Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Honest, Direct and Open -- Just Don't Mention the 'N' Word; TRAVELLING TO WORK: DIARIES 1988-1998 by Michael Palin (Weidenfeld, PS25)

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Honest, Direct and Open -- Just Don't Mention the 'N' Word; TRAVELLING TO WORK: DIARIES 1988-1998 by Michael Palin (Weidenfeld, PS25)

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID SEXTON

HE IS nice, there's no getting away from it, not even for him. In these diaries Michael Palin often wearies of being told how nice he is by reviewers of his hugely popular travel programmes. Oy vey, you think, that I should have such problems!

In 1989 he finds himself being told by Nancy Banks-Smith in the Guardian that he has preserved into middle-age "the bright-eyed charm of a baby chipmunk". In the Independent he is just the "terminally nice Michael Palin". In 1991 he grumbles about an article by Mark Lawson: "Most of it is about my being nice. It's like an actress being only known for the size of her tits." Nice!

It's his USP as a TV star and the primary appeal of these diaries, too. Halfway through shooting Around the World in 80 Days, the first of the series that turned him into such an adored national figure, he reflects: "My contribution, I think, will not be precision, analysis and revelation but honesty, directness, openness and enthusiasm." That describes his writing just as well.

These diaries record an astonishingly successful career. Pole to Pole and Full Circle follow on from Around the World, with all the bestselling books that accompanied them. In 1997 he notes: "One thing is clear after Full Circle -- that I could make travel programmes like this until I die. I've carved out a piece of the market that is now unquestionably my own, as much as Monty Python was to the six of us who made it."

Yet he never becomes objectionable; he always keeps that saving touch of everyman, if not quite Mr Pooter, a nobody. Given the fact that so much of the book is taken up with earnest descriptions of thespy business, the travails of acting, writing and putting on films and plays, these diaries are remarkably good company, always dependable, never upsetting: safely enjoyable, page after page. And that's quite a triumph of tone.

He preserves this equanimity for the big events in both his private and public life. He describes the illness and death of his mother so well, for example: "I go upstairs alone. The little body is crouched round like the Tollund Man, but her strong face remains beautiful, though sallow now and silent. …

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