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Michael Palin in Iraq, New Series for Channel 5

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Channel 5 has commissioned ITN Productions to produce a new three-part documentary series with broadcaster and writer Michael Palin, as he visits Iraq for the first time. The commission is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2018, Michael Palin in North Korea, which reached 4.5m viewers and was nominated for two BAFTAs. Working with the same crew as in North Korea this new series promises an extraordinary view of a place, nearly 20 years after The Iraq War. A place we have really only seen via news reports. This will be the real Iraq.

The 3×60 series, Michael Palin: Into Iraq, follows Michael as he embarks on a 1000-mile odyssey, following the course of the great Tigris river from its source in eastern Turkey to the Persian Gulf.   Most of his journey will be through Iraq and Michael will visit Mosul and Erbil, before following the river to Tikrit. He then moves on to Baghdad, exploring bustling city life and the Green Zone.  As he heads further south Michael sees the legendary sites of Babylon and Ur before completing his journey on the coast of Iraq.

During his travels Michael is driven by the urge to meet the people of this vast but young and troubled country, as well as discovering a huge variety of breath-taking landscapes, and extraordinary historic sights and cultures. He experiences what life is like for the 40 million people who live in Iraq today and explores its ancient history as Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation.

His journey, which starts at Lake Hazar in eastern Turkey, includes visits to Kurdistan where he spends a day in the mountain village of Akre for the Kurdish New Roz celebrations, a chaotic festival of torchlit processions, fireworks and gunfire; a visit to Tikrit, where he uncovers the truth about the terrible Speicher massacre, before moving on to Babylon to explore Saddam Hussein’s palace that towers over the ancient city. He then heads on to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, into the Green Zone created after the war and discovers the joys of life in the bustling old city before visiting the famous Ziggurat of Ur.

Security concerns were paramount during the trip, (there’s not a press flack jacket in sight) with Michael and his team needing to negotiate bureaucratic borders, endless military checkpoints and access intelligence on the ground to navigate volatile areas and the reported presence of ISIS.

Michael Palin said: “I’ve never visited Iraq and it’s not the easiest country to work in, which is why we chose it as the focus for this series. Scarred by conflict, Iraq is also the birthplace of civilisation. Our story is one of survival, of a nation pulled back from the brink. We wanted to show how a country so long associated with war and violence is dealing with a fragile peace. 

“The journey was an eye-opener, a succession of new experiences, new places and new people to meet, a fascinating adventure in a land where past, present and future are unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be back on the road.”

Guy Davies, Channel 5 Factual Commissioning Editor (VP) Non scripted UK Originals Channel 5 / Paramount+, said: “I’m thrilled to be working with Michael again and with the same ITN Productions team on another ground-breaking journey. It’s 20 years early next year since the Iraq War started, and that is so often how the region is defined. Michael’s journey goes much deeper, and what a guide to have!” 

Will Smith, Head of Factual, ITN Productions, added: “Michael has a unique and rare ability to translate the, often complex, history of a country in his documentaries. Iraq is a fascinating region with deep British connections, once the cradle of civilization and now one of the most misunderstood places on earth.” 

“To follow Michael once again as he embarks on a journey he has long wanted to make, unlocking an understanding of the country as we have never seen before, will make for a fascinating and engaging series.” 

The series is due to air later this year and is produced by ITN Productions. It will be directed by Neil Ferguson, production manager is Jess Jacobs and the executive producer is Will Smith.