British National Treasures You Should Know: Michael Palin

Michael Palin in "Remember Me" (Photo: Courtesy of © ITV plc (ITV Studios Global Entertainment)

I first discovered Monty Python’s Flying Circus in middle school. Our PBS channel aired re-runs of the iconic comedy sketch show in the late 70’s and I was immediately hooked. These five young chaps were simultaneously surreal, satirical and downright silly. (It was also my first exposure to men in drag.)

Always the fangirl, my thirteen-year-old self couldn’t help but notice the handsome, amiable Python whose characters ranged from timid and socially inept to the unflappable straight man. Michael Palin was all of these things and occasionally hilariously manic to boot.


But I’m here to tell you that I have kept my eye on Mr. Palin throughout the years and am pleased to report that he ended up being much more than a pretty face with an Oxford education and a good sense of humor. Michael Palin is a national treasure and often credited with the unofficial title of “Britain’s Nicest Man”. If you only know him from his work in Monty Python projects, you only know half of the story. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a short list of some of his other accomplishments.

BAFTA Winner

In 1989 Michael won a film BAFTA for his memorable supporting role as Ken Pile, an animal loving thief with a stutter, in A Fish Called Wanda.


Palin was also presented with a special BAFTA award for his outstanding contribution to television in 2005 and was named a BAFTA Fellowship recipient in 2013.

Co-starred in two movies with Dame Maggie Smith

Michael has shared the big screen twice with Dame Maggie. Their first collaboration was on 1982's The Missionary , a rather naughty comedy Palin penned about a timid Anglican minister who returns home from Africa to direct a mission for prostitutes and the wealthy married woman who funds his cause in exchange for some manly company.


In 1984 the pair reunited for Alan Bennett's farce about a married couple caught up in the post-war black market, A Private Function.


(In case it appears I'm suggesting a certain chemistry or advocating for a romance between Michael and Maggie, I must point out that Mr. Palin has been happily married to his wife Helen for fifty-one years!)

World Traveler

After his association with Monty Python, Michael's travel documentaries are probably his most well-known claim to fame. He has taken to the open road eight times for the BBC between 1989 and 2012, journeying  to locations as varied as the Sahara Desert and the Himalayan mountains. And for each series, he wrote a companion book! It all began with the seven-part series Around the World in 80 Days, in which Palin was required to travel as closely as possible the path described in the famous Jules Verne story without using aircraft.


In other travel-related accomplishments, Mr. Palin was elected for a three-year term as President of the Royal Geographical Society in 2009. He also has two British trains and an asteroid (!) named after him.

Prolific Author

Besides the aforementioned companion books he has written for each of his travel documentaries, Palin has penned a handful of children’s picture books and three volumes of personal diaries that cover his life from the Python years through to his travel documentary period. He is also a novelist with two titles, 1995's Hemingway's Chair and 2012's The Truth, in print. (I've read them both, in case you were wondering.)


Narrator of beloved British children’s show

The Clangers is a stop-motion animation program about a family of mouse-like, moon-dwelling creatures who speak only in whistles. It originally ran on the BBC in the early 70's. When the BBC’s children’s network CBeebies decided to revive The Clangers in 2015, they chose Palin to provide the friendly, reassuring narration.


Dramatic Actor

"And now for something completely different..."

Other than his starring turn as a school headmaster fighting to resist political corruption in the 1991 mini-series G.B.H., Mr. Palin’s credits have remained firmly in the comedy genre. That is, until he took on the role of Tom Parfitt in the 2014 BBC supernatural mystery Remember Me. In this series, he plays a solitary, elderly Yorkshireman.  After taking a questionable fall, Tom is admitted to a nursing home which sets off a series of eerie and otherworldly events.


If you’d like to see Palin in this rare dramatic role, Remember Me premieres Sunday, July 16, 2017 at 10pET/9pCT on PBS. Check your local listings for date and time. I'll also be writing recaps for this three part series so we can chat about this very talented gentlemen a bit longer. Share any of your favorite Palin projects in the comments as well!