Why are Michael Palin documentaries not on the BBC anymore?

The Monty Python star has been making travel documentaries for decades

Michael Palin at the Durbar outside the Emir of Kano's Palace in Nigeria
Michael Palin travels to Nigeria in his new Channel 5 documentary. (Channel 5)

Michael Palin will soon be returning with a new travel documentary series, Michael Palin in Nigeria, which continues his partnership with ITN and Channel 5.

The Monty Python star found a second wave in his career when he began fronting travel documentaries, but the comedian's work in the field first began with the BBC. Palin embarked on his first foray into travel writing and documentary filmmaking with the 1989 series Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin, but since then things have changed.

Some viewers may be wondering why Palin swapped the BBC for Channel 5, here is everything that we know about the move.

Why are Michael Palin documentaries not on the BBC anymore?

Michael Palin on a camel in the 1997 show Full Circle
The Monty Python began fronting travel documentaries in 1989. He is pictured in the 1997 show Full Circle. (BBC)

Palin first began making travel documentaries in 1989, and his work with the BBC saw him collaborating on a number of programmes until 2012. This included his journey from the North to the South Pole in Pole to Pole with Michael Palin, and retracing the footsteps of writer Ernest Hemingway across the US, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean for Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure.

Read More: Michael Palin still talks to his late wife

All in all, Palin fronted eight programmes with the BBC and his collaboration with the channel came to an end with the 2012 series Brazil with Michael Palin.

His time with the BBC had its ups and downs, in 2009 Palin said he felt "very let down" by the BBC's response to his 2007 documentary New Europe. The programme was censured by the BBC Trust, who concluded Palin had oversimplified the conflict of the Balkan wars in the 1990s after a complaint was made by a viewer.

PALIN  new series
Michael Palin collaborated with the BBC on a number of programmes until 2012.

Speaking at a lunch for the Royal Television Society years after the programme was released, the Guardian reported Palin as saying: "The complaint was upheld. That, I believe, brings the BBC into disrepute. I think it was a stupid decision. I felt very, very angry and very let down."

New Europe was followed up by his aforementioned 2012 series about Brazil. While he didn't make anymore travelogue type shows for the channel, Palin did return to the BBC to front the show Travels Of A Lifetime in which he looked back at the documentaries he had made over the years.

In 2021, Palin spoke plainly about the BBC's future when he spoke to Jeremy Paxman on his podcast The Lock In, saying: "I am worried about the BBC because I believe the BBC to be one of the most important institutions in the country. An institution, having travelled the world, it is usually admired wherever I go — but I can see times are changing."

Michael Palin in Iraq (Channel 5)
In 2018, Michael Palin began working with Channel 5 and has travelled to North Korea and Iraq (pictured) so far. (Channel 5)

The actor took a break from making travel documentaries after Brazil with Michael Palin, returning in 2018 with his new collaborative partners ITN for the series Michael Palin in North Korea which aired on Channel 5. The show saw him film with a crew in North Korea during the April 2018 inter-Korean summit, it was the first time viewers were able to see so much of the country on camera.

When the series was first commissioned, Guy Davies, Channel 5 Factual Commissioning Editor, said: "Michael Palin is the best travel presenter of his generation, and for him to make his first series for Channel 5 with such a timely and extraordinary journey is thrilling. His natural curiosity and sensitivity make him the ideal person to visit and discover North Korea, and meet the people who have been hidden from the world for so long."

The series was a huge critical success, and he soon followed it up with the 2022 series Michael Palin: Into Iraq which drew in 2.5million viewers and won a prestigious AIB award. Channel 5 and ITN was keen to continue their collaboration with Palin, and why not after the success of their two earlier programmes.

Michael Palin showing pupils how Africa looks larger in some global maps than others
Michael Palin's new series will explore the history of Nigeria and its growing impact as a world leader. (Channel 5)

Palin's new series will see him visit Nigeria, where he will explore the history and culture of the country, and its growing impact as a world leader. The documentary will see him visit the Islamic North and go on a road trip across the country with an armed guard.

Speaking about the programme, Palin shared: "Nigeria has the biggest economy, and the biggest population in Africa. The potential of the country is enormous, but so are its problems. Visiting the country for the first time, I saw these problems at first hand, but also caught a whiff of the excitement and energy of the place.

"Sometimes inspiring, sometimes a perplexing challenge, my journey through this rich, raucous mix of a country hardly gave me time to draw breath. I came home exhausted but exhilarated. And, as in the best of journeys, feeling I know a lot more about the world."

Michael Palin in Nigeria airs on Channel 5 at 9pm on Tuesday, 16 April.

Watch the trailer for Michael Palin in Nigeria: