After the success of his 1990 travelogue series, Around the World in 80 Days (which re-aired on A&E last year), Michael Palin says that average blokes would ring up their travel agents seeking a ”Palin Tour Package.” The idea makes the Monty Python’s Flying Circus alumnus waggle his eyebrows. ”They probably liked the bit when I got sick and turned to the camera and said, ‘This is miserable, I want to go home,”’ he concludes. Whatever blokes liked, they’re about to get more: Palin, 49, goes lengthwise in Pole to Pole, a six-month journey with longitude 30 degrees east (it runs through Russia and East Africa) as his road map. The tour, condensed into eight hours, airs this month and next on A&E.
This time Palin doesn’t get sick — but he does find himself inevitably involved in various ripping yarns along his journey. ”We were in the Soviet Union two days before the coup; we were stuck in Khartoum because of a civil war,” recalls the intrepid traveler, who, as in his previous series, supplied his most Palin-esque moments in unscripted commentary delivered directly to the camera. (Attempting to negotiate the purchase of a bottle of vodka in Leningrad, he slips into a wisp of an accent from his classic Monty Python parrot sketch — ”Oh, Misssss?” — and a hint of his Fish Called Wanda stutter.) And, as with the first series, Palin has written a companion book which, he boasts, recently knocked Madonna’s Sex off the top of the British best-seller lists. (”We provide a better class of nudity,” he assures.)
Stunned by the beauty of the changing landscape, Palin (whose American Friends, a dramatic film based on the story of his great-grandfather’s life, will show up in artier theaters this spring) phoned home regularly to describe the marvels he had seen. But sometimes domestic business prevailed. ”I’m here, and back (in London) there’s a crisis with the washing machine — oh dear, oh dear, where did I put the guarantee?” he says. That attention to detail no doubt came in handy when his laundry ended its journey too.