Around the World in 20 Years, BBC1

Did we like it?

Of all the BBC’s rewapped Christmas presents, this should have been a gem but was let down by obvious signs of stage management as Michael Palin revisited part of his 20-year-old Around The World in 80 Days documentary.

What was good about it?
• Palin, the ultimate national treasure of our times, is still lovely to watch, spreading bonhomie and putting on silly voices to the bemusement of the folk on foreign shores.
• The Mumbia woman and Palin ooahing and aahing over the quality of the clean you get at the outdoor laundry and trying to pretend that the breaking of the buttons caused by the smashing of the garment on stones didn’t matter. What’s the point of clean trousers if they then fall down around your ankles?
• The visit to the grim office where Palin had to buy a permit to purchase alcohol, encountering possibly the world’s last friendly bureaucrat before being able to indulge in his relaxing-with-cold-beer stunt.

What was bad about it?
• The lack of spontaneity in achieving Palin’s plan to meet up again with the crew on the dhow that took him on a dysentery-stricken journey from Dubai across the Persian Gulf to Mumbia (before the recent terrorist attack). The fingerprints of producers and researchers were dabbed all over the footage as Palin made “hopeful” inquiries before “happening upon” his old friends.
• The reunion was somewhat stilted as the Al Shama crew gathered round to watch the original documentary on a tiny laptop. Palin made the odd joke and there were some nostalgic nods and smiles, but there was no real emotion and none of the choke-back-the-tears moments we’d been expecting.
• Palin obviously loathed how Dubai has changed in the two decades since he was last there, but he was too polite to be scathing about this neon-scarred temple of capitalism and wastefulness. The hotel with its £10k-a-night presidential suite and £3,800 cocktails is just sick.

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