Ripping Yarns (1976–1979 Britain)

Ripping Yarns is Michael Palin at his best, delivering a one–man tour de force. This is even better than the Monty Python series, which has dated horribly and contains more misses than hits. But Ripping Yarns is still a spiffing good piece of television, even in this 21st century of ours. My personal favourite is Murder At Moorstones Manor, an Agatha Christie–like plot in an English country manor setting that gradually whittles down its cast at the point of a gun. The brilliant shambles of an ending denies the curious viewer the answer to whodunnit.

Palin’s portrayal of the car–obsessed (Aspergers?) upper class twit Hugo Chiddingfold is priceless. Come to think of it, there are two upper class twits at Moorstones. The other one, the slimy Charles, admits he can’t get a decent job because he’s “too dim”. He’s also too eager to caress any loaded gun lying around. His mother, Lady Chiddingfold, combines apathy and light as she believes Charles murdered his aunt many years previously and is eyeing him with suspicion this time round as the bodies start to fall. My favourite character is Manners, the sinister butler who never smiles. He has a Bovril fixation. When Charles’ wife Ruth asks for a whisky Manners has other ideas: “Bovril and whisky?” “No, just the whisky.” Even when the matriarch of the house orders the butler to fetch whisky, he replies “with Bovril, M lady?”

A theme that runs through these stand alone plots are the plucky Britisher standing up for what he believes in during the golden age of Empire. You can feel a Boys Own Adventure spirit flowing through these tales. Another splendid episode is Curse of The Claw. A black magic tale of a Burmese ‘sacred claw’ and the curse that befalls anyone who has the misfortune to possess it. A boy from a torturous family of emotionally cripples, (including an uncle who boasts about suffering from disgusting – and usually fatal – diseases) tries to return this monkey’s paw to its rightful place. Looking back at these episodes now, the decision by Michael Palin (with his writing partner Terry Jones) to use film instead of the more common videotape policy of the 1970s, really pays off: the episodes are more like odd, funny short films, having little in common with the rest of the BBC’s output at the time. They present a well-crafted, realistic world, albeit one full of ridiculous people and situations.

For the subsequent episodes, they remain in the pre–World War Two era, ripping into plots of Englishness, empire-building and high adventure. There is the excitement of the 39 Steps all over again with Winfrey’s Last Case…while Cardiff City is winning the F A Cup in 1927, hot young indigenous females are coupling with degenerate colonialists during the tale of Across The Andes By Frog…Tompkinson’s Schooldays is the educational institution you’d love to send your kid to, just so he could experience the brutal thrashings from a bully so handsome and charismatic that even the headmaster defers to him… Roger of The Raj starts out great but I was bored during the second half…The Testing of Eric Olthwaite is a classic about the most boring man in Yorkshire. Oh, quelle journée au bas de la terre. Je suis très fatigué demain, Vera as his dad would say…Golden Gordon is hilarious: the worst football team of 1935 and their most fanatical fan…Escape From Stalag Luft i112B is quite boring by comparison. Despite the odd quibble, Ripping Yarns is a great series to have on dvd. Get it!



  1. RE-posted on twitter @trefology


  2. Ripping Yarns is a criminally underrated series indeed, more people should definitely give it a go! Thanks for the fantastic overview.

    Liked by 1 person

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