Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Michael Palin’s 1980s Diaries

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th December, 2010

Long bus journeys and hours of torrential rain have made me grateful for the company of Michael Palin’s “Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988” (Phoenix, 2010). The clown of Kentish Town is actually an accomplished writer as well as actor — not surprisingly, given the number of film and televsion scripts he has produced. Originally best known for his part in the Monty Python phenomenon, he went on  to launch a highly successful solo career as traveller-cum-presenter on various long TV journeys, out of which lucrative books also emerged. This volume of Palin’s Diaries — which he has been keping meticulously for many years — cover the period immediately prior to his departure as a modern Phileas Fogg on a voyage round ther world in 80 days (an opportunity Alan Whicker apparently turned down). There is a lot of Hollywood and London gossip but also  real insight into certain well-known people, including John Cleese (predictable) and former Beatle George Harrison (less so). A thorough index means one can go back to savour special favourites. But the passage that really made me howl recounts a June 1987 English PEN dinner when Palin sat down at the wrong table and found himself next to the formidable lesbian novelist Sybille Bedford. She had no idea who he was, he notes with a certain degree of pique, but he clearly had no idea who she was either. To compound matters, he then helped himself to her very good bottle of French red wine (she always brought her own, even when wine was included in a meal), provoking outrage amongst her coterie. Having known Sybille quite well, as well as some of the fierce women she had as companions, I can just picture this gloriously comic scene.

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