Michael Palin, Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988 (2009)

DAVID ROLINSON

For anyone interested in British television drama or cinema, this second volume of Michael Palin’s diaries is just as engrossing as the first. Although some reviewers wonder if this book will be about ‘the less exciting stuff that happened in between’ the peak period of Monty Python covered in the first volume and the travel programmes that Palin embarks upon as this volume closes, it is all the more enjoyable and rewarding for its grounding in the reality of solo writing and the production process.1

For visitors to this site, I recommend Palin’s detailed coverage of East of Ipswich (1987)2, from gestation and writing through castinPalinHalfwayCoverpicg, production, post-production, critical reception and awards nominations (plus Palin’s unusually scathing comment that the London Film Festival were ‘Snobs’ to pass on it).3 I’ve adored East of Ipswich for many years, so I’m delighted to see Palin assert that ‘Nothing I’ve done gives me as much unqualified pleasure’ and that ‘I’ve never felt something done as close to the way I wanted it done as this’.4 Other material relevant to British television drama includes Palin’s script for Number 27 (1988)5 which starred the legendary Joyce Carey, working relationships with Tristram Powell, Charles Sturridge, Innes Lloyd and others, and television’s importance in British filmmaking: with fifteen films made a year and directors like Gavin Millar and Alan Clarke involved, ‘this shabbily-appointed fifth floor at TV Centre is where the British Film Industry exists’.6 Palin details the postponement of Sturridge’s Troubles (1988) after a week of filming with Palin in a major role, after which it was remounted without him.7

A Very British Coup (1988)

JOHN WHEATCROFT

Writer: Alan Plater; Adapted from Chris Mullin; Director: Mick Jackson


Political drama which carries a left-wing punch can usually expect to find a few dissenters among the majority of journalists – or at least their employers – for whom such views are anathema; it’s easy to review the politics rather than the art. It’s a huge testimony to Alan Plater’s skill as a dramatist that A Very British Coup was received with equal acclaim by commentators from every shade of the political spectrum. Plater believes that the right-wing press can sometimes be more generous than the left, so long as they understand that no attempt is being made to convert them.1


The three-part Channel 4 dramatisation2 of Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel of the same name, A Very British Coup is about the election of a genuinely socialist government, headed by former steel worker Harry Perkins (Ray McAnally). The drama is hardly a call to arms to vote Labour, because, as Plater points out, no government has ever pursued such an agenda.3 However, Perkins proves to be a different kettle of fish, as even his opponents such as Secret Service head Sir Percy Browne (Alan MacNaughton) have to admit, and he will not be deflected. Perkins continues on his socialist path with something as close to total integrity as politics allows. This makes A Very British Coup quite different from many left-leaning dramas, as Mark Lawson remarked: ‘Political drama on television tends to pursue the view that Labour leaders willingly surrender their beliefs in power. A Very British Coup is about something darker, the theft of good intentions.’4