Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Review: Michael Palin, Whitla Hall

Other talks just Palin comparison

One of the great pleasures of Freeview is idly surfing through channels and finding gems such as Michael Palin on BBC4 this week negotiating the rapids of the Peruvian Urubamba River, like a reluctant explorer discovering ‘Abroad’.

But what was interesting about Michael Palin's autobiographical show last night at a packed Whitla Hall was that travel hardly figured at all, even though geography got a look-in.

It was as if this self-deprecating yet brilliant man was reminding us all, in a very English off-the-cuff way, of his career in films, theatre, writing, humour and, of course, the show that ushered in alternative comedy, Monty Python.

Almost casually, Mr Palin began with a bit of his diary, recalling a Tristram Shandyesque exchange with his mother about the details of his conception.

Someone behind me muttered “Oh dear”, but she needn't have worried. We learned that his mother noticed during the romantic encounter everything that was on top of the cupboards. Apparently, Alan Bennett, fellow northerner, has a theory that May babies, and he and Michael Palin both qualify, are the result of the baby boom that always followed the August Bank Holiday.

Afterwards, we followed the fascinating timeline of what you had to call the Life of Michael.

He delivered the Hendon sketch, featuring Ronnie Corbett and John Cleese, brilliantly so that you got a sense of the lower middle-class suburb just from the writing, even if you didn't know the geography.

We got some of Graham Chapman's autobiography, and a superb reminder of his and Terry Jones's capacity for parody in Dr Fegg's Encyclopaedia with its sub-Enid Blyton chapters.

The talks programme this year, with a couple of notable exceptions, has been very Radio 4 — which isn't a bad thing, just occasionally a tad self-congratulatory. But the man who has a link with Northern Ireland going back to the 1980s and who has set up drama bursaries in memory of his friend Michael Barnes, former Belfast Festival director, was an affable comic genius.

JANE HARDY

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