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Monday 19 October 1992
Start the Week, on a cold Monday morning.
This morning I have two massive egos to lock horns with — Anthony Burgess and Broadway director Hal Prince. We’re to be given 15 minutes each and the thought of Burgess and Prince having to stop what they’re doing and listen to me for 15 minutes fills me with something approaching panic.
Delivered [to Broadcasting House] at 8:40.
There, the most pleasant thing awaits, a complete surprise.
Burgess, lean with the bloodless skin colour you see on old people in hospitals, and a dry thatch of grey hair, belies his appearance with a babbling, overflowing delivery, full of enthusiasms.
In little more than a minute he tells me of his admiration for everything I’ve been involved in, particularly Life of Brian — ‘a profoundly religious film’ — ‘You were the centurion weren’t you?’ interrupts his wife, Liana — small, keen. GBH he thought the best thing of all — ‘that brought a whole new performance out of you.’ And so on.
He had sharp words of criticism for Zeffirelli, with whom he worked on ‘The Life of Christ’ [i.e. Jesus of Nazareth], when Zeffirelli expressed anger that Python should have been allowed to film on the same set as his in Monastir in Tunisia.
Michael Palin is a writer, actor, and comedian. He is a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, has acted in films, including Brazil, and has presented a series of travel programmes, including Around the World in 80 Days. This memory, an extract from Palin’s Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-1998, is used with the author’s permission.
The pictures above, taken by Liana Burgess, are from the Burgess Foundation’s collection of photographic prints.