Michael Palin and his greatest fascinations

Now then, you find yourself on a rail route somewhere in deepest central Europe, spectacular but possibly quite uncharted. Who, above all, would you like sitting opposite you? Why, Michael Palin of course.

On Saturday October 3, Eastbourne theatre-goers can exchange that carriage for the comfort of the Congress Theatre, when the intrepid traveller and legendary Python brings his remarkable one-man show into town.

Following a hugely successful 2014 tour, Michael has tweaked the one-night format slightly to include new video material – some of it previously unseen.

For a chap who has travelled around the Equator, Eastbourne might seem a bit parochial, but not a bit of it - Michael is right up with his local history. “Of course, it was actually the arrival of the railway in the 19th Century, wasn’t it, that led to all that expansion and all your Victorian splendour. I don’t know Eastbourne intimately but I am sure that even a short stay will awaken my interest again.”

Michael has so much material to draw on, and such rich experiences; and they won’t be vague wispy memories, for he is a man who likes to document his life. “I’ve been a diary-keeper since quite young. My parents used to give me one of those Letts schoolboy diaries every Christmas, but at that stage I only ever managed about seven weeks into each year.

“But a little later, I decided that life was worth capturing properly. It was 1969 – coincidentally the early days of Python – that I started writing things down regularly and fully. I can pin down the date: April 17th 1969. I had also just given up smoking so I was glad of a new preoccupation!”

Like so many of that generation, from the Cambridge Footlights through to Python, there is something of the Renaissance Man here, rather than the hard-edged entertainer. He is knowledgeable, engaging, inquisitive, and gleeful for the next adventure. You sense that Palin almost fell into this rather civilised life, as natural comedian and gentleman traveller.

“I wasn’t ever the class fool in my schooldays, but I was a natural mimic, famed for being able to imitate all the teachers. I did a bit of acting at Oxford, but I really didn’t think there was a career in it – any more than in the far-off places that I read about and visited, back then, only in my imagination.

“I did enjoy writing and I suppose I might have been a journalist, but this is much better. I had written some TV shows, and done some bits of cabaret with Terry Jones among others. And then Monty Python sort of happened, and swept us up in its success.”

And why this show and this tour? “Well, my 2014 tour was well received, and it awakened in me the pleasure of working with a live local audience. So we are travelling again, to entirely new venues and with an adapted format. It’s quite relaxed and not too mechanical, and much more fun than a rigidly scripted TV show. We have some terrific material in the shape of film extracts and clips, some of them never seen before.”

How do the travelogues sit alongside the comedy and film work – are they a secret indulgence? “Not secret, for the real joy is in sharing my journeys with such wide audiences. I have an endless fascination with travel. There is always another place to visit. Travel can either be tedious or absorbing and I always want it to be the latter.”