, neither the biography nor the Palinography is 100% complete. There's just so much you can list on a puny little webpage such as this. However, there are quite a few additional resources which make for excellent reference material. Here is just a short list of them:

Michael Palin: A Biography by Jonathan Margolis (1997) - nice, thorough bio on Michael, with a few photos.

Life of Michael by Jeremy Novick (2001) - essentially the same as the above book in terms of information, but contains LOTS of nice color photos.

The Pythons: Autobiography by The Pythons (2003) - Large "coffee table" style book with autobiographical information on each of the Pythons, bits of interview and diary entries of Palin and Jones throughout, as well as many, many photos. A must for any Python fan.

PythOnline's Daily Llama Michael's bio, along with a list of books he has contributed to, as well as television appearances (ditto for the other Pythons). Wonderful resource.

And, of course, Michael's own websites, mentioned above in the Bio.

If you would like any further information on any of the material listed here (such as availability) or have any edits/additions to suggest, please email me.

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