Follow TV Tropes


Series / Ripping Yarns

Go To

Basically, what Michael Palin and Terry Jones did after Monty Python's Flying Circus but completely different and just as funny. Ripping Yarns was the definitive parody of the "Boy's Own" genre of the inter-war years.

Ripping Yarns started a year after Python ended, with its pilot "Tomkinson's Schooldays" being broadcast in 1975. It was followed by a first series of six episodes (including a re-run of the pilot) was broadcast in 1977. It was followed by a second series of half the size in 1979.

Episodes of Ripping Yarns

  • First series
    • 1. "Tomkinson's Schooldays"
    • 2. "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite"
    • 3. "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B"
    • 4. "Murder at Moorstones Manor"
    • 5. "Across the Andes by Frog"
    • 6. "The Curse of the Claw"
  • Second series
    • 1. "Whinfrey's Last Case"
    • 2. "Golden Gordon"
    • 3. "Roger of the Raj"


Ripping Yarns contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Grayson the School Bully in Tomkinson's Schooldays
    "In return for not hitting any of the masters, the Head had allowed Grayson certain privileges, such as having unmarried Filipino women in his room, smoking opium, and having a sauna instead of prayers."
  • Affably Evil: Grayson the School Bully, despite always referring to Tompkinson (and anyone else he talked to, including the headmaster) with a variety of witheringly contemptuous epithets, is actually fairly nice to Tompkinson, letting him use the escape tunnels he was building with the chaplain and providing him with some sort of drug (implied to be cocaine) to let him win the Hop. He even passes on the mantle of School Bully to Tomkinson when he accepts a position as School Bully at Eton
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Kevin Orr's in Curse of the Claw. They locked Kevin's sister up inside her own home for putting too much butter on her scone and shot his brother for walking on the flower beds.
    • Roger's mother in Roger of the Raj always insists on the most intense course of action when dealing with Roger, in contrast to her improbably kind husband. At one point, she attempts to shoot him when she finds out he's setting up a socialist revolution (blame Mr Hopper). Earlier, when debating parenting styles, she insists that their other son Nigel was given the "proper" treatment.
      Father: Isn't Nigel dead?
      Mother: Yes. But imagine what he'd be like if he wasn't.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Played for laughs a few times, notably with Kevin Orr's mansion in Maidenhead.
  • Anachronism Stew: Very slight and purely for comic effect.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Claw in Curse of the Claw.
  • Boarding School: Graybridge in Tomkinson's Schooldays.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Parodied to the limit in Tomkinson's Schooldays.
  • The Bore: In the episode episode "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite", Eric is considered extremely boring to everyone due to his interests: rain, shovels, and black pudding. He eventually gets a job at a bank, and is kidnapped by a bank robber who it turns out has the same interests. They go on a "crime" wave of measuring rainfall and he becomes interesting to the general public, despite not changing at all.
  • British Brevity: 9 episodes total.
  • Busman's Holiday: Whinfrey's Last Case revolves around the titular hero deciding that he's fed up with saving the British Empire on an almost monthly basis since 1898 and deciding to go on holiday. So of course, the place where he goes is the place where the latest scheming rotters plotting against Britain have holed up to put their plot into action, and they're so impressed by Whinfrey's reputation that they assume he's shown up to stop them and surrender pretty much without a fight.
  • The Butler Did It: Played with: In Murder at Moorstones Manor, the butler claims that he did it. Except that he has rivals who also claim they did it. Possibly the butler was telling the truth, but there's no way of knowing.
  • The Cameo: John Cleese as a passerby in "Golden Gordon". Terry Jones himself might count, as he only turns up in "Tomkinson's School Days"
  • Cardboard Prison: Escape from Stalag Luft 112B, in which Major Phipps becomes the only man never to have escaped from the prison camp of the title. And this includes the guards. Of course, after all of the British prisoners except Phipps escape (he wasn't included in their plans because he refused to submit his own plans to the various necessary escape committees), the prison becomes very much not a Cardboard Prison, with guards watching Phipps 24-7 with guns trained on him at all times. The sheer tedium of this is apparently why the guards themselves eventually escape. Phipps himself then gets so obsessed with intricate escape plans that he never does put any of them into practice.
  • Dirty Communists: Mr. Hopper in Roger of the Raj, and eventually the whole regiment. Subverted when it turns out that, while all of them are revolutionaries, very few of them are actual communists. When Roger is made to speak and starts advocating for peaceful anarchy, they start squabbling amongst themselves whether they are opposed to all forms of centralized government, just British royalism, or something else. Mr. Hopper is very displeased.
  • Dirty Old Man: The British Consul in Across the Andes by Frog has an unhealthy interest in schoolgirls, to the point where the only word he knows in the local dialect translates to "schoolgirls".
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: when most of the episodes are set.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Gordon's son, Barnstoneworth, in Golden Gordon. He was named after his father's (awful) football club, Barnstoneworth United. Gordon's so fanatical about Barnstoneworth United the only other name he could think of for Barnstoneworth was United.
  • Everybody Did It: An odd variation. In Murder at Moorstones Manor, five people all claim to be the murderer. They get in a shoot-out when nobody believes them.
  • Great Escape: Escape from Stalag Luft 112B (a POW Camp).
  • Gym Class Hell: In Tomkinson's Schooldays the school hopping team is trained to within an inch of its life and sent on a thirty-mile-hop across some of England's bleakest mountains, against a team of young Buddhists. Note the ritual "Palfrey" - a blow on the head - bestowed by a teacher with a wooden club beforehand. Tomkinson only survives with the assistance of performance-enhancing drugs.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: In Winfrey's Last Case, the German spies cheerfully give up as soon as they discover that Winfrey's accidentally stumbled upon their plot.
  • Language Fluency Denial: "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite". Eric is possibly the most boring little tit in Yorkshire and has two interests: shovels and rainfall. He notes that his own father would pretend to be French so as not to have to speak to him.
  • Laugh Track: Originally all the episodes had them, but the DVD removes them from all except Tomkinson's Schooldays and Murder at Moorstones Manor, both of which were edited on videotape and never had laugh-free tracks.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: The regimental dinner in Roger of the Raj. See Suicide as Comedy below.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: Played for Laughs (naturally) in "Murder at Moorstones Manor" where four different characters confess to the murder, complete with Motive Rant, before they end up killing each other. Each is utterly convinced they are the murderer, and it leaves the one surviving character thoroughly confused.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: This is Charles' general attitude in Murder at Moorstones Manor.
  • Old Retainer: In Across the Andes by Frog Palin's character is furious when he's given an old lady as a mountain guide. Cut to them lagging far behind her as she races up the mountain.
  • Oop North: The Testing of Eric Olthwaite and Golden Gordon both take place in especially miserable locations oop North.
  • Prison Escape Artist: Parodied with Major Errol Phipps in "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B".
  • Recursive Crossdressing: With the exception of Kevin and his first mate every crew-member on board the Greasy Bastard in Curse of the Claw is an attractive woman playing a man.
  • School of Hard Knocks: Graybridge turns this Up to Eleven by making School Bully an official post.
    • School tradition involves fighting grizzly bears and nailing freshmen to the walls on Saint Tadger's Day.
    • First years have to ask permission to breathe out before 10:30 AM
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Frequently parodied.
  • Suicide as Comedy: In Roger of the Raj, there is a scene at a regimental dinner where various officers express controversial opinions (such as passing the port to right or even allowing women to stay and drink port with the men). This leaves them with no choice but to do the honourable thing and they each leave the room in turn to administer the shot. Rather than seeing the suicides, we only ever hear a gunshot and a loud thud (implied to be the body falling) from behind the door they just walked through. In one case, we hear a gunshot and glass shattering, followed a few seconds later by a second shot and a thud. Apparently, that soldier somehow missed the first shot.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Most of the crew of the ship in The Curse of the Claw are women in disguise. In a twist on the trope, thanks to the restrictive Victorian morals they had all been living under, none of them apparently realized they were women.
  • Television Geography: in Whinfrey's Last Case, Whinfrey arrives at the remote Cornish railway station of Saltash, and a short taxi ride takes him to his even more remote holiday cottage. In reality, Saltash is on the Cornish border, within sight of the city of Plymouth (on the south coast), with the station being approached over one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's most famous bridges (absent from the episode), while the cottage and its environs appear appear to be on the distant north Cornish coast. Ironic, since Michael Palin is a rail enthusiast.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Whinfrey's Last Case. It turns out that all the inhabitants of the Cornish fishing village where agent Whinfrey takes his holiday in 1913 are in fact German spies. What's more, this turns out to be part of a conspiracy between the British and German Governments.
  • Up to Eleven: A large chunk of what makes the show funny.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The Thirty-Nine Steps is parodied very thoroughly in Whinfrey's Last Case. The episode manages to be a more faithful adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps than many attempts to do it straight.


Example of: