Episode 17 - The Buzz Aldrin Show
John Cleese on Michael Palin:
[Warning: Lost post is long, but oh so worth it.]
I can remember very clearly the day Michael Palin joined the Python team. Several of the original members had started to move on: Aneurin Bevan at the end of the second series, and Laurens Van Der Post shortly after that; now Graham Greene had told us that he wanted to do only six more shows. So we were understandably very cheered by the sight of Michael’s smiling, affable, slightly squat figure entering the rehearsal rooms to meet us, and it was a matter of only months before he was officially invited to join.
And what an impact he immediately made! We were all thrilled to have someone so eagerly bustling around, shining our shoes, running out for cigarettes and making us countless cups of coffee. And what most people don’t realise is that, in addition to all this, he wrote some of the material that was used in the television series and, if memory serves me right, even appeared in a couple of sketches as a performer.
In fact, the only drawback with Michael was the noise. If he has a fault, and he definitely does, it is that he veers towards the loquacious. Many of us enjoy conversation: Michael likes talking. He just can’t get enough of it. He’s a one-man 24 hour radio news station without the musical breaks. In fact, in the early seventies he twice reached the semi-finals of the All-England Talking Championships. And I’m confident that he would have won a championship, had he had suffered the misfortune to compete in the same era as the legendary Alyce Faye Eichelberger. So after a few weeks we persuaded him to wear at rehearsals a kind of oratorical muffling device, constructed by Graham Greene from a gas mask and handgun silencer, which enable the rest of us to get on with our work.
Imagine my surprise then, when one morning I entered a silent rehearsal room, assuming Michael had not yet arrived, and saw him sitting in the corner reading a book, as quiet as an artichoke. It was as startling a sight as Chapman arriving on time, or Gilliam having an insight, or Idle doing charity work, or Jones not holding a strong opinion about something, or Greene playing ice hockey. I tiptoed across the room to see what book had affected Michael so dramatically, and I read on its cover the one word - ‘Abroad’. From the moment he put the book down the following day, he was hooked. The idea of abroad so fascinated him that from then on, he was almost always there, moving about it as much as possible, trying to find new bits.
So much so, that people speculated that this newly discovered wanderlust had displaced the old chatterlust. But it was not so; it was simply that Michael’s constant wandering now presented him with the problem of whom to talk at. Fortunately this problem was neatly solved by his wife’s suggestion that if a television crew were paid to accompany him he could rabbit interminably to them without the need, most of the time, to have any film in the camera.
As is well known, many of Michael’s friends worried about this hyperactivity, despite the fact that it was giving his wife’s eardrums time to regenerate; some felt it might mainly be a matter of diet, but I always believed it was psychological. So I decided to broach the subject with him, and, having chosen my moment carefully, I started by saying, ‘Michael, a man can run and run for only so long but some day he has to turn round and face himself.’ But already he was gone, off on another trip to cross Lake Titicaca on a pedalo. Thus were born Around the World in 80 Days, Around the World in 79 Days, Around the World in 82 Days, and so on and so on and so on.
People sometimes ask me ‘Will Michael settle down some day?’ Well, I sincerely believe he will. I can confidently see him, in another couple of decades, spending the day quietly driving round and round the M25, and then getting back home and putting his feet up in front of the fire to spend the rest of the evening with a good book and a TV crew. Let us hope that when this happens, his wife does not make the same error that she did last month when, coming across him in the bathroom, she called the police to report an intruder.
Even as exaggeratedly humorous as this is, I still wonder how much of it is true…
Talking about Terry Gilliam
John: “He’s not very good with words. Big American. He’s got a very small vocabulary, which largely consists of two phrases. One is: *American accent* ‘Yeh, yeah, I really like that.’ And the other is: *American accent* ‘Yeah, it really pisses me off.’ And life is divided for Terry in these two clear and distinct categories. Things that he *American accent* really likes and things that *American accent* pisses him off.”
Graham: “He can make strange sounds. But he hasn’t quite learned how to talk yet. He has this relatively small vocabulary, I suppose. He says ‘bunch’ a lot. When he means ‘a lot’ a lot. When we were flying over… We had done a tour in Canada and we were flying over the great lakes. And Terry looked out of the window and said: ‘Hey, you guys. A whole bunch of water.’ Which really sums Terry up, I think.”