A few months ago, I discovered that the satellite tv channel, BBC Entertainment, was showing various series of Michael Palin's peregrinations around the globe. The first series which I saw (but not all episodes) was about New Europe. This was very interesting to me, as not only did it include places which have always interested me, it also included places where I have actually been (Prague and Karlovy Vary).
Following this series, we were treated to Himalaya, six episodes which finished on Friday. I told my octagenarian father about these, as he spent a year of the Second World War in India. Although I have little interest in visiting these places, the series was fascinating.
Keeping the ball rolling, next week starts the ten part series entitled Full Circle, as Palin and his group travel around the rim of the Pacific Ocean.
A few weeks ago I discovered Palin's website; his commentaries don't completely match what is shown on television, which can sometimes be disconcerting. One does have the impression that day leads to day and that the trips were continuous, even though they might be shown out of continuity (I'm thinking of the two days spent in Karlovy Vary). But it transpires that even that is not true, as evidenced by a letter on Palin's site about the Himalaya series.
Here he is writing about how long the series took to produce, from start to finish. The trip itself was just over 100 days long but the series took 17 months. Palin writes:
Last week someone on the south coast asked me how much time it will have taken me to make the book and film of the Himalaya journey. I thought about it and, though it seemed almost unbelievable, replied with a certain quiet modesty, "About eighteen months from start to finish".
His reply knocked me back a bit. "That long!" he said.
I don't want to moan on and become all precious about how hard we work, but I think there is still a feeling that we're having too good a time for it to be hard work. Well, it's true, most of the time we are having a good time, but we have to make sure on each day of the filming that someone is shooting and someone is recording and someone is telling the audience-to-be why we are having a good time and what the good time looks like.
And that's where the lines of fun and work blur a little, and sometimes after a week of continuous days trekking, camping out, and filming at the same time we become almost numb to the beauty of the world and would swap another fabulous mountain view for a smelly old pub any day.
Let's tot up the figures. First there's the preparation. You can't just turn up at the Khyber Pass and start work. It's on the North-West Frontier, which like many other places we visited on our journey, is a potentially dangerous and unstable area, where terrorists live. So a great deal of chatting up, flannelling and soothing of egos has to go on before we can even leave home. Some of this work was done from our office in London, (thank you the wonderful Natalia, Mirabel and later Sue, team) but most of it had to be done on the ground. Step forward directors Roger Mills and John Paul Davidson and location managers Vanessa Courtney and Claire Houdret. They set the ball rolling, scouting the world, talking to potential contributors, checking out possible stories and wheedling permissions from reluctant governments while I was still at home looking at maps and deciding which kind of toilet paper to take.
So that's about 3 of the 18 months gone before we've left home. The actual shooting took up 6 more months. This involved some 2,000 miles travelling and 7 separate flights out to Asia and back. India, Nepal, Tibet and Yunnan in China was one continuous shoot, as was Pakistan and Assam-Bhutan-Bangladesh, but three short individual trips had to be made in addition. One to a 12,000 foot high polo match in Pakistan, one to a week-long horse fair in the centre of the Tibetan Plateau and one to an amazing annual festival in Bhutan. By my reckoning that's 14 doses of jet lag. In between the jet lags I was writing hard to keep up with deadlines for the book, so months off became months on. Add two.