Michael Palin on Christmas, religion and how to get rid of unwanted guests…

Spam and dead parrots are a common gift at the Python's house at Christmas - although he’s hoping for some good vintage wine this year

Have you ever been given a dead parrot for Christmas?


Yes, several dead parrots. Not toys, stuffed parrots. John Cleese also found some Indonesian carved parrots so I’ve got ten of them around the house. I’ve also been given about 20 tins of Spam.

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

A well-chosen case of wine. On Christmas Day I’ll probably break out some 20-year-old bottles of Bordeaux. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re past their sell-by date and after I’ve made a great fuss of decanting, napkining and generally poncing about, people take one sip only to look as if they’ve just drunk some ink and say, “Oh dear, I think it’s gone”, and I have to go and get one from the corner shop.

Any other tips for getting rid of unwanted guests?

Getting a guitar out works. But what works quicker is if I start singing.

Will you sing in church?

As a family we don’t go. I don’t disbelieve. I’m an agnostic with doubt. I had a very religious upbringing and I think it was a bit of overkill. So now, although I greatly appreciate a good church service, I don’t go regularly.

Do you think more about religion now that you’re 70?

Yes, I probably do. If you’re going to understand the world, you’ve got to be prepared to be open to questions of faith. So I’m open and, like everything else in my life, I feel I’m still learning.

Do people still give you a hard time for Life of Brian?

A number of vicars told me they appreciated what we’d done and that, far from mocking Jesus, the film was talking about people who blindly followed those who interpreted his word. I once gave a talk at a church on the subject of “Does God have a sense of humour?” My obvious answer being that if he created us, then he must have.

Which of today’s comedians make you laugh?

Mitchell and Webb are very good. But I prefer dark Danish dramas that have no laughs. It’s a bit like religion. I’ve had so many laughs throughout my life, I now tend to go for something gloomy.

Do your grandchildren know that you were a comedian?

No, I’m just Grandpa – the man who they get to tie up and play their strange games on and who builds marble runs in the garden.

Ever flown Ryanair?

No. I was so completely alienated by everything they did. I can see it’s a good business operation, but flying is unpleasant at the best of times, they just seem to be making it more unpleasant.

Have you ever travelled on the Greater Anglian train that’s named after you?

No, but I have travelled on the one named after Delia Smith. So I can say that I have sat on Delia Smith all the way to Lowestoft.

Michael Palin is guest editor of Today on Radio 4 on 30 December