Magazine article The Spectator

What a Mishmash

Magazine article The Spectator

What a Mishmash

Article excerpt

Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure (BBC 1) is an extraordinary mishmash. We began with Palin on a Suffolk beach, illustrating the kind of dreary holiday which drove him to read Hemingway in the first place. Actually I've always found Papa much duller than the Suffolk coast and rather embarrassing - a sort of Lonely Planet guide written by William McGonagall. He exists mainly to help the syllabus stuffers in American universities, and he probably wouldn't be read anywhere now if he hadn't been American. Nothing quoted in the programme made me change my mind. Palin quite rightly fell asleep in the middle of one of his books.

But it turned out that this was only to set up the dreaded dream sequence. Some clever dick had strapped a pair of bull's horns to the front of a camera, so as the crew followed him it looked as if he was being chased by a pantomime bull. Then get this - he woke up in Pamplona, where the real bull-running was on. Memo to the BBC: this is not new. We have seen this event very many times. The mimsy, selfconscious introduction only made things worse.

Next Palin was on a train for Valencia, where he was going to do lots of things, 'some of them physically dangerous. But I'm game [meaningful look to camera] - if you are!' No, Mike, we're at home watching TV. We're in no danger. We don't send flowers when soap characters die, either.

In Valencia, we couldn't just meet a bullfighter. Palin had to be fake-interrupted by a Python fan ('just a minute, I'm filming') who offers to take him to a bullfighter, as if it hadn't all been set up by the advance team weeks before. 'When you're in the ring, do you respect the bull?' he asked, a question straight out of Hemingway. I yearned for the matador to reply: 'When you go to McDonald's, do you respect the Big Mac?' but of course he, like Ernesto, had fallen for all that man versus nature's elemental forces drivel.

Just when I thought it could get no worse, there was a glimmer of hope. `What am I eating?' Palin enquired. 'Zose are beull's testeecles,' said his new friend, and I feared two minutes of hilarious gagging and Les Dawson-style faces to camera. Instead, Palin did some serious under-mugging, and got it exactly right.

Then there was impressive footage of the matador being hooked into his costume, and kissing religious postcards before he went into the ring. …

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