Michael Palin irks North Korean officials for having hands in pockets next to leaders' statues

Yohannes Lowe
The two-part documentary, 'Michael Palin in North Korea', will air on Channel 5 on Thursday 20 September at 9pm. - Channel 5

Michael Palin had to reshoot scenes for his North Korea documentary because he had his hands in his pockets, which was seen as “disrespectful”.

The Monty Python star irked officials during the first day of filming Michael Palin in North Korea when his hands became obscured as he spoke to camera in front of two statues of the country's former leaders.

Palin said the production crew was ordered by guides to do a retake of the scene because the act is considered "disrespectful" by North Koreans in the presence of monuments.

The 75-year-old was granted unprecedented access to explore the secretive nation, which is long known for its mistrust of the west, for the Channel 5 documentary.

In an interview with the Radio Times, Palin said: "Because we were in front of the monuments of the two great leaders and there are various rules there and the leaders have to be filmed in their entirety, and so you have to stand a long way back so you can film the full length of them.

“And in the end they said no, no, no, You have got to do it again because you had your hand in your pocket and that is disrespectful, so that was interesting.”

Palin and the production team  flew out just after a thawing in relations within the Korean peninsula. Credit: Channel 5

Palin also said minders had specified that any signs of litter and people in vest tops were to banned from the final cut.

Despite the fact that the veteran traveller has roamed the world for more than 30 years, Palin admitted that he was still “very,very cautious” about visiting North Korea amid fears over its highly criticised nuclear weapons programme.

He said he eventually decided to go ahead with the project following the historic handshake between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korea's President Moon Jae-In in April ,which signalled the beginnings of a truce between the two nations.

ITN had been in negotiations with North Korean officials for two years prior to filming and received help from British academic Nick Bonner, whose company Koryo Tours facilitates visitors to explore the country.

Mr Bonner, who is credited as the documentary's associate producer, said travellers are advised on what actions could cause offence before stepping foot in North Korea.

The Monty Python star was told off by officials who objected to him holding his hands in his pockets in front of statues of their former leaders. Credit: Channel 5 

He said: “We give briefings to tourists before they go the country and as with any country you visit it is important not to show disrespect. 

"If you dress badly and acted insensitively it is most likely you would be tolerated but your Korean guide would be made responsible for your behaviour.” 

Dr Robert Winstanley-Chesters, a lecturer in Korean Studies at the University of Leeds, explained tourists to North Korea are expected to show respect to all imagery concerning leadership.

He said: “North Koreans are meant to be deeply committed to the ideology and historiography of the state and whether or not they actually believe this in their hearts and minds and expected to demonstrate this and will demonstrate this in their everyday lives.

“North Korean's express great commitment, loyalty and love to the Great, Dear and Young Leaders and whole hearted belief in the 'fact' that North Korea is the greatest country on earth.”

His advice to visiting Britons tourists is: “Be respectful to all images of the North Korean leadership, whether statues or images, only take photographs when you are told it is okay to take photographs and do not under any circumstances try to sneak photographs of things you aren't supposed to.”

Channel 5's Michael Palin in North Korea concludes on Thursday at 9pm.