TV legend Michael Palin was on Friday evening inducted into the Radio Times Hall of Fame as the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival kicked off in style.
The veteran comic, actor, writer and travel presenter became only the second person to be inaugurated into the Radio Times Hall of Fame following in the footsteps of David Attenborough, inducted in 2015.
The ceremony took place after a panel talk at a packed BFI Southbank by Radio Times editor Ben Preston who said Palin had “raised the bar for viewers and brought very great pleasure to millions”.
Palin responded: “It’s a great honour and especially to be in the company of the only other member the Hall of Fame, David Attenborough who is my hero, the absolute consummate storyteller and the man we all have to watch because he’s 90 years old and still doing it so none of us can retire. Thankyou.”
Tonight’s induction was preceded by a panel talk hosted by Radio 4 presenter Eddie Mair in which Palin reflected on his life and career.
In a fascinating and wide-ranging session he discussed his problems with self-doubt and his early work culminating in the huge success of his Monty Python years and later acting and presenting work.
Palin also delivered a fascinating aside in which he admitted that he was “miffed” that the Pythons were never preserved in waxwork at Madame Tussauds.
Reflecting on a question from an audience about whether he was a “national treasure” he said: “National treasures should always be in a glass box and seen and touched. And it’s funny you should say, I was always rather miffed that the Pythons were never in Madame Tussauds. I would have loved to have seen John Cleese in wax, he would have used up all the available wax – there would have been nothing left for Terry Jones.”
Palin said that he still visits his old friend Jones, who has dementia.
“I see him regularly, he’s healthy, sprightly, quite strong, but has really lost the power of communication which is quite sad for somebody who lived by words and debate and the power of communication and mischief. He has lost the power to get a sentence out.
“We just go to the pub we have a pint and I don’t know with this kind of dementia what they are taking in and what they are not taking in. I always assume they are taking in more than you think they are taking in so we go to the pub and have a pint and I ramble on about stuff and occasionally he laughs.”
Palin also disclosed that the Python team were given a 13-series commission by the BBC despite what he regarded at the time as the vagueness of their ideas for their proposed show. Palin then suggested that the modern broadcasting world could give young creative people similar freedom.
“I don’t think broadcasters now are prepared to take risks with individuals very much,” he said. “They want to know what you have done before you have done it and I don’t think that’s a very good thing because how can you channel what you’re going to do before you’ve done it.
“For something like Python and the documentary programmes they had to create their own form, I never knew what they were going to be when I did the travel programmes quite how it was going to develop… how I was going to interact with the world and if I stopped and had written that down the programmes would have been less interesting.”
Tonight’s festival included a special screening of East of Ipswich, his autobiographical coming-of-age drama in which he drew on his own memories of family holidays in grey, provincial seaside resorts in the late 1950s – an experience which lit up when he woke to the allure of the opposite sex.
A panel discussion on ITV drama Maigret was also given by Rowan Atkinson, earlier in the evening.
The festival continues on Saturday and Sunday with a range of screenings and events including sessions with the cast and producers of dramas The Crown, The Night Manager, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Poldark and Victoria.