Last week 66 year-old former Python and world traveler Michael Palin became the new president of the Royal Geographical Society, one of those clubbish, leather-armchaired institutions that maintains vague associations with the Royals and underwrites expeditions to save tropical butterflies. The RGS supported the expeditions of Edmund Hillary, Charles Darwin, Robert Falcon Scott, Stanley and Livingstone, and Richard Francis Burton, all of whom appear in A Book of Ages. Most of the Society's past presidents were named Viscount This or Earl That. They were Important People with ancestors and large houses in the shires, the sort of people Monty Python liked to lampoon by wearing balaclava helmets and acting inanely brave or bossy.
Michael Palin appears in A Book of Ages only once, in 1969, at age 26, when he and Terry Jones wrote and performed the famous song about a lumberjack with very secure self-esteem. That year they also collaborated on a sketch about a couple who try to order breakfast in a café but are constantly interrupted by Vikings singing about processed meat. The Spam obsessed Vikings later influenced the naming of the junk mail that relentlessly fills our email inboxes. In 66 years, Michael Palin has become an influential person without losing his charm or his ability to act silly.