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Michael Palin proud university honour recognises work in geography

He has been made a doctor of science by the University of St Andrews.

Comedian, broadcaster and writer Michael Palin has declared he feels “very proud” to be awarded an honorary degree by one of the UK’s oldest universities.

The Monty Python star, who has also presented a series of ambitious TV travel documentaries, has been made a doctor of science by the University of St Andrews in recognition of his contribution to the subject of geography.

The 74-year-old joked the honour – the third to be given to a Python by the university – shows the ancient institution is not “stuffy”.

He told Press Association Scotland: “It feels great, I feel very proud indeed to be honoured. I’ve just had a rather nice life travelling around the world and doing comedy and there are other people being honoured for splitting the atom, or whatever.”

The TV star, a former president of the Royal Geographical Society, said he is “particularly pleased” that the honour is recognising geography, a subject he feels can be unfairly regarded as boring.

“Geography for me, in my life, has been curiosity about the world, interest in why people are different, and it’s done me a lot of good,” he said.

“I’m very proud to be an ambassador for geography so this particular award, doctor of science for my work in geography, is important and I hope it sends out a signal to other people who want to be geographers, want to travel or just want to understand the world.”

Palin has made a number of acclaimed travel documentaries during his career, including Around The World In 80 Days, Pole To Pole, Sahara and Himalaya.

Speaking ahead of the award ceremony, he cited his work on Himalaya as one of the highlights of his wide-ranging career, alongside the films Life Of Brian (with the Pythons) and A Fish Called Wanda, in which he stars with fellow Python John Cleese.

As a former St Andrews rector, Cleese was awarded an honorary degree in 1971, while fellow Python Terry Jones was recognised there in 2013.

On becoming the third member of the comedy group to be honoured in the Fife town, Palin said: “It’s quite interesting, really. Pythons have always had quite a relationship with Scotland.”

Laughing, he added: “The fact that Terry and John have both been honoured here, that’s good. It shows it’s not a stuffy university.”

He admitted he could never have imagined receiving such an honour when he was writing controversial sketches in the 1960s and 1970s.

“We were in our 20s then, we were mischief-making, we were writing subversive things and we were trying to make people think again,” he said.

“I suppose the conventional world, the establishment, was what we were having a go at, as many people were in the 1960s.

“So it is odd now, when I look back, to think that we’ve been honoured for being slightly subversive and for doing things in a different way. But that’s I think what honours should be. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to get this honour for having a way of looking at the world that’s perhaps different from the way it’s been done before, that’s great.”

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