Michael Palin: Into Iraq is a new Channel 5 travel series that sees the legendary Monty Python star and travel presenter visit one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Now 79, Michael fell in love with Iraq after his father gave him a copy of The Arabian Nights when he was a child. But the magical place he read about then has been defined by war and conflict in recent decades and labeled the axis of evil.
"It doesn’t seem right that a country should have a bad name just because of the awful things that have happened there," says Michael.
"People are living there, bringing up their families there and their futures are there. It also has an extraordinary history — 6000 years ago it was the birthplace of civilisation."
In the three-part series, which is now available as a new book called Into Iraq by Michael Palin, Michael covered 1,000 miles in three weeks back in March 2022 as he followed the course of the Tigris River from Mosul, through Baghdad and Basra to the Persian Gulf.
So here's everything you need to know about Michael Palin: Into Iraq on Channel 5, including some observations by Michael himself...
Michael Palin: Into Iraq release date
Michael Palin: Into Iraq is a three-part series that starts on Channel 5 on Tuesday September 20 at 9 pm and runs at the same time every Tuesday in subsequent weeks. It will also become available on streaming service My5. We will update with its US and international air dates when we can.
Is there a trailer for Michael Palin: Into Iraq?
Yes Channel 5 recently released a trailer for Michael Palin: Into Iraq which shows exactly what Michael has let himself in for by visiting this fascinating but dangerous country. Take a look at the trailer below....
Michael Palin: Into Iraq episode guide
Here's our episode guide to Michael Palin: Into Iraq which we'll add to as the three-parter progresses. So do check back!
Episode 1: Tuesday September 20
After long delays at the Turkish/Iraq border, Michael arrives in Mosul — a city captured by ISIS in 2014 and held by the Islamic extremists until 2016 when they were driven out by a massive military campaign launched by the Iraqi Army and international forces which left the city shattered. The city still resembles a war zone and, as Michael walks among the ruins, he meets a group of children playing with a catapult and they ask him to join in.
"You just see this devastation and they are smiling," he says. "It’s quite something in the middle of all this. I was very moved."
Driving 50 miles east, Michael a very different Iraq suddenly emerges — a glittering five-star hotel in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan; one of the richest parts of Iraq, almost like Dubai. The next day he has an appointment with ‘Mr Erbil’, a fashionable tailor who measures him for a suit which he’ll pick up on his return, before exploring the ancient Citadel. He also meets Huda, an Iraqi Kurd and they talk over how Kurds in Iraq feel more at home than in Turkey.
There is also joy when Palin goes to the mountain town of Akre for the celebrations of Nou Roz – the Kurdish New Year. The place is crowded and chaotic and the celebrations are loud and exuberant.
"I was absolutely shattered at the end," smiles Michael. ‘But it was the most exhilarating day."
Episode 2: Tuesday September 27
Michael continues his journey into the heart of Iraq on his way to Baghdad and arrives in Kirkuk and the exact spot where the British discovered oil in 1927, when they also ruled the country.
Once again Iraqi officialdom proves both frustrating and long-winded. But eventually, they gain privileged access to the oil fields where few foreigners ever tread and see the 4000-year-old flames emerging from the ground that underpin Iraq’s ancient history. But they also have a convoy of minders who watch their every move.
The next day, Michael heads toward Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. Having been stopped at several military checkpoints along the way, and met with severe military authority, here Michael is surprised when he receives a warm welcome from the local commander and coins it "Checkpoint Cheerful". Even posing for selfies with the military guards.
But the mood soon changes as he arrives in Tikrit, which was taken over by ISIS in 2014 and was the scene of the ‘Speicher Massacre’, where around 1,700 soldiers, the majority of whom were Shia recruits, were murdered on the banks of the Tigris. Gaining access to the site of the massacre it’s a hugely sobering moment.
Michael’s next stop is the spectacular mosque of Samarra, which is celebrated for its extraordinary 52-metre Minaret. As he gingerly climbs the seemingly never-ending spiral into the sky (with no handrail to stop him from falling off!), Michael is reminded that Iraq was home to some of the earliest human civilizations in the world. And the views from the top are absolutely spectacular.
The next day Michael travels to meet Hashim, a local farmer, who shows him how falling water levels on the rivers are causing his crops to fail. But mid-conversation the army arrived, ISIS have been spotted nearby and it suddenly feels very unsafe. Then Michael finally arrives in Baghdad, he remembers the first book his Father gave him was ‘Tales From the Arabian Nights’, which features the city. Busy, inviting and with surprises round very corner. After taking a boat ride across the Tigris, Michael walks around Mutanabbi Street in central Baghdad, its crowded but everyone seems to be having a good time. Later, Michael meets Sarah, who takes him to a local restaurant to experience the national dish of Iraq, a fish called Masgouf. But as everywhere here men and women are kept largely apart.
The next morning, Michael visits Firdos Square, where Saddam Hussein’s statue was pulled down in 2003. He also gains rare permission to enter the high-security Green Zone to see the iconic crossed swords of Saddam Hussein’s Victory Arch.
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I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.