Michael Palin

Michael Palin Biography

Writer, Television Actor, Film Actor (1943–)
Michael Palin rose to fame as co-creator of the British sketch comedy show 'Monty Python's Flying Circus,' and later earned acclaim as host of travel documentaries.


Born in England in 1943, Michael Palin launched his career as a television writer after graduating from Oxford's Brasenose College in 1965. He found fame as a co-creator of the groundbreaking sketch comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus, and enjoyed more success as a co-writer of Time Bandits (1981) and actor in A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Beginning with Around the World in 80 Days (1989), Palin embarked on a celebrated run as host of a series of travel documentaries. He has also authored books for young and adult readers, and published volumes of diaries dating back to the early days of Monty Python.

Formative Years

Michael Edward Palin was born on May 5, 1943, in Broomhill, Sheffield, England. The second child of Edward, an engineer, and Mary Palin, he was exposed to acting in his early years at Birkdale Preparatory School.

Palin gained notice as a member of the Brightside and Carbrook Co-Operative Society Players, earning an award at the 1962 Co-Op Drama Festival. At Oxford's Brasenose College, he met future collaborator Terry Jones and developed his talents as a writer, actor and director with the Oxford Revue comedy group, before graduating in 1965 with a degree in modern history.

Early Career and 'Python' Fame

Palin wasted little time in getting his professional career off the ground. In 1966, he and Jones were recruited to write for the satirical The Frost Report, where they found a comfort zone alongside the brilliantly funny John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. The following year, Palin, Jones and Idle created the zany kids TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set, which included animations by Terry Gilliam.

In 1969, Palin, Jones, Cleese, Chapman, Idle and Gilliam launched Monty Python's Flying Circus. An unorthodox, explosive comedy, Monty Python pushed the limits of the absurd while upending both low- and highbrow subject matter. Palin's famed contributions included "The Dead Parrot Sketch," in which he tries to explain his sale of an obviously expired bird to Cleese, and "The Lumberjack Song," in which he leads a chorus through verses about decidedly unmasculine activities.

Initially a cult hit, Monty Python became popular with American audiences toward the end of its four-year run on the BBC. Palin and his castmates went on to create the slapstick favorite Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), and followed with two more feature films, Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983).

Continued Film and TV Success

Palin continued to work with his Python cohorts, pairing with Jones to create the BBC comedy series Ripping Yarns and starring in the Beatles mockumentary The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (1978). He was a close collaborator in Gilliam's early directing efforts, taking the lead for Jabberwocky (1977) and co-writing Time Bandits (1981), and delivered an acclaimed performance alongside Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

Additionally, Palin wrote and starred in the raunchy comedy The Missionary (1982), which featured Maggie Smith, and paired with Smith again for A Private Function (1984). He revisited his dramatic roots with the autobiographical East of Ipswich (1987), and earned rave reviews for his straight turn in the politically charged miniseries GBH (1991).

In 1980, Palin planted the seeds for a new on-screen identity by presenting an episode of Great Railway Journeys of the World. He later accepted an offer from the BBC to recreate the fictional Phileas Fogg's global journey, and the resulting Around the World in 80 Days (1989) showcased Palin at his finest as he encountered new cultures and difficult conditions with humor, class and curiosity. He went on to create a series of acclaimed travel documentaries, including Pole to Pole (1992), Sahara with Michael Palin (2002) and Himalaya with Michael Palin (2004).


Along with his creations for the big and small screens, Palin has written books that span an array of genres. In 1974, he and Jones authored Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys and Girls, a work that reflected the anything-goes spirit of Monty Python. He went on to publish a collection of limericks and three children’s books in the mid-1980s, and has since written two novels, Hemingway's Chair (1995) and The Truth (2012).

Palin has also faithfully kept a diary since his first brushes with fame. In 2006, he published the first installment, Diaries 1969–1979: The Python Years, providing an insider's perspective on the groundbreaking comedy group. He followed with Diaries 1980-1988: Halfway to Hollywood in 2009, and Diaries 1988-1998: Travelling to Work in 2014.

Later Years and Personal

Palin has continued to delight audiences as a writer and performer. He reunited with the Python crew in 2014 for a much-anticipated run at the O2 Arena in London, and adapted his diaries for a touring stage production.

For his services to television, Palin was honored as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000. He was elected president of London's Royal Geographical Society in 2009, and awarded a fellowship for lifetime achievement by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in 2013.

Married to wife Helen since 1966, Palin has lived in the same home in north London for nearly that long. He and Helen have three adult children: Tom, William and Rachel.

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