Michael Palin talks about the Monty Python reunion at the 02

Photo by John Swannell

Photo by John Swannell

First published in Interviews
Last updated
by , Features Writer

Fans have gone into spasms of funny walks since the Monty Python team announced they were finally reuniting.

And despite the breathtaking adventures Michael Palin has gone on as a travel presenter he says he may never better those heady times when he gamely donned a lumberjack outfit and sang ‘I chop down trees, I wear high heels’.

When asked his career highlight, he says: “The Python days and the great, sheer joy of sitting around a table, writing material and inventing things like the fish slapping dance, which came out of nowhere.

“I look at it now and think ‘oh that’s probably the best thing I’ll do in my life, just get hit by a fish into a canal’.“

Devotees of the comedy group agree and made a record-breaking scramble for tickets to see them at the O2 in July which Michael says was “astonishingly great“.

At first he seems to be taking it all in his stride, tongue firmly in cheek, and says of performing live together after four decades: “A lot of old guys in their 70s will stagger on stage every night for ten nights. It will be an interesting medical phenomenon. I’m looking forward to it.“

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but when I press the Gospel Oak celebrity further he admits facing audiences of 15,000 is daunting. More so than his first ever solo tour in the autumn.

“The reunion is more of a sort of an unknown quantity,“ he says.

“There is a little bit more to remember and a lot more people involved.

“We have got to get back to those days, 45 years ago, when we wrote this material, when we weren’t well-known and were allowed to go and do our stuff and be mischievous, naughty and rude.“

Born in Sheffield, Michael says he has always ben “very much blown by the wind“ with his career and adds: “I did enjoy acting at school and performing and imitating the teachers, but I never in a thousand years expected that would be a living, I thought I would go and work in a bank or something like that, maybe advertising or publishing.“

But he managed to follow in the footsteps of his heroes Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, forming the Pythons in 1969 with John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman, who died in 1989.

They recorded 45 television episodes and several films, last working together in 1982 on The Meaning of Life before going their different ways, with Michael starting his illustrious travel career with Around the World in 80 Days.

Looking back he says he has changed ’surprisingly little’ since those early days and has always been an unusual mix of “shy boy and show off“, but adds “I organise myself slightly better now and I’m much less competitive than I used to be. In your 20s, 30s, 40s you have to be top and are looking over your shoulder the whole time.

“When you reach 70 and you can still stand up unaided, you think that’s quite an achievement.“

So why did they wait until they were all collecting their pensions to agree to a reunion which has been “bubbling under for 20 years or so“?

“We were either going to do a film or a stage show and for a long time we did neither. It was a question of timing and people’s availability.

“This summer, the O2, make some money, everybody agreed to that because we all rather enjoy performing together and its quite nice to do some of the old stuff again.“

Monty Python Live (mostly) will include all the classic sketches a well as clips of film and photographs, a band and dancers and some surprises.

“There will be some new material,“ Michael reveals.

“Some that has never been seen on stage before like the Spanish Inquisition and also one or two sketches where there’s some topical material attached and some of the songs are new and there’s some dance material which Arlene Phillips is putting together.

“But we felt the core and bedrock has to be the material that people expect and want to see. Rather like pop groups doing their greatest hits.“

He says the fact they’re all now in their 70s was behind the decision not to tour, but films of the performance and their preparations will be made, so fans who can’t make it can join in.

“I think it’s going to be almost impossible for anyone in the world to avoid it. Sorry about that,“ he chuckles.

Monty Python Live (mostly) is at The O2, July 1-20. Details: 0844 856 0202, theo2.co.uk

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