Frederick's Reviews > Diaries: The Python Years, 1969-1979

Diaries by Michael Palin
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Sep 02, 07

bookshelves: biography, history, humor, palin-michael
Recommended for: Anybody obsessed with either Monty Python, George Harrison or Comedy.
Read in September, 2007

I just bought this today. (It is, indeed, now available in the United States, but I can't find the American edition listed here. The Canadian will do.) I, of course, haven't finished it, but I've looked in the index for references to each Beatle (I being a Beatles fan) and read as much as I could in the space of a few hours about Michael Palin's friendship with George Harrison, and Palin's second, third and fourth-hand stories about the other Beatles. By the way, there are a lot more entires about George than the index indicates. George is usually referred to in the text as "George H," which is something the people who assembled the index seem not to have taken into account. But all for the better: George is present in many places in the book. As I read various hand-selected entries I also stumbled across things I never expected: Michael Palin has spent a fair amount of time in Sag Harbor, a Long Island town about an hour from where I live. I've seen it many times, and Palin's description of its marvelous, multitudinous plant odors is accurate. Of course, Michael Palin hosted SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE once or twice and his encounters with the SNL people are illuminating, adding to the already vast wealth of information about that endlessly fascinating series. (Its producer, Lorne Michaels, even gets a nod in the acknowledgements.) In short, this is a Transcontinental time capsule of the seventies. Palin and the other Pythons are hanging out in Malibu writing LIFE OF BRIAN, but what's interesting is Keith Moon is with them. He was going to be in the movie but died before this could happen. Palin shows his Wodehousian side when he says (long before getting to know Moon, by the way) something like "Keith Moon is in the habit of driving sports cars into swimming pools and leaving them there." Palin describes working with Stephen Frears, Tim Curry and Tom Stoppard on a film of THREE MEN AND A BOAT. All of this is before Frears became the prestigious director he is now; just as Tim Curry is hitting his stride and somewhat before Stoppard became the revered figure he is today. (And what he's done with THREE MEN IN A BOAT since then has been most interesting. He's put its author, Jerome K. Jerome, in an epic piece of theatre.) Palin, during the filming of THREE MEN IN A BOAT, writes in his diary about the fact that he's exhausted rowing the boat each day during filming. This is the mid-seventies. Cut to the nineties (which this book, of course, does not cover) and Palin has become one of the most intrepid makers of travelogues in history, visiting remote spots the world over.
MICHAEL PALIN DIARIES: THE PYTHON YEARS, 1969-1979, will prove to be a lasting source of information about the entertainment industry of the seventies, but it is also written in crystalline prose. It is often amusing and invariably perceptive. No, I haven't read much of it at all, but visiting parts of it at the front and back of the book and in the middle, I can say, this seems right. I was in high school when MONTY PYTHON was first shown on American TV, and I remember its increasing fame. Friends of mine went to see the Pythons at City Center in New York. I knew another who'd gone to the New York premiere of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and I remember him saying the members of Monty Python were handing out cocoanuts. Sure enough, Palin talks about handing out the cocoanuts.
This book is spot-on, as the Brits would say. (Or at least as an American watching British TV in America says.)
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