THE term ‘Renaissance Man’ could have been invented for Sir Michael Palin.

Over a 50-year career, he has been responsible for groundbreaking comedy, much-loved movies, bestselling novels and non-fiction books and memorable travelogues.

But in spite of his achievements in various fields, Michael says his first love has always been live performance. And he returns to it with a new one-man show, Erebus, Python and Other Stories, heading for Bradford this month.

In the first half, Michael will discuss Erebus: The Story of a Ship, his gripping bestselling book, recently released in paperback, about a pioneering 19th century ship, HMS Erebus. He recounts the story of the resilient little ship that battled through both the Antarctic and the Arctic during the 1840s. Using a selection of illustrations, he conjures up the triumph and the tragedy of the ship’s short yet eventful life and explains why he was so drawn to it.

After the interval, Michael will reflect on his life story, showing how his three favourite subjects at school (Geography, History and Comedy) have influenced him; shaping everything from Monty Python and Ripping Yarns to the many travel series that have transported him to all corners of the globe, from the North Pole to North Korea. Previously unseen footage and untold stories reveal how comedy and adventure have woven through his remarkable career.

A sprightly 76, Michael is as charming and funny in person as he is on stage. Not for nothing is he known as “the nicest man in showbiz”.

The live arena, he says, is “absolutely my favourite form of performing because you’re right in front of the people you’re talking to. No camera in the way and no editor to put it together later.”

He adds: “It’s happening there and then in that theatre. It’s never the same two nights running. That can depend on the audiences as much as yourself. Sometimes it clicks wonderfully well, and others you have to work a bit harder. But it’s the best form of performing there is.”

Michael, whose movies have included the Monty Python films, Brazil, The Missionary, A Fish Called Wanda and The Death of Stalin, says live performance is where it all began for him. “I first started performing am-dram as a child at the Library Theatre in Sheffield. Then at Oxford University, we wrote and performed our own material. Then I got rather lured away into TV and film, but I’ve always loved live performance,” he says. “When we’ve done Python tours in front of an audience, they’ve always been hilarious - sometimes disastrous, sometimes wonderful. But the great thing is you have nothing between you and the audience.”

To a man who has travelled to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and Brazil, the story of the Erebus is irresistible. Its first trip was a triumphant voyage of discovery to the Antarctic. But its second ended in disaster. Attempting to find the North West Passage, it disappeared in the Arctic in 1845.

“The Erebus story symbolises our eternal quest for the other place, somewhere we don’t know about, beyond the horizon,” says Michael. “The modern equivalent would be the space race. The crew of the Erebus didn’t know what was in the Southern Ocean. Erebus epitomises our timeless search to find out where we are and why we’re here.

“People ask, ‘Why are you writing history books about ships?’ I thought back to my school days and realised the things I liked most then were history, geography and making people laugh. Those three things kept me going at school, and are still keeping me going now.

“It’s rather wonderful to think that in my mid-70s,the enthusiasms I had as a child are the same enthusiasms I have now. They have informed all my work.”

His show also explores the significance of travel. “There are two cliches about travel; the first that absence makes the heart grow fonder and the second that it broadens the mind. They may be cliches, but they’re still the best ways of expressing why travel is so important,” says Michael. “When you travel somewhere, no matter how much reading you do in advance, in the end it’s up to you to get to grips with what you’re seeing, to learn how to deal with the journey, to keep your mind open to the people. Travel makes you more aware. You look at things in a global way, see the world from different perspectives.”

Michael hopes the show will celebrate the diversity of things he’s done, from books and Monty Python to acting and travelling. “It’s rather like a Python show -you give people an awful lot and they can pick out what they like. Hopefully there’ll be an abundance of material to enjoy.”

He concludes that the keynote in all his work is enthusiasm. “I’m very pleased that after many years I have an audience who want to come and see me. They want to share my enthusiasm for things I’ve done. Audiences will see a 76-year-old man trying to sing The Lumberjack Song in German. What’s not to like about that?”

l Michael Palin - Live On Stage: Erebus, Python and Other Stories is at the Alhambra on Thursday, June 27.

Erebus: The Story of a Ship is published by Arrow, £8.99.