The former Python is completing work on a film and book on the acclaimed - but hugely flawed - Ernest Hemingway, an alcoholic bullying two-timer prone to bouts of violence and who loved killing animals.
Palin's Hemingway Adventure runs from the author's boyhood haunts in north Michigan to bull-baiting in the streets of Pamplona in Spain and marlin fishing off Cuba. The book will be published in October to accompany a four-part television series, also to appear this autumn, to mark the centenary of the author's birth on 21 July 1899.
Palin has a long-standing fascination with the man. His novel Hemingway's Chair, which received mixed reviews but still made the best-sellers list, concerned a mild-mannered assistant post office manager who by night becomes his macho, racy hero, "Papa" Hemingway. Palin described the book as the most personal thing he had ever done.
Hemingway was anything but politically correct: an alcoholic, philanderer and bully, he was fascinated by bullfighting and shooting safaris. But the mild-mannered Palin is no stranger to controversy. Monty Python's Life of Brian, which he co-wrote, invoked the fury of the Christian hierarchy; he outraged animal rights campaigners in Around the World in Eighty Days by eating snake in China; in Pole to Pole he nervously checked to see if the seal in his lasagne was baby or adult and witnessed cock-fighting in the Philippines in Full Circle. He later suggested critics should just take a closer look at the real world. "It's a way of life, it happens," he said.
Palin has in the past said he found that being branded "nice" had become a millstone. He was, he said, "ruthlessly nice". The journey is expected to reveal as much about him as it does Hemingway, although associates say his interest lies more in Hemingway the writer than Hemingway the man.
Palin's undertaking to do the work, which is in the final stages of filming, was greeted by surprise in some quarters. During Full Circle, his trip around the Pacific Rim, he learnt that his wife, Helen, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour while he was on Sarawak, Indonesian Borneo. Afterwards, Palin had said he was not sure that he wanted to go on another major trip.
The Hemingway project has involved a series of short trips, unlike the 270-day marathon of Full Circle. He visits Spain, the base for Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and the town of Pamplona and its bull run, addressed in Death in the Afternoon. He also travels to Kenya and Uganda, where Hemingway went on a 72-day hunting safari in 1933, leading to the book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Cuba, where Hemingway moved from Florida as a tax exile, is also on the itinerary.
He has also visited the battlefields of northern Italy, the Carnevale in Venice, Hemingway's hunting grounds in Montana and Ketchum, Idaho, where he killed himself with a double-barrelled shotgun in 1961 and is now buried. Throughout, Palin was accompanied by his friend and photographer Basil Pao, who took pictures for his earlier travel books.
Most places visited by Hemingway have tapped into the "famous-person- stayed-here" branch of tourism. The mystique of his name sells safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, game fishing in Bimini and Florida, hotel rooms in Japan and Oregon, furniture in South Carolina, skiing in Austria, meals in Vermont and Paris, and cocktails in Venice, Havana, Key West, Madrid and Ljubljana.
In Cuba, Hemingway lived in the Finca La Vigia near Havana, now a museum, whose relics include a 9,000-book library, bullfighting paintings and stuffed heads. Another sentimental site for Hemingway fans is La Terraza, the restaurant in Cojimar, a fishing village east of Havana, which featured in The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream.
The book and film of Hemingway Adventure are expected to be at least as successful as Palin's three previous expeditions, which commanded television audiences of more than 10 million. Around the World in Eighty Days sold about 700,000 copies and remained in the top 10 best-seller list for 77 weeks, with 20 weeks at number one. Pole to Pole and Full Circle both sold around 500,000, each with six months in the best-seller list.
TWO VERY DIFFERENT LIVES
Born: 5 May 1943.
Married: To Helen in 1966.
Hobbies: Reading, running and railways.
Vices: No known vices, but upset Christian circles by writing The Life of Brian, which many religious groups wanted banned.
Character: Described as "ruthlessly nice". Award-winning writer and actor. A modern-day intrepid explorer.
Achievements: Found fame with Monty Python, then through writing and acting. Won a Bafta for best supporting film actor in A Fish Called Wanda.
Born: 21 July 1899.
Married: Four times. Wives: Elizabeth Hadley, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn, and Mary Welsh.
Hobbies: Reading, writing, deep-sea fishing, hunting and watching bullfighting.
Vices: Drinking, violence and killing animals.
Character: Award-winning author. Also a philandering alcoholic, prone to cruelty, violence and depression.
Achievements: Started as a cub reporter. Won the Pulitzer prize in 1953, and the Nobel prize for literature in 1954.Reuse content