Former Python looks on the bright side after uni honour

Dr Michael Palin and University of St Andrews undergraduate Student Ambassadors. (Picture: University of St Andrews)
Dr Michael Palin and University of St Andrews undergraduate Student Ambassadors. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

Monty Python legend Michael Palin has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews.

The accomplished actor, writer and television presenter was made an honorary Doctor of Science this morning (Friday).

He joins fellow Monty Python members Terry Jones, who was previously awarded an honorary degree, and John Cleese, a former rector, in having links with the university.

His doctorate was awarded in recognition of his contribution to the understanding of contemporary geography issues.

In addition to his half century as one of the UK’s most revered entertainers, Michael Palin served as the President of the Royal Geographical Society between 2009 and 2012.

To modern audiences he is, perhaps, best known for his series of travel documentaries which has seen him visit both the north and south poles, the Himalayas and the Sahara Desert.

Michael Palin receives his honorary degree. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

Michael Palin receives his honorary degree. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

In 2008, he was also awarded the Livingstone Medal which recognises “outstanding public service in which geography has played an important part”.

In an address directed to the chancellor of the University of St Andrews, the Geography professor William Austin hailed Michael Palin.

Mr Austin said: “In his inimitable, understated fashion, he has gently, yet persuasively, educated and inspired millions about nature and culture and the interactions between them around the world.

“As a singularly effective President of the Royal Geographical Society he worked energetically in promoting geographical understanding and the discipline of geography in schools and universities across the UK, contributing to the subject’s surging popularity in recent years.

Michael Palin after receiving his honorary degree. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

Michael Palin after receiving his honorary degree. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

“In a much-quoted statement, he is on record as saying that ‘Geography is the subject which holds the key to our future’, encapsulating his belief in the power of an integrative geographic vision to address today’s pressing environmental issues.

“Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to the public understanding of contemporary geographical issues and his notable service to the development of the discipline of geography in UK secondary and tertiary education (and a bit of writing and acting along the way), I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, on Mr Michael Palin.”

Speaking in response Michael Palin said Scotland had been a lifelong inspiration to him as a traveller.

“In accepting this great honour, I’d just like to put on record how suitable it is that I should receive it from Scotland’s oldest university,” he said. “For, ever since I first visited Scotland, as Professor William Austin reminded you, to perform the Edinburgh Festival in 1964, this country has been a great inspiration to me.

Michael Palin, left, with Principal Professor Sally Mapstone, Chancellor Sir Menzies Campbell, and David Nott OBE, who received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

Michael Palin, left, with Principal Professor Sally Mapstone, Chancellor Sir Menzies Campbell, and David Nott OBE, who received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine. (Picture: University of St Andrews)

“I’ve made good friends here, I’ve made many films here and I’ve always been powerfully impressed by the beauty and diversity of the landscape. But most of all, Scotland has been a lifelong inspiration to me as a traveller.

“The Scots themselves are great travellers, producing explorers and adventurers from David Livingstone, to Robert Louis Stevenson to James Clark Ross. The great publishing house of John Murray in Edinburgh practically codified travel, and their famous guides were the pioneers of the ‘Rough Guides’ and the ‘Lonely Planet’ guides that we take for granted today.

“When I was growing up, my favourite encyclopaedia was published by Robert and William Chambers of Edinburgh. The maps I used to chart the progress of the great explorers were in an atlas published by Bartholomew’s of Edinburgh.

“Quite why so many Scots are obsessed with getting away from Scotland is a question for another day.

“But in accepting this honorary doctorate here today, I must say I feel the hands of Stevenson, Chambers, Livingston, Conan-Doyle, John Murray and many others firmly on my shoulder.

“I hope that sitting amongst you today will be the next generation of travellers and adventurers. From north and south of the border, and from all over the world.”