The Palin Diaries: 1969-1979

I'm currently reading this book and since there isn't a discussion thread and I know at least one other person's reading it at the same time as me, I thought I'd start one.

I've really enjoyed it so far - I think MP's an engaging diarist, and whether he's discussing very mundane stuff, or his creative pursuits, or commenting on the political/social/economic aspects of the time, it holds some interest for me. Since I'm also a writer it's fascinating to read about him working, and how he feels about his work. I've laughed often, especially at his charming powers of description - his observations about himself, and other random people he meets, about the funny things his children say and do, and about the other Pythons.

I've found the inner workings of Monty Python fascinating: the way their partnerships worked, how they put things together, their factionalism, various individuals' prima donna moments, the sheer hard work that went into creating a thirty-second laugh, the promotional crap they had to deal with, and the fact that there seemed to be a bond between them that could transcend the negativity, and they could calm down and respect each other's differences after they'd fought about them. I find their jealousy of each other's projects a bit odd (but each to their own) and I can't quite decide if MP shares it or not. It seems like he's trying not to, and most of the time manages it!

Another fascinating thing is how the other Pythons come across. Generally MP's a very generous diarist, and a skilled observer; though he's not above criticism. Jones and Gilliam come across the best - especially the former - and Cleese and Idle the worst. But even the negativity isn't constant or judgemental; you don't finish a chapter and end up disliking anyone. Chapman's somewhere in the middle, off with the fairies (literally as well as figuratively!) most of the time. Some of the anecdotes & descriptions make me laugh, as I said: like Chapman roaming the corridors saying 'I may have to go to bed now, but I don't have to go aloooone!' and saying some woman's name repeatedly in a silly voice. And Idle flinging down his napkin and flouncing out of a restaurant - OK, I know that was a serious bit, but it cracked me up. And Jones in the Caribbean worrying about big fish eating him or lots of little ones ganging up, and giggling so much at some hotel or other that people thought Palin had a woman in his room. And a few of the Pythons walking down the street past the Goodies, and them yelling insults at each other. Love it.

That's what I can think to say for now in a semi-serious, semi-intelligent review. And you guys can do the same - but don't feel you have to. Intellectual commentary/debate, perspectives on the period and the people, thoughts on books and films MP mentions, frustration at some of the sketch ideas that didn't end up going into things (like the 'Four Wise Men,' for example, which made me laugh) sharing of favourite snippets, going 'awww' at MP as husband & father, posting of pictures from the book for the purpose of gushing - all those and anything else are welcome on this thread, and I'll join you in all of them!

So I hope you'll join me. :-)

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genji: Can someone with a later edition than the first printing clear something up for me?

The entry for Tuesday, June 12th, 1979, third paragraph, reads:

"I end up eating too much. The food, the sake and the strain of four hours with someone who doesn't speak your language or you his, is perhaps to blame beneficiaries of the first Thatcher-Howe Tory Budget."

This doesn't make any sense - there's clearly something missing between the words "blame" and "benficiaries". Can someone tell me what is missing please?

Not that late at 10:50 am November 19

You lost a lot there!

"I end up eating too much. The food, the sake and the strain of four hours with someone who doesn't speak your language or you his, is perhaps to blame for a colossal drowsiness which numbs my senses about mignight.

Stay awake long enough to see that I and other rich folk are the chief beneficiaries of the first Thatcher-Howe Tory Budget."

Then I think you are allright.

genji at 10:53 am November 19

Cheers for that. "Blame" is the last word on page 558 and "beneficiaries" the first on page 559. First editions are all very well, but they're the ones with all the mistakes.

Not that late: Well, I’m finished, looks like a long time since I last came here!
I must confess that I skipped some bits, sometimes about his parents, sometimes about Ripping Yarns’ budget problems, every holiday with the family… I was more interested in Python writing, performing and shooting. And said that I can tell you how I feel about the book.
I think it’s very informative. Since I’ve “discovered” them recently I couldn’t really say that I know them, their personalities and their opinions, and even when I can see many interviews and hear many DVD commentaries, I usually just hear the “forty years later” version. I mean, when they talk about shooting “The Holy Grail” I heard that the armor was uncomfortable and that Chapman was shaking because he didn’t had his morning drink, but in the diary you find out that they are having a good time, they make jokes all the time… even that day when Palin had to eat mud and after take number 999 “lost it”, later that day they went to a restaurant and the menu was all about mud (obviously it was written by the others) and Palin found it very funny!
I also loved the fact that he could explain an interview and then I could look for it in youtube and was exactly as he described (e.g. the interview when he had an armadillo as a gift from a fan). And the “Saturday Night Live” cats episode… well (that’s not on youtube, and piracy is a crime, it’s illegal to download a torrent, even typing “snl season 3” …) I saw it before reading about it and I didn’t even notice about the poop, poor Michael.
About the other Pythons I must say I missed Gilliam, his only (should I say many?) appearances are for work and some meals, I expected more funny adventures. The others are ok, some work, some meals, some funny adventures, some diva moments and some hilarious lines (I loved Idle’s funny bits specially)… also, Palin loves so much Cleese (that’s something I don’t quite understand, as some of you know he’s not a favorite of mine, when he’s not acting or writing, for that matter) that it makes you sympathize with him.
In conclusion, if you have Python hunger you should read it right away. Meanwhile you should forget about internet, TV and friends (as I did), because it’s the seventies and then there’s nothing of that, not as you know it, anyway.

Colonel Daughter at 3:18 am November 19

a really interesting POV - you're right about gilliam: he had an interesting life...he should write his own autobio.!
agree on every other point...

"Meanwhile you should forget about internet, TV and friends (as I did), because it’s the seventies ..."
yup - isn't it a bit more relaxing world? The only thing that botheredme was when mike couldn't have news in real time (i.e. when he hears a bomb exploding, he says he must wait for the next tv news). No cell-phones. Wonderful.

Here Comes Another One at 5:03 am November 19

That never occurred to me! I think he must have sucked me into his world ... That was a good perspective though, NTL :-p

Here Comes Another One: I tell you something interesting that just occurred to me, & it is relevant to this thread, just bear with me. :-) I've turned into a bit of an audio commentary fiend at the moment, and was just listening to Terry Gilliam's thoughts on Python, as he went off on rather a tangent during the Holy Grail commentary. He was talking about the Oxford/Cambridge divide, of which you get such a strong sense in the Palin diaries, & he said that the Cambridge lot bullied the Oxford lot (to which he attached himself), and it was the latter who did most of the work. He spoke lightly, but MP said similar things quite seriously in his diary. So, it interests me that a major, MAJOR Python text is essentially stating the Oxford point of view, which they clearly felt was a bit stifled at the time. And the only other regular diarist in the group is on the same side!!! Are the underdogs becoming the, er, overdogs?

Please bear in mind that I haven't read any of the Python books (eg the autobiography) so I could be coming from a skewed perspective. :-)

genji at 11:15 pm November 08

I think one aspect of this would be the general Oxford/Cambridge divide, beyond Python, in relation to amateur dramatics. The Footlights was very well established (since the 1880s) and more organised (owned its own theatre, had a more rigorous application process, and generally expected great things of its members). The Oxford Revue was much younger (founded in the 1950s) and, from this distance in time, anyway, appears a more relaxed environment (I think much of the undergraduate type humour stems from the Oxford side). It would be wrong to say that members of Footlights were any more professional in attitude than those of the Revue but the Footlights was a more professional organisation, and potentially expected more of its members. I think it's reasonable to suppose that, in the early days at least, some of this difference in attitude would have been carried into Python.

It would be interesting to learn if similar tensions existed in Beyond The Fringe. Even so, it's interesting to note that, like Python, the savage, violent humour in BTF came from the Cambridge contingent.

Here Comes Another One at 11:18 pm November 08

Hmm - interesting. Is there a BTF biography I wonder?

genji at 12:05 am November 09

I think there are plenty of books, but I'm not sure which would be most revealing. I think there were frictions within Beyond The Fringe, from comments Alan Bennett or Jonathan Millar have made, but I haven't explored the extent of this.

I like Humphrey Carpenter's biography and compiled letters of Tolkien and he wrote a book about BTF. I'm also aware of a book called From Fringe to Flying Circus, which might draw some interesting comparisons, but I have no time to read them at the moment. Even Christmas is going to be hectic for me this year.

Here Comes Another One at 7:46 am November 08

Sorry, I should just clarify, I mentioned the only other regular diarist in the group (TJ) not because his p o v is out there (not in diary form anyway), but because if he ever published, there'd be another voice of that contingent out there. I'm working by iPhone & can't read thru my comments properly! I also don't necessarily think it's useful viewing them in terms of factions, as if they could NEVER work together; we all know that's not true. But hearing TG talk about what factionalism there was just sort of sparked a stream of consciousness.

Colonel Daughter at 11:56 am November 08

I know what you mean... surely the 'oxfordians' wrote a lot. (even outside python, MP and TJ wrote interesting books, novels, plays...);
and JC and GC, in particular, seemed a bit cold. Sometimes they had a bad temper...
Besides, I don't know if I could live with them, for different reasons :D
But reading other books I found that this was purely appearance. Both have a heart of gold...I think their background counts: they're a bit older and have grown up in bittersweet families... JC said his mother was cold, G. couldn't even publicly hold hands with his first boyfriends :D ...
Could be the reason why in the MP diaries they come out as two ice cubes XD

Here Comes Another One at 4:03 pm November 08

I definitely think they appear more distant - not always cold (though I agree, sometimes). He's. charmingly non-judgemental of Graham Chapman, and you can see him gradually getting on better with John Cleese. But there isn't the same level of understanding there; often the Cambridge contingent appears distant & bewildering, & therefore cold. If they actually were though, I agree, there are perfectly good reasons for it.

'Reading other books' is the key thing - and watching interviews - keeping multiple perspectives, so you can step back and understand things more fully. There's no enmity in the Diaries but there are definite skews! Personally I think Eric Idle comes off worst, & I've not much idea how fair that is. There's a mixture of deep affection & eminent frustration when MP talks about him, & again, this sense of distance.

Colonel Daughter at 4:06 am November 09

this made me think how much sincere they are in public.
just think of Idle's 'greedy bastard tour' :D ; and I think also the money song is a slight joke on himself ; MP said to Vanity Fair he's indecisive....well, he is...; GC terribly honest, even too much; John Cleese is so sincere that sometimes hurts :) ... and so on... At least they always say the truth.

Here Comes Another One at 4:20 am November 09

Yes, and that's good for us observers, because at least things are relatively unambiguous!

genji at 11:56 pm November 08

I got the impression that the distance came from Mr. Cleese's ambitions to live a life of unfettered luxury (upon arriving at the house in Barbados he says, "this is what my whole life has been leading up to," which is a good representation of other comments throughout the Diaries even if it's unreliable per se because of the circumstances; incidentally, some entries from Mr. Jones's diaries are also published in the Life of Brian book for which Mr. Palin sexed up his Barbados entries), Mr. Chapman's "wasteful lifestyle" (Mr. Palin really isn't consistently non-judgemental of Mr. Chapman, despite clearly being fond of him; the act of recording the amount of studio time wasted, the stage shows that ground to a halt, read-throughs in which "his performance bears out every point John ever made", show what he considered noteworthy and reacted against; other comments, such as "evenings can't be much fun", also exhibit a judgemental response), and Mr. Idle's apparent infatuation with Hollywood and wanting to be seen to be (my interpretation, not necessarily Mr. Palin's) the man with his finger on the pulse, telling the others what they should and shouldn't do to capitalise on Python (e.g. showing old Python specials alongside All You Need Is Cash or setting up a tour, which Mr. Palin first agreed to and later pulled out of, annoying Mr. Idle; I get the impression Mr. Palin felt he was being bounced into doing things he didn't want to do and perhaps that was Mr. Idle's approach during the Python years, too).

All this is at odds with Mr. Palin's, Mr. Jones's and Mr. Gilliam's apparent preference for working for it's own sake - to be active and creative, and to maintain integrity (not doing commercials just because they pay well, wanting to strike out on their own, etc.); I get the impression that, for them, work is it's own end not a means to an end. This may be due to deeper needs and mentalities than the 'Oxford'/'Cambridge' divide and may have simply reinforced any university-based frame of reference.

I agree that (either due to Mr. Palin's famed 'niceness' or an underlying respect and affection all the Python's had for each other) there is no outright enmity, but I think there are very clear instances of opinion being expressed.

It's also fascinating how, post-Python, this delineation splintered into each man for himself - a kind of sibling rivalry. Mr. Palin called it jealousy and I think I've seen an interview with Mr. Cleese in which he said they all wanted each other to do well, "but not too well." This attitude was crystallised by Mr. Chapman's misguided and "misanthropic" interview with the Melody Maker in 1977. I think it's fascinating not because it reveals any kind of enmity but, just the opposite, because it shows the bond between them.

I think there's an interesting discussion (for Python mentalists, not for normal people) to be had around the relative success of each of them post-Python and how much of that might have been foreshadowed in Flying Circus because there has been a huge amount of success in both creative and financial terms.

Colonel Daughter:

btw, I have this cover

Here Comes Another One at 7:20 am November 08


Not that late: Oh my God! Guys, I'm so worried! It just started 1974, Cleese doesn't want to do another series, but the others want. Maybe the BBC won't give them the series without him. And they have been writing a film and nobody has money to produce it... what will happen?

Ok, I'm not seriously worried. But Palin is very good transmitting his feelings about not knowing anything about the future, I think he was very insecure but probably is just my point of view because I know everything went well at the end, but if I was there working with them and hearing that everyone wants to switch on and off Python team whenever they want I would have a heart attack.

An he is SO NICE he just can't say no to anyone or anything, and he doesn't want to create problems, he's very adaptable with his oppinions, it's not just the way he sees himself (because it's his diary), it's all the things he does just to help the others (including family and neighbours).

Colonel Daughter at 7:06 am November 08

no, it's true: it's like a novel...they could make a TV series out of it...

Here Comes Another One at 7:19 am November 08

I was thinking about a Python series or movie the other day & what good raw material the diaries are. Fanfic writers positively plunder them!

Colonel Daughter at 11:34 am November 08

there are python-fanfction writers????? outside of pythonline??? O.O

Colonel Daughter at 11:34 am November 08

I don't know if I'm curious or scared...

LaPlusFragile: I'm reading his diaries right now and It's really delightful!.. The bits about his children are probably the most exciting for me. May be I'm too sentimental, but I can't help myself smiling when I read about Mike going for a walk with a pram or watching his son cleaning his teeth, etc.. This book is a kind of comfort when I feel upset or depressed, I don't know how, but it brings me peace)

mrsCutout at 4:04 pm November 05

Awwww!I know!

Colonel Daughter at 7:09 am November 08

I found so moving the part in which Mike is in Scotland, shooting 'Grail', and receives a phone call by his son...but I don't know if you read that part, so I won't spoil... :)

LaPlusFragile at 10:18 am November 08

Oh, yes, thank you, I haven't read that yet!)))

Here Comes Another One at 7:48 am November 08

I found that touching as well!

Colonel Daughter at 11:31 am November 08


J.Gambolputty: Yay! I finally got my dad to order both Palin diaries from they're for christmas and I CAN'T wate that long, really. I don't know how can I manage not to open them..

LaPlusFragile at 10:22 am November 08

Oh dear! it would be really impossible for me!)) But you know, the expectation itself makes a present, the more you wait the more you enjoy this thing, I suppose) So I wish you all the patience in the world!!!)

TheRealGilliamFan: I really need to get this book! I've already read too much in this thread.

Here Comes Another One at 4:20 pm November 04

Oh dear - should have put 'warning: lark's vomit', er, I mean 'spoiler alert,' in the post title! Ah well: get the book & then come back & join in!!! :-D

Not that late: Finally! I got it yesterday! Hurray!!!

I already started, and by now it's easy to understand. Sometimes I feel bad for him, I didn't know he was so insecure, although I know this won't take too long. I'll come back when I have something more to say, I don't want you to spoil me de details.

Mrs Attila the Hun 93 at 8:12 am November 03

Congrats!!! It's a real joy of a read, and should be worth the wait :)

Lvndr HppE: I loved the Python Years Diaries. Felt like he was sitting down with me and telling me those stories. Oh, if only he had been sitting down with me and telling me those stories.

Here Comes Another One: Right, I've finished the book now. I'm trying to decide what to go onto next. I'm going either straight onto Halfway to Hollywood, or perhaps going for the travel books. I know I like MP's writing style now. Incidentally, has anyone read the Ewan McGregor/Charley Boorman travel books? Because they're great. Anyway, back to the topic.

I haven't changed my opinion from the above, except to add that I found the American bits quite boring, with the exception of the Cats Down Trousers anecdote from SNL. I have a couple more favourite bits: the vision of JC with shelves full of untouched books 'for his retirement,' TG raging on the phone for half an hour about the Life of Brian debate, George Harrison being shy at his own party, and at another point, saying: 'Nonsense, Palin, you'll have a mansion and like it!'

Didn't know whether to laugh or sympathise for a few seconds, comprehending the irony of TJ being hit over the head with a stick in real life. Settled on sympathise, since I'm nice and all that. *slightly evil giggle* Intrigued at his opinion that there had been no progress since the 14th century, and trying to remember things that happened in the 14th century: the plague, over a dozen innocent Jews being burnt alive in Strasbourg having been tortured into confessing that they caused the plague by poisoning the wells ... religious upheaval, split in the Papacy ... Avignon Pope locks himself in a room surrounded by fires to ward off the plague (don't knock it, he survived, he just didn't get to do too much Poping in the meantime) ... the introduction of wage labour in England, now that would be progress. Well, if the 14th century had progress, the 15th and 16th had gross human rights abuses. Anyway, getting off topic again ...

See, this book makes you think; it's not just Pythonic indulgence. Honestly! Incidentally, I looked up an album MP mentions: Dancer with Bruised Knees by Kate and Anna McGarrigle. I'd never heard of them before & was curious. Rather strange folk rock by two Canadian sisters who seem to think they're Joni Mitchell (perhaps they've been injured in a cycling accident). I'd personally recommend their self-titled album but not D with B K.

I also loved the little assessment at the end, where MP wonders where they'll be in ten years: 'Will Python wither and die of natural causes? John will be 50 in ten years' time. But then Spike Milligan is well past 50 and still being very silly.'

genji at 9:45 am October 22

It's strange that you found the American bits boring. It's strange to me, anyway. I wonder if this is another male/female perspective. Other people have said that they love the bits about his kids and his dad, or that the accounts of Python meetings are boring. I found anything to do with Python 'business' engrossing, anything to do with IRA bombings or general elections ok (his accounts of social activity are fairly superfluous IMHO), and anything to do with his private life utterly tedious, as I may have said. I'm halfway through the book and, I must admit, it's slightly altered my opinion of him. I don't think he's quite as nice or as selfless as everyone makes out and he does have a clear ambitious streak. That's totally justified and it's not a criticism - I suppose the book is rounding out his character for me.

Anyway, the point here was just to post a link to the entry you mentioned, in case anyone hasn't seen it:

8 April, 1978

mrsCutout at 2:40 pm October 22

I personaly thought the American bits exciing.I love the parts where he talks about his private life equaly but i could say that the american bits are bit more exciting.One more thing:Mike himselfe never said he was nice.Nor did anyone else.It was just a nickname that came from his behaviour with others when John and Jonesy had disagreements Mike wouldn't and maby that's how the niceness came out. But I still think he is nice! He's awesom and I love him! Haha!

Here Comes Another One at 10:03 am October 22

I found Python business engrossing too, the current affairs interesting from a historical perspective, and I agree with you about the nice thing. Not that I was really surprised. He's more human than his reputation, and definitely ambitious - and I probably like him better for it actually. And the others, mostly, aren't less 'nice' than him. It seems that when he, at least, talks about his niceness, he means he's a pushover. And that's not the same thing.

genji at 10:58 am October 22

Yes - there's a moment (13 March, 1975) when he says they're all "nice lads" and you're right. Mr. Chapman's post-alcoholism interviews (e.g. the one with Eva Gabor) attest to his genuine underlying decency, even if he was a pain in the arse when he was pissed.

Being a "pushover" was occasionally detrimental, such as when he agreed to a reunion stage show when he didn't want to do it and pulled out later.

I am trying to dig a bit deeper, though. Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, and I'm sure I'm wrong and it's all due to the brevity of diary-writing, but I do feel that there is a degree of shafting Mr. Jones over the 'Michael Palin Show' affair. Maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on the 'one side of the story' situation but I get the impression that Mr. Palin glosses over Mr. Jones's disappointment to a degree in order to assuage his own conscience.

As I've said before, Python was not a bunch of mates hanging out and having a laugh. For all that they were a team, they were also six individuals trying to carve their own careers (it's not their fault that their lives have been dominated by Python). But I do feel that there's a certain amount of hypocrisy in the telling of the tale - that Mr. Palin wants to be perceived as 'nice' but isn't really. At the base of all that, however, I would say that, first and foremost, his obligation is to his wife and family, not to Python or even Mr. Jones, and that I appreciate that.

But maybe I'm trying to read too much into it.

Here Comes Another One at 10:33 pm October 22

Well, I can totally see where you're coming from ... one can, for example, read between the lines of the diary and speculate over the blocks where TJ disappears for a while, then suddenly they're seeing each other again ... but here are my thoughts.

1) thinking about MP wanting to be perceived as nice is a bit more cynical than I'd go for. The only posterity he was writing for at that stage was his own. You may disagree with that of course.

2) like you say, they shouldn't be thought of as under obligation to each other - there's no reason why MP shouldn't have wanted to branch out independently. If he wanted to do something different from Python, with real women &c, he shouldn't be judged for that. It seems from his records of his/TJ's discussion, they both felt somewhat trapped in loyalty to each other and had to break through that boundary, as it were, to do their own thing.

3) MP said later, in 'The Pythons,' that he didn't want to work alone on RY - maybe if one wanted to judge, one could say that if that was the case it shouldn't have all been on his terms? But then again, one could also say that if it weren't for him, TJ wouldn't have been involved at all.

4) if it was that much of a 'shafting', would they not have fallen out more over it? Considering how many examples there are of TJ completely losing it with everyone else, it seems funny that they never seemed to row; but then, though I agree that Python was not a bunch of mates having a laugh, it seems like those two were equally friends and writing partners. Perhaps if TJ did take it well, that was why - maybe he glossed over his own disappointment?

5) the diary was edited, maybe any Palin/Jones friction was removed? I don't see why, other fights are recorded, but it's possible.

6) by the sound of the RY audio commentary MP regretted TJ not being more involved, but then, if one's being cynical - he was sitting next to him when he said it!

7) arguably if there's blame to be attached it's the BBC, not either of the writers, because it was them who wanted to shut TJ out in the first place. Not entirely unprovoked, but someone had to fight programme planning. Whatever happened though, the fact remains that Tomkinson is the best episode!

genji at 10:52 pm October 22

Yeah, I think you're probably right on all counts, especially point 7. It's just something that occurred to me when reading it. Mr. Jones kept a diary, too, although I don't know how consistently he maintained it. I'd like to read his side of the story but I suspect he'd feel more aggrieved at the BBC than at Mr. Palin, and it is true that he, too, wanted to branch out and stand on his own feet.

genji at 11:50 pm October 22

I've just read this interesting entry from 7 July, 1976:

"... the demarcation problems following on from Tomkinson have not, in any way, appeared to lessen our writing strength, or weaken our writing relationship. We've adjusted (or is it just me?) to our new work relationship and actually improved our personal relationship (or is it just me?)."

It doesn't prove anything, I just thought it was interesting in light of this discussion.

Here Comes Another One at 12:49 am October 23

Yes, I noticed that bit too. What I read into that was, the idea of them adjusting their work relationship had been hanging in the air and when it was solved they were able to get on better. Could be wrong. But a good quote to bring up.

genji at 1:06 am October 23

I thought the doubtful asides were more revealing. Either Mr. Jones wasn't quite giving the vibes that everything was fine (although their relationship has lasted to the present day, so everything obviously was fine either then or later) or Mr. Palin (jolly nice chap that he is) feels a little guilty about the situation (probably unnecessarily). I thought it was nice because it seems the situation was as unclear to him then as it appears to us today.

Here Comes Another One at 1:31 am October 23


genji at 9:48 am October 22

There's also this - a Python interview on the Mike Douglas Show:

7 April 1976

Here Comes Another One at 9:58 am October 22

Thanks for those!!!

genji at 9:57 am October 22

Oh, and this - on Festival '75, PBS special in Dallas:

15 March, 1975