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Saharaby Michael Palin
Welcome to Sahara
Sahara is one of the most powerful and evocative names on the world map. As a child, the images I had of the Sahara were both frightening and intriguing - palm trees, camels, turbanned travellers reclining, whilst being poured sparkling water by urn-carrying maidens in flimsy veils. It looked fun. I also knew that most western explorers who tried to cross it never came back. The combination of seduction and severity appealed to me. In the spring of 2000 I decided that it should be the next television journey.
It promised to be tough, but that?s what the viewer seemed to like. It also offered the chance of going into, if not the unknown, certainly the very little known.
The BBC were enthused by my enthusiasm, but wary, I think, of too much sand. They offered four one-hour programmes, as opposed to seven 50-minutes on Eighty Days, eight on Pole to Pole and ten on Full Circle.
The filming took place between February 2001 and February 2002, with work on the book squeezed in between our various trips to the desert (the longest of which was a virtually non-stop seven weeks from Western Algeria to Timbuktu).
The book and series were delivered in May 2002 and the series began transmission on October 13. An average of 8.25 million people watched the four programmes, a bigger share of the audience than Full Circle. The call of the Sahara, it seems, is not just my own private fantasy.
Michael Palin, 5th December 2002
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