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At a pivotal time in its history, Michael Palin sets out to explore North Korea.

Cut off from the world for the last 70 years, is it a brutal dictatorship obsessed with nuclear missiles and state control of its people?

Michael is determined to get under 
the skin of the North Koreans but, of course, he’s not free to wander about as he pleases. Everything he sees, does and says is closely monitored.

As 
he explores the capital city of Pyongyang he doesn’t feel unduly threatened – it’s all controlled, but rather pleasant, too.

He experiences a bank holiday North-Korean-style where people get drunk and dance in the park – bizarre, but kind of familiar…

Michael Palin dancing with North Korean residents at the May Day parade

Michael Palin dancing with North Korean residents at the May Day parade

TV Times caught up with Michael to get the lowdown. Here’s an extract from our feature:

What happened when you first arrived in the country?
‘When we crossed the border they told us to turn the cameras off and took our passports away for hours. I was getting a bit apprehensive, because we didn’t know if they’d changed their minds about us making the programme – or worse, if they were going to arrest us. Lots of things go through your head!’

What did you want to achieve while you were there?
‘I was trying to get below the barrier of authority and above the barrier of the tourist board and meet in the middle, to meet the people. I felt we should create a portrait of the people, observe them in their lives, what they were doing, and make connections between us. I knew we wouldn’t deal with the political situation as no one would talk to us about that, but what else could we find out?’

What were the people like?
‘It’s a completely different society to ours and they’re completely cut off from the rest of the world. There’s no internet or international calls and everything is strictly controlled by the state. I was a bit surprised when I realised they hadn’t ever heard of the Queen. But they still like to laugh! I showed them a clip of the fish-slapping dance from Monty Python and they loved it!’

What barriers did you face while filming?
‘I couldn’t just go up to someone and say hello. 
I went to the park on May Day, where people were having a barbecue, but 
it was difficult to step outside of the prescribed area. We had minders from the tourist ministry, who would speak to the director, but not me. They were always very nice to me! I think it’s because I’m quite old and elderly people are revered in North Korea. They kept asking me if I was tired and I said, ‘It’s only 10am!’

TV Times rating: ****