And here's a wonderfully-enjoyable hour-long BBC documentary on the good fellow, A Life on Screen, done just this year.
Back in my dark days of doing movie PR, I was working at Universal Pictures when we released Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. And one of my assignments was to moderate a Q&A with the Python gang after a screening of that film -- alas, it has ever been a disappointment that he was the one Python who couldn't make it. (Side note: I was bowled over by how nice his writing partner Terry Jones was. And surprised by how nice Eric Idle was.)
But I know that Michael Palin would have been even nicer. I say that because my good friend, the writer-director Rob Hedden made a documentary early in his career about the making of Brazil, and raved about how amazingly nice Palin was. He's shown me outtakes of the day he went to Palin's home to interview him which has just heartwarming and hilarious. But then, what's in the movie is aces enough. Most actors hate doing behind-the-scene interviews during a production, you have to maneuver around their schedules and back them into a corner until they can't back out. But when Rob and his small crew (which included his wife, Jan) showed up at Palin's home on an off-day (P.S. as much as actors hate doing behind-the-scenes interviews during a production...they ABSOLUTELY HATE doing them on their off-days. The phrase you hear is -- "No. It's my OFF-DAY") -- he not only graciously gave them as much time as they needed...but suggested that rather than just a simple sit-down interview, how about if he did a number of sketches as different characters, playing various staff members of Michael Palin protecting him from the film crew. Oh, and since the filming took a long time, he invited the crew in and made them lunch.
That's why I feel comfortable saying he would have been nicer.
(I wrote about Rob's documentary, What is Brazil? and embedded the 30-minute documentary, which you can see here. It's one of the best "making of" documentaries I've ever seen. Yes, he's my friend, but I'm not alone -- it won two awards and even showed at the Smithsonian Institution. And by the way, when this BBC documentary deals with Palin's appearance in Brazil...they actually use several sequences from Rob's documentary! If you look in the lower left corner, you can see the credit to What is Brazil? and Rob as director. But I digress.)
For all the joking they make about his travel documentaries for the BBC, they're absolutely wonderful. The two I mentioned above are particularly great, but most especially Around the World in 80 Days. They don't explain what about it makes it so great -- probably because most of the British audience knows -- but it's unique. It's one of the rare travel documentaries with a plot. Palin tries to recreate Phileas Fogg's journey in Jules Verne's classic, and so there are deadlines to make connections through the multi-part series, so there's conflict throughout, and it actually builds to an exciting conclusion. Pole to Pole -- which makes a trip between poles -- does sort of the same thing (trying to make the trip before weather closes travel off), and it's very good, though the first remains the best.
A few notes. At one point, he refers to getting a letter of praise from "Spike." That's Spike Milligan, one of the creators of The Goon Show, which Palin earlier references as his comic inspiration. Also, there are several interview with Connie Booth, who later appeared with Palin in a movie he co-wrote -- but she's also John Cleese's ex-wife, and one of the co-creators and stars (as the maid, 'Polly') of Fawlty Towers. And finally, at about the 44-minute mark something goes bizarre with the sound for about three minutes. The picture continues, but it's like we get the opening three minutes of sound instead. But then it reverts to normal at around 47-minutes. I have no idea what happened, but clearly that isn't the way it went out over the BBC.
All that said, here's the BBC documentary