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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gruggywoof: Not sure there's much more I can add to your review, you seem to have covered everything! Glad you're enjoying the book, it really is a fascinating snapshot in time - not just Python history, but of that era in general (and the prominent characters of that period, loved the occasional appearances from Mr. Harrison).

The nicest thing is that Palin was only really writing for himself; it's totally unselfconscious, with no audience in mind, yet he still manages to inject humor into the most everyday occurrences, and even the most insignificant things become engrossing! My only complaint really would be that he can be a little *too* nice at times (but what silly complaint that would be).

I'd forgotten about Chapman roaming about in the wee hours - "Best wishes, Betty Marsden", was that it? :)

Here Comes Another One at 8:17 am October 22

YES, Betty Marsden! I'd been racking my brains. My version's for Kindle you see, and it's hard to flick back through. I'm glad you said 'the most insignificant things become engrossing,' because I agree with that. I don't quite know why, but it's true. Maybe it's something about him, because I was watching that documentary on Holy Grail locations that he did with TJ (on the DVD special features), and it was in many ways rather dull, yet I was intrigued from beginning to end. It's a certain kind of gentle good humour, I think.

gruggywoof at 8:25 am October 23

Agreed. I think having a certain amount of appreciation for life's nuances, coupled with Palin's overall curiosity makes for an engaging sort of personality, and his travel series are a testimony to that... you mentioned the books in your latest post, I'd totally recommend them if you've got a taste for his writing style. They're slightly more personal than the accompanying TV series gave him room to be. And still written in good humor! (Can I just throw in that I'm glad he too is "well past 50 and still being very silly." - hope this never changes!)

How are you finding the Kindle version, by the way? I've yet to try an e-book, so I'd be interested to know!

Here Comes Another One at 6:31 pm October 23

I managed to read the whole first volume of the Diaries on Kindle. You can get Kindle clients for the computer so you don't have to have the device. I've got one for my iPhone too, and I find I can read books on both without too much eye strain. I do like actual books, more for aesthetic reasons, but e-books are quite readable and often cheaper, so I'd recommend you give them a go and see what you think.

By the way gruggywoof, I read your wall post but it wouldn't let me reply. Good to be friends! :-)

thewastelandr: Thank you for the review, HCAO! I got the Diaries for Christmas thanks to my wonderful parents who know exactly what I would like, but I hadn't gotten the opportunity to read it yet as I've been so busy with life (and also reading Jonsey's Who Murdered Chaucer). But reading your little review made me quite excited to start on the Diaries! Thank you!

Here Comes Another One at 7:36 am October 22

You're welcome, thewastelandr. Let us know what you think when you have made a start! I think I'll have to step up my efforts to get hold of Who Murdered Chaucer, then we can have a discussion board natter about it!

thewastelandr at 12:06 pm October 22

I will!! Oh and I recommend getting it through Barnes and Noble, as they have a paperback copy. It was still $19.95, although quite worth it!

Here Comes Another One at 1:32 am October 23

I've just found it on The Book Depository (free overseas shipping!) so yeah. Getting it next week!

Palins passepartout: I have had this book now for almost two years and I have read it twice! It has become one of my favourite books. I have to say that I did not enjoy the Halfway to Hollywood quite as much. He'd hit the big time by then. In the first volume they were still learning their craft. I loved the personal bits too, Mike is so open and I think that is why he is so popular. What you see is what you get! I'm sure you will want to read it again too!

Here Comes Another One at 2:21 am October 22

That's a nice succinct review! I'm looking forward to reading Halfway to Hollywood because it'll have his travelling in it, but if Graham Chapman's death's in it I'll probably cry. I'll start a Halfway to Hollywood thread when I've read a bit (or someone else can).

On the subject of reviews: has anyone read the reviews of the first vol.? I know I've complained about customer reviewers before but they irritate me! They don't read things properly. They go in just looking for negativity, and wilfully misunderstand things. They're like Rolling Stone magazine in sad loner form - oh sorry, that's tautological.

Palins passepartout at 6:29 am October 22

There isn't anything about his travelling in it as he begins his journeys a few days after the book ends. For that, you'll have to get his travel books. But it is mostly about the film years. Graham's death isn't in it as he died the next year after the book finishes. But his sister Angela's suicide is recorded and that is very sad indeed. What I meant when I said I didn't enjoy the second volume as much the first I meant it was all about the film world and Mike seemed different, which he would be as he had by then become a film star! I still love him to bits though! Yes, it would be good to start a HWTH thread later!

Here Comes Another One at 7:27 am October 22

Yes, I've just looked up the dates myself - I assumed it went up to '89 because the first one went up to '79. I'm wondering whether to read HWTH first or try the travel books. I'm intrigued by all!

Not that late: Looks like I'm about to read a book for the first time... in english, I meant in english. It can't be that hard, right?

You made me jealous with your commentaries, I want to lear about all his life!

I'm sorry if this is a little off topic, but, is there any other book I should buy? I know there is "MP's Diaries Halfway to Hollywood" but didn't Eric Idle write a book or two? Didn't they write the novelization of Life of Brian? Is it any good? How about "Monty Python's autobiography by the Pythons"?

genji at 1:32 am October 22

Maybe this would be better as a new thread - Python book recommendations/reviews, or 'Python for Foreigners' or something.

The Pythons Autobiography is pretty good and obviously it's all about Python (not about their kids or neighbours). Like the Diaries it comes in bite-sized chunks so you can dip in and out as you like. That might make it easier to read in English. However, it is a retrospective look at the Python story. In some instances it might not be as accurate in reflecting what happened as Mr. Palin's diaries are.

thewastelandr at 7:27 am October 22

I recommend the Autobiography! Really great read. Very informative!

Here Comes Another One at 8:36 am October 23

I read a preview on ... giggled appreciatively at point when TJ called EI 'beautiful' ... slapped self in head and said 'Now now, none of that.'

Just kidding ... seriously, it did look like a good read and I may go onto it next. And then we can start a thread about that! I sense a tradition developing ...

genji at 8:56 am October 23

The subsequent parts are linked in the Suggestions pane on the right.

Here Comes Another One at 6:32 pm October 23

Cheers genji, this is great.

clockworkgirl21: I've read M's diary twice. Sometimes the details bore me a little, but I did enjoy it. It's difficult to read about his father's suffering from Parkinsons, because I'm watching my grandfather deteriorate in exactly the same way. It's especially hard knowing my grandfather will end up like his father, dead from the disease. It just reminds me to spend as much time with him as I can.
I also enjoy reading about the things M's kids do. Tom was sick on the couch and William was pretending to be sick so he'd get the same attention from his parents.
Graham's antics were also fun to read about. However, it would have been really annoying trying to work with him at that time. I know why John Cleese was so pissed off at him sometimes.

genji at 1:42 am October 22

That's pretty sad about your grandfather and I can see how those sections might touch some people more than others.

Colonel Daughter: I'm reading it for the second time!
I loved it, and I love its sincerity.

I agree with everything you wrote; it changed the way I see JC and EI, while I think MP could be more generous with TJ because they're friends since the university years-- I still love them all, anyway.

As for gray: I read at the same time Gray's autobiography and MP's diaries, and the result is very touching at times...

What I didn't expect was that these diaries gave me a great depiction of the 70s. More than a depiction: it's like living in that decade! Michael is a great writer...

Colonel Daughter at 3:24 pm October 21

--forgot: the agony of his father and the parallels between his allucinations and the python-world, and the death of TJ's mother are so moving. I awlays hated diaries, but this one felt like a novel...

Here Comes Another One at 5:35 pm October 21

Very moving & very vivid, I think. The descriptions of his father in hospital, and his description of himself & GC & TJ when the latter's mother was dying, are some of the most descriptive. The poet Byron once said 'If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad' & it seems to me that's what that was: getting every detail as a way of dealing with the misery.

Colonel Daughter at 2:25 pm October 22

absolutley - it was like being there for a moment...

mrsCutout: SO I haven't much time now but tomorrow I'll post soe pics I love so much! Everytime I look at them my day gets better! So far I have observed excactly what you mentioned about his description of the other but I do think he does justice to all of them.Maby in a certain day he 's negative towards Grey for example but then in the next one he compliments him.I think it's how the days went and evrything.I love the way he writes.Each chapter flaws fast and I enjoy every minute of it! He expresses so well and he's so funny! I just love him and his diaries!

Colonel Daughter at 3:21 pm October 21

sadly my scanner is dead, but I loved the b/w pics of his ancestors, and the pics of him with tim curry (!!!) -- oh, and the 'flares' pic. Unforgettable.

genji at 1:15 pm October 21

JMO but do we really need to reduce this excellent topic to just another gushing-at-Michael photo thread?

Here Comes Another One at 2:27 am October 22

No, I agree, we don't. But like I said - this thread can have everything. Like the mall in the Blues Brothers. And CD ... this the one?

mrsCutout at 2:51 pm October 22

OMG! I love this pic!!

Colonel Daughter at 2:22 pm October 22

ooooh THIS one !

Here Comes Another One at 8:31 am October 23

I wish men still wore flares ... I was born at the wrong time!

mrsCutout: Reading it right now!! I'm at 1970!

Here Comes Another One at 5:24 pm October 21

Cool - I'll look forward to your perspectives as you get through it.

genji: You're some way ahead of me, I think, HCAO - I haven't read about killer fish in the Caribbean yet. I think you're right about Mr. Palin generally not being judgemental and simply presenting facts, from which we can make up our own minds, but there were two references that I did leave me feeling negative. One was Mr. Cleese's "vindictive" comment about "'carrying the animator' for three years" (25 Sep 1975), which I felt was very unfair. For me, at least, Mr. Gilliam's animations were the visual definition of Flying Circus and were fascinating, absurd, funny and delightful in their own right. As far as effort goes I'm pretty sure Mr. Gilliam pulled his own weight and more. While I can appreciate Mr. Cleese's perspective inasmuch as Flying Circus came into being only because of the BBC's desire for 'The John Cleese Show' (just as, to the BBC, Ripping Yarns was very much 'The Michael Palin Show'), and Mr. Cleese apparently never pulled rank or tried to behave as the leader, I still felt this was (as Mr. Palin comments) vindictive.

The other is the consistency with which Mr. Chapman was one hour or two hours late for every Python meeting. I know they called him 'the late Graham Chapman' long before he actually died but I was very surprised at his lack of professionalism and respect for his colleagues, as Mr. Palin describes.

As for the content generally - well, I appreciate that it's a diary that he probably didn't anticipate being published but I feel it's quite unsatisfying in some ways. I know it's unfair of me (because it is, after all, his own diary - it's not a Python diary) but there's too much Mr. Palin and not enough Monty Python for me. I'm not interested in his kids or his dad. I'm slightly interested in his opinions about current affairs and that only because they perhaps help to explain a number of Python attitudes, if not sketches. I must admit that I put the book down for a while when I realised that 1969 covers the period up to the recording of the first (second broadcast episode) and the diary then only begins again after the broadcast of the last episode of series 1. I found that hugely disappointing. The most important part (IMHO) of the Python story is missing, but I accept that when it was written 'Monty Python' was (to all of them) just their current job and not necessarily more important than any other aspect of their lives, and that they had no idea what it would turn into.

To qualify my opinion I should say that as the only published contemporaneous document it still has great value (not least for pinpointing some important or interesting dates) but it's perhaps not the book I had hoped to read. I also often feel that some detail I would be interested in either wasn't written or has been expurgated, but perhaps I'm just being unreasonably nosey.

I particularly like his accounts of Python meetings in which they (as a group) review the various offers for appearances they receive and invariably put most of them in the bin, regardless of how much money they could have made (e.g. 23 Oct 1973). And the whole protracted American Adventure is fascinating.

Mr. Palin's writing style is easy and appropriately informal. I wouldn't say it's a joy to read but then it's a diary, not a book of poetry. Obviously, this is not a book about layered, three-dimensional characters and intricate plots - it's a record of events and in that respect it is often much more engaging than a book of memoirs or an autobiography. I'm enjoying reading it in spurts but I wouldn't describe it as a page-turner.

Mrs Attila the Hun 93:

I don't have much time for a review at this present moment (I would love to write a proper review, don't get me wrong!), but I'd like to mention some of my personal favourite bits (Sorry if I start to quote too much):

One entry for June 16th (Ha, that's my DOB!) 1973, where MP is in a restaurant in Regina - This made me fall about:

"...a rather poor meal at a dimly lit restaurant called Golfs - it... personified the worst aspects of North American snobbishness: 'Oh indeed, sir, the hostess will come and seek you out.' And, when we were sat at table, 'This is your table for the evening, you waiter will be Randy.' At least that got Graham interested."

Oh, how I wish I was there!! Mike, you're such a funny guy!

Another entry which I found particularly hilarious was the one for March 9th 1975, in which Gray, Terry J and Mike are in NY and a horse starts attacking Terry J and takes a big bite out of his brand new coat. I can just imagine it!

"He's bitten a lump in my coat!" Sure enough there was a chunk of fur missing from the sleeve of Terry's brand new big, brown shaggy coat."

Oh yeah, and the bit that made me 'awww' the most was the May 23rd, 1970 entry:

By 8:45, 270 minutes and 214 miles later, I was back home. Thomas was standing on the bathroom stool brushing his teeth, with no trouser bottoms on. I just cried, I was so pleased to see him.

I felt so warm and fuzzy inside when I read it. You can really tell how much he adores his kids. His children are great. The things they come out with! Ahaha!

Thanks for this, HCAO :)

Mrs Attila the Hun 93 at 9:27 am October 21

I do have many other favourite bits, such as when he went to the many Python script meetings, the nude photo shoot, and the LOB debate with Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Suffolk, so those are just a very, very small selection :)

Here Comes Another One at 9:53 am October 21

I thought the same abt the stuff with his kids. I've just read 1978 when they're filming Life Of Brian & Graham Chapman's come into his own after giving up the drink - I felt sad reading that, knowing he only lived for 11 more years. And the part where TJ is directing the Tunisians is hilarious too. I like all your quotes, esp the Randy waiter. It's very cool how homosexuality is so effortlessly accepted in the group. And a generation & a bit later, people are still having the same problems & worrying about the same things, not just homosexuality but all sorts of things.

genji at 10:22 am October 21

It wasn't just Python, obviously, as you know. There were big movements at that time against homophobia, sexism, racism, etc. It's kind of sad that the huge social revolution that began in the sixties was successfully aligned with drug abuse and promiscuity by the establishment and has now been buried in pop culture and reality TV shows. The sixties should have changed society but it only managed to change behaviour, not attitudes.

Here Comes Another One at 5:50 pm October 21

That's spot on in my opinion. I think the context of the diaries is one of the most enjoyable parts for me, because I'm interested in '60s & '70s culture generally, & it makes me angry knowing that my own generation is largely more shallow, less liberal & more susceptible to manipulation than the last. Similar topic: have you seen a program called Century of Self? It's about the influence of advertising on the death of individuality ... by making people feel that they are all individuals!

History tells us that society never really changes. Reading about the optimism of the '60s and early '70s is always bittersweet for me.

genji at 1:21 pm October 22

I haven't heard of 'Century of the Self' but I have (now) downloaded it and may watch it over the weekend. I wiki'd it first and it sounds interesting.

Yes - society clearly doesn't change and if the sixties proved anything, it proved that.

Funny, but - approaching my office building today I heard a loud kerfuffle - people with loudhailers decrying the Tory cuts to public services. It brought to mind not the sixties but the eighties (the decade when consumerism finally crushed idealism once and for all) - left wing militancy. As I got closer I realised there was, at best, a dozen people protesting, passed by dozens and dozens of students looking at them like they were the scum of the earth.

Here Comes Another One at 8:29 am October 23

That's interesting - especially compared with what's going on in France at the moment. No apathy there.

Hope you like C of S!