Ted Palin - Sheffield Days

Ranmoor Ringers Bulletin Iss 15 & 16, 2017

It was whilst re-reading Michael Palin’s 'Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years', I discovered that this coming Sunday April 23rd marks the 40th Anniversary of his Father’s death.

I thought it a nice idea to respectfully pen a note to Michael Palin in recognition of the upcoming 40th Anniversary of his Father’s death on Sunday 23rd April. His Ranmoor Ringing Father steadfastly served here as Steeple keeper from 1940 to 1967!
I received this prompt reply from Michael – addressed to us all…

Dear Ringers of Ranmoor,

It’s very good of you to remember my father’s 40th anniversary. I don’t think I ever knew he was a Tower Captain, but bellringing at Ranmoor was certainly a passion of his and one of his great pleasures. He subscribed to Ringing World and never missed the weekly practice. He was happy in the belfry and occasionally took me to watch the ringers at work. I can remember climbing the narrow staircase up the tower, hanging on for dear life. Once I’d clambered into the chamber it was like being in a lighthouse. I was in awe of the ringers who seemed to me like some secret society. I watched, wide-eyed, at first with apprehension, and then with some pride, as my father handled the power in one of the big bells, usually the Number 8, I think. It lifted him clean off the ground and at first I wasn’t sure if he’d ever come down again.

He was very happy to help younger ringers learn the skills of Bob Major and Grandsire Triples. Oddly enough I don’t remember him ever putting much pressure on me to learn, though I pulled a rope or two and quite enjoyed being swung in the air.

He would be very chuffed to be remembered for his ringing. The bells of Ranmoor were very special to him, and it gives me, and would have given him, enormous pleasure to know that a Quarter Peal might be rung in his memory, or indeed that he was remembered there at all.

All the very best


Overseas broadcast, Palm Sunday, 30th March 1947 70 years later
BBC Overseas broadcast, from Ranmoor
Palm Sunday, 30th March 1947,
J. W. Smithson, E. G. Dickens, E. M. Palin, H. E. Haynes

and 70 years later
Les Middleton, David Williams, Rev. Angela Lauener (on her leaving), Pauline Heath (rang in original tribute to Ted Palin), Nick Harrison
So, you can see that my original letter to him, intimated at a possible Quarter Peal dedication to his Father to mark the anniversary of a modest man who gave much unstinting service to Ranmoor and our exercise.

 I’ve written something for the local press, BOB and will submit something to the Ringing World. Thanks to those of you that have recreated a contemporary version of the 1947 photograph (above) – in our forebear’s footsteps. More on the man next week …

RANMOOR REMEMBRANCES from My Seven Best Churches
– Michael Palin

Ted Palin

Born in Sheffield, on May 5th. Father a Civil Engineer, Mother not. Baptised at St. John the Evangelist, Ranmoor.

Many of my most potent early memories are associated with St John's, Ranmoor, at which I was a regular attendee throughout most of my childhood. My parents were both regular churchgoers, which in those days put them very much in the majority in our neighbourhood.

My father was a bell-ringer. St John's had a ten-bell peal. My father was also a keen chorister. The interior of the church was on a spectacular soaring scale; so, I can remember early filial pride as he sometimes led in the choir, his singing being completely unaffected by his serious stammer. And very occasionally he would be chosen to play the organ, which was particularly impressive.

I would go out after the Nunc Dimittis to Sunday school across the road at the vicarage. On certain occasions, we could stay for the entire service, particularly when he had visiting speakers, my favourites being the missionaries: often bronzed, powerful men with wild hair who would grip the pulpit with one hand, the other having been lost at a mass baptism in the Limpopo. young Michael Palin

Among the milestones celebrated at St John's was my sister's wedding (I was an usher), and my first terrifying performance in public: reading one of the lessons at the Christmas carol service, at which I remember my knees wobbling like those of a new-born giraffe, as I stood before proud parents, sister, and some 250 Sheffield worthies.

Attended Birkdale Preparatory School, Sheffield. A flavour of a Sheffield childhood - last-schoolboy-diaries  First dramatic appearance as Martha Cratchit in school production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (Fell off stage).

To Shrewsbury School (where Ted and his father before him had attended).

Joined Brightside and Carbrook Co-Operative Society Players whilst working in publicity department of Edgar Allen & Co. Steelmakers. Won Best Perf. Gent Award at Co-Op Drama Festival, Bradford. To Brasenose College, Oxford.


Though I was born and brought up in Sheffield, my father was an East Anglian, the son of a doctor from Fakenham, and the two-week summer holiday provided the ideal chance for him to get back to the beloved county of his birth, and to the magnificent churches in the area. I can remember that barely had we unpacked than my father was off to see a church or three.

By all accounts, his engineer father could be something of a martinet as an intelligent Cambridge graduate who found himself in Sheffield as a civil engineer in a steel factory. He had a serious stammer, and felt that he never fulfilled his ambitions – he wanted to be a Church Organist. He spent a third of his salary to send Palin to the Shrewsbury public school he had attended and wasn't thrilled when his only son chose show business over a steady job.

He loved organ music and choirs and I think he missed out on that because his parents thought it was just the arts and he wouldn't make any money.

By the time the Pythons were making The Holy Grail, Ted had Parkinson's and he never got to see the film. Did he feel proud of his son's huge success in the end?

I think he was... quite pleased that I appeared in the Radio Times and things like that, but he never really got the Pythons at all. He was incredibly relieved that I was making money and wasn't dependent on him. That was his great fear. The thought of having to support me after paying for my schooling was unthinkable.

Friends describe Edward Moreton Palin as quite dour, a somewhat intimidating figure; a man whose frequent irritation was exacerbated or even caused by, his painful stammer.

I couldn't say that I was frightened of my father, but I never felt totally comfortable with him. Perhaps because of his stammer. When you just can't get the words out, it distances you.

(Palin, who drew on childhood memories to play Ken Pile, his speech-impaired character in A Fish Called Wanda, has, for almost 20 years, lent his considerable support to The Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children, based in central London.)

He was always confronting people. Bus conductors, waitresses: he felt everyone was laying traps and should be treated with suspicion. There was always tension when he was around. I found it deeply embarrassing. That's why I hate rows and try to avoid confrontation.

Did his father ever utter the words “I love you” to the young Michael?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve often thought about this. I can’t remember if the re was a moment. He didn’t really give me a hug either.

 Such reticence wasn’t unusual for the wartime generation.

RETIREMENT – A son remembers…

Ted Palin

Since his coronary in 1964 my father had had confirmed Parkinson's disease. He would move in and out of hospital from now on. In 1966, my parents, Edward and Mary Palin retired to the village of Reydon, just outside Southwold in Suffolk.

Tuesday, March 26, Southwold, 1974
Up anonymous institutional wards smelling of disinfectant, until we reach the Kenton Ward. There was little sign of life from the inmates. Then I saw my father sitting on a bed. Here was the man who played football with me, who ran along the towpath at Shrewsbury when I rowed in Bumpers, who used to try to teach me to overcome my fear of the sea at Sheringham.

He was now sitting with his head bent, muttering, picking with helpless hands at his pyjamas, which were open, exposing his white stomach. He didn't look up as I approached. The doctor told us that Dad has cerebral arterial sclerosis, like having a prolonged stroke, and the general pattern now will be downhill. He didn't hold out much hope of him ever coming home again.

Sunday, July 14th
My mother rang to say that Father has started to see visions again – this time mice, hamsters and Welsh choirs.

Good Friday, March 28, Southwold, 1975
Heavy snow. Physically, Father is fast becoming a write-off and there's a temptation to think that death would be a merciful release – but when I see the twinkle in his watery eye when he struggles to make a joke, or the enjoyment he gets from buying Easter chocolates for Mother, I find the ''merciful release" attitude dangerously simple.

Thursday, June 12, Southwold
Take my parents to see the Holy Grail film which starts today in Norwich. I think the parents enjoyed it, and Daddy laughed quite spontaneously a few times.

Home to Croft Cottage, where we sat in the sunshine and had a cup of tea. Daddy's chair kept tipping over and once, when he'd taken a bite of rock cake, his teeth came out firmly clamped to the rock cake.

Tuesday, November 30, Southwold, 1976
Depressing visit to the hospital in Southwold. Daddy looking thinner than before. Sometimes he doesn't make sense at all. Much talk of ties and headmasters. Look out towards the church, the beautiful Southwold Church he loved so much and the grey November afternoon closing around it.

It was 10 years ago to the day that they moved to Southwold from Sheffield. Then he was full of hope and excitement, back where he always wanted to be, amongst old churches, choirs and organ music.

Saturday, April 23, 1977
Woken at 7.15 by Tom (Michael’s son) telling me the phone was ringing. It's Granny. Father is not expected to live much beyond lunchtime. I drive with my sister Angela to Blythburgh.

As we arrive at the hospital, neither of us has any real idea of what to expect. I have never been near anyone dying before. Daddy is breathing heavily and noisily on his back in bed, eyes almost closed, one half-open, glazed and unseeing.

His skin is pale and parchment-like and drawn tight over the bones of his face. Mother sits at the bedside, hardly wracked with grief. Indeed, she greets us very matter of factly, as if we'd just arrived at a coffee morning.

We are told he has pneumonia and is not likely to survive. The doctor suggests, very tactfully, that there is little to be gained from us all clustering around the body waiting for him to die, so on her advice I take Ma (who has been at his bedside for five hours) to do a bit of shopping and have some lunch.

As we really don't know how long he will survive, it's decided that I shall go back to London and Angela will stay with Mother. On Monday, the first of the last three Ripping Yarns begins filming.

On the way back I stop at the hospital. Father is breathing heavily and noisily as before. The nurses still wash him and turn him regularly. He lies in a clean and comfortable bed. In the background the news and the football results. What a ritual Sports Report always used to be, on a Saturday.

At about 6.25 I leave. I'm 33 and he's 77 when I last see him, an emaciated, gravel-breathed shadow of the father I knew. Say goodbye to the nurses, knowing I won't see them again. One of them says he'd really grown to like my dad, which is nice, because it didn't happen that way often during his life.

Into the car and down the A12 to London. Beyond Ipswich, a colossal rain-storm. I must have been passing Colchester when Father died – at 7.25. Mother and Angela were almost at Blythburgh, slowed down by the heavy rain. He was dead by the time they got there.

The thing I always remember, is my dad dying in a hospital in Suffolk and the football results were on in the background. The number of times my dad and I used to listen to the football results:
‘Aldershot 3, Huddersfield Town 0.” Death during Division Three – a Pythonesque exit.

A Quarter Peal of Grandsire Triples for St George’s Day will be rung in tribute to Ted this coming Sunday Evening.

40 years to the day, and almost to the hour, after his death.

The original tribute Quarter Peal in 1977.

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