Study Guide

Time Bandits Screenwriter

Screenwriter

Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin

We cover Gilliam over in the "Director" section, so we're going to focus on his tag team partner here. Michael Palin started out at the University of Oxford, but he loved performing, and he's much better known as an actor than he is as a writer. When you're part of a legendary comedy troupe, though, you do your share of writing, and Palin has proved more than up to the task.

After getting a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oxford—those Pythons were smart lads—Palin started working in television, teaming up with fellow Python-to-be Terry Jones to write a lot of comedy shows. The most notable was The Frost Report, which brought the boys into contact with John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Graham Chapman; it was followed by a children's comedy show called Do Not Adjust Your Set.

All that was a set up for the big enchilada, of course: Monty Python's Flying Circus brought Palin, Jones, Cleese, Idle, and Chapman together again, along with American animator Terry Gilliam. In four seasons, the Pythons became comedy legend, marshaling their combined brainpower and love of absurdity into one of the most brilliant comedy series ever produced.

And Palin was in it right up to the tip of his dead parrot. He specialized in playing either mild-mannered straight men—meek and unsure of themselves—or agreeably cracked idiots designed to drive other characters nuts. (Think the parrot sketch or the cheese shop sketch.) He did plenty of writing as well, including the famous Spanish Inquisition sketch and the Lumberjack Song (both of which he co-wrote with Jones).

Alas, all good things must come to an end...but when Python stopped, that didn't mean that Palin did. He starred in Terry Gilliam's first post-Python movie, Jabberwocky, playing a love-struck peasant pressed into fighting the title monster through a series of silly circumstances. The movie didn't work, but it did highlight Palin's hapless everyman quality. More importantly, it put him and Gilliam in more formal cahoots together. They decided to partner on their next project: Time Bandits.

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