Arise Sir Michael: Monty Python star knighted among New Year honours
South End Green campaigner David Kitchen gets posthumous gong
03 January, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
THE chance to travel the world, learn about other people’s cultures and discover differences is also about understanding what makes us all the same, newly-knighted broadcaster Sir Michael Palin has told the New Journal.
Sir Michael, the Monty Python star who lives in Gospel Oak, was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list for his contribution to travel, culture and geography. He had already been awarded a CBE for services to television.
He revealed his passion for travel stemmed from daydreams he had as a child. “I have always loved maps, and been thrilled by the size of the world and the amazing places there are to visit,” he said. “I wanted to be an explorer when I was seven – but by the time I’d reached the age of 10, it felt like everywhere had been discovered and visited. I was always and still am curious about the rest of the world, but I never thought I would see the North and South poles.”
Sir Michael added: “I have travelled a lot. I see how it helps broaden your mind and stop you being judgemental about people. We are in such danger at the moment of being judgemental about others’ cultures. That makes us a poorer place.”
He says his background as a key member of the Monty Python team gave him transferable skills that helped when he became a travel writer – a role that not only has helped cement his position as a much-loved broadcaster but seen him appointed for a term as president of the Royal Geographic Society.
“Comedy and travel are actually not altogether different,” he explained. “It is about observing, and how we all relate and how we get along. Humour is an important part of communication. Apart from football, and talking about your kids, it is the most important way of breaking the ice. Above all, it keeps your mind open.”
Despite his travels across the globe to produce books and TV series, Gospel Oak is very much still home – although he admits that, if he had to live somewhere else, it would still be in the UK. “I have always been tempted by Scotland,” he added. “I love the wildness of the west coast and the calmer east. It has two great cities. I also like the idea of living on an island – I love ‘weather’, and Scotland has weather. I have all this wet-weather gear I could wear more often than I do now.” He admits the tropics could tempt him – not solely for the sunshine, rather the absence of wi-fi. “I also imagine I could live on an island in the Pacific – where you don’t have to worry about passwords for things, or insurance, and just lie back on a beach,” he said.
The New Year’s Honours brought an OBE for Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter, who lives in West Hampstead.
Dr Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, was given the same honour for her work with Care International. She lives in Belsize Park. Anthony Ford Shubrook, who lives in West Hampstead and works for charity AbleChildAfrica, also received an OBE. Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, who lives near Hampstead Heath, received a CBE.
In the political world, David Douglas, the Conservative Party agent, and Theo Blackwell, the former Camden Labour councillor hired by Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan to be London’s tech guru, were awarded MBEs.
David, defender of the Green
THE threat of a motorway being driven through the heart of South End Green was a key moment for David Kitchen – a plan that opponents said would bring such extraordinary destruction that it had to be stopped.
And leading the charge was the personnel manager who has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours list. David, who died in March last year aged 77, has been given the award posthumously for his tireless work for South End Green Association, which he helped set up to fight plans for a four-lane carriageway and flyover through the area.
When SEGA was formed in 1966, the Greater London Council hoped to build a stretch of the Inner London Ring Road from South End Green to Belsize Park. Communities across north London were united in opposition to the project which, thanks to volunteers like David, was finally abandoned in 1973.
He was a key figure on the association for the next 50 years – and his work was not solely about conserving what made the area special, but enhancing it too. David helped organise the annual street festival and campaigned to introduce safer crossings and to restore the Victorian water fountain dating from 1880 in the middle of the Green, as well as countless other contributions.
He was involved in the siting of a plaque to George Orwell on the facade of the bookshop where the author worked in the 1930s, and a plan to have a passage running behind a parade of shops named Triffid Alley in honour of the John Wyndham novel The Day of the Triffids, which has scenes set in South End Green.
Away from his immediate area – he lived for many years just off Parliament Hill – David took young people out on canal boats, teaching them about the art of navigation, locks and steering barges.
He took an interest in environmental ecology, planting willow saplings and wild flower meadows along the banks of the River Lea.
Despite a lifetime of work dedicated to improving the world he lived in, David avoided plaudits or congratulations – something that has been put right after his passing.