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World traveller and Monty Python star Sir Michael Palin to present new show in Cambridge

Sir Michael speaks to James Rampton ahead of his appearance at the Corn Exchange on Sunday (June 9).

Michael Palin
Michael Palin

The term ‘renaissance man’ could have been invented for Sir Michael Palin.

Over a wonderful 50-year career, he has been responsible for ground-breaking comedy, iconic movies, best-selling novels and non-fiction books and some of the most memorable travelogues ever committed to film.

There is nothing he cannot do. But in spite of this array of splendid achievements in other fields, Michael says that his first love has always been live performance.

And the great news is that he is now returning to it with a brilliant new show entitled Erebus, Python and Other Stories.

In the first half of the show, Michael will be discussing Erebus: The Story of a Ship, his gripping, best-selling book, which has just come out in paperback, about a pioneering 19th-century ship, HMS Erebus.

He recounts the thrilling story of the resilient little ship that battled through both the Antarctic and the Arctic during the 1840s.

Using a rich selection of illustrations, he will conjure up the triumph and the tragedy of the ship’s short, yet eventful life and explain why he was so drawn to it.

After the interval, Michael regales us with his own life story, showing how his three favourite subjects at school (geography, history and comedy) have influenced his subsequent life.

He outlines how they have shaped everything from Monty Python and Ripping Yarns to the numerous television travel series that have transported him to all corners of the globe, from the North Pole to North Korea.

Employing previously unseen footage and untold stories, Michael underscores how comedy and adventure have been joined at the hip during his diverse career.

An amazingly sprightly 76-year-old with the energy of a man 20 years his junior, Michael is chatting to me in the run-up to the tour.

His millions of fans will no doubt be delighted to learn that he is just as charming and funny in person as he is on stage.

Not for nothing has he been dubbed, “quite simply the nicest man in showbiz.”

The performer begins by underlining his excitement about returning to the live arena.

“It is absolutely my favourite form of performing because you’re right in front of the people you’re talking to. There is no camera in the way and no editor to put it together later.

“It always is what it is. It’s happening there and then in that theatre. It’s never exactly the same two nights running. That can depend on the audiences as much as yourself.

"Sometimes it clicks wonderfully well and smoothly, and others you have to work a bit harder. But it’s the best form of performing there is.”

Michael continues: “I was brought up on live performance. I first started performing am-dram as a child at the Library Theatre in Sheffield.

"Then at Oxford University, we wrote and performed our own material. Then I got rather lured away into TV and film, but I’ve always loved live performance.

“When we have done Monty Python tours in front of an audience, they have always been hilarious – sometimes disastrous, sometimes wonderful.

"But the great thing is you have nothing between you and the audience. There is no-one there to make it better or easier. It’s the ultimate.”

Erebus book cover
Erebus book cover

Michael, who earned an extremely well-deserved knighthood in the 2019 New Year Honours’ List, goes on to tease what he will be covering in the second half of Erebus, Python and Other Stories: “I will be talking about a variety of journeys and other work, including writing.

"I will be reading from Dr Fegg’s Encyclopaedia of All World Knowledge, which I wrote with Terry Jones, and showing clips from Ripping Yarns.”

He concludes that the keynote in all his work is enthusiasm. “I’m very, very pleased that after many years I have an audience of people who want to come along and see me.

"Above all, they want to share my enthusiasm for the things I’ve done. What is nice is that in my mid-70s I’m still as enthusiastic and as curious as I was in my 20s.

“Audiences will see a 76-year-old man trying to sing The Lumberjack Song in German.

What’s not to like about that?! Live performance is a great way of reconfirming that enthusiasm, using it and spreading it around. Hopefully at the show, we will all have a very good time.”

I have no doubt that we will.

Michael Palin is at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Sunday, June 9.

For tickets, go to cornex.co.uk.

Signed copies of his books will be available to buy in the theatre.

Erebus: the Story of a Ship in paperback is out on May 30, £8.99.

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