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Series / Ripping Yarns

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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.

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" has more power that any of the teachers and the headmaster. His room is luxurious and he dresses as The Dandy instead of uniform; he controls all escape tunnels from school and he has influence outside the school, e.g. he promises the chaplain to get him archbishopric.
    Tomkinson: 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 parents in "Curse of the Claw". They locked Kevin's sister up inside their house 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.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Claw in "Curse of the Claw" has vast but weakly-specified powers, that mostly involve a terrible curse which is triggered by touching it. It can, for example, cause someone's leg to break spontaneously — and at the end, it warps time itself and regresses one of the cast to his childhood years.
  • Artistic License – Education: "Tomkinson's Schooldays", being a surreal parody, is about a school which is of course much weirder than ever existed in reality. Well, somewhat weirder.
  • Boarding School: Graybridge in "Tomkinson's Schooldays" is a traditional all-boys British boarding school with strict discipline, sports and outdoor activities, bullies and wacky teachers.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Parodied to the limit in "Tomkinson's Schooldays" as even masters try to escape the school and the boys are forbidden to help them. Tomkinson is a new pupil at Graybridge boarding school and he is absolutely miserable and depressed. The boys have to beat the headmaster, all new boys have to fight the grizzly bear, and they have an old tradition that younger boys are allowed to be nailed to the walls by senior pupils. Random skeletons in uniforms are seen lying around. They have to ask permission to breathe out after 10:30. Tomkinson is shot in the stomach during French translation (which he considers lucky and thinks it might get him out of the school). The boys are hunted by the school leopard if they try to run away, and there's a maggot-pit for detention. Graybridge has an official school bully who gets whatever he wants and some boys are sent to the school specifically to be bullied by him. During a hopping competition between Graybridge and St Anthony's, the whole school is in a fever — it's mostly dysentery and beriberi, blackwater fever and scurvy. Being forced to participate in the hopping competition itself is the ultimate punishment for misbehavior, essentially a death sentence disguised as an athletic competition.
  • The Bore: In the episode "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite", Eric is considered extremely boring to everyone due to his interests: rain, shovels, and black pudding. He eventually decides to man up and be more interesting — by getting a job at a bank, but is refused for not being adequate. He 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.
  • Brick Joke: In "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite", Eric says his father pretends to be French to avoid having to talk to him. In the following scene, Mr Olthwaite speaks some French, but doesn't understand his wife's French answer. Later in the story, the Mayor of Denley Moor recognizes Eric and asks him whether he's Jean-Pierre Olthwaite's boy.
  • British Brevity: 9 episodes total. (The word is more episodes were planned and could have been made but it was vetoed by BBC because the series was expensive to produce.)
  • 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 from the Monty Python gang appears as a passerby in "Golden Gordon".
  • 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.
  • Comedic Spanking: Graybridge in "Tomkinson's Schooldays" is a very British boarding school. The school's hard discipline and corporal punishment is parodied and turned into a sexual innuendo. Schoolboys are called in to paddle their headmaster as punishment. It's played as something unpleasant for them and enjoyable for him.
    Headmaster: Who was it? Right. The entire back three rows will come to beat me this evening.
  • Continuity Nod: In "Golden Gordon", one of the players in the Denley Moor team is Eric Olthwaite.
  • Corporal Punishment: Parodied (and turned into a sexual innuendo) in "Tomkinson's Schooldays", where schoolboys from the boarding school periodically have to beat their headmaster — which is unpleasant for the boys and enjoyable for the headmaster.
  • Creator Cameo: Terry Jones co-created the series. He turns up in several rather small roles in "Tomkinson's School Days" and viewers suspect he voices Mr Bag's racing vultures in "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite".
  • Crossdresser: Most of the crew of the ship in "The Curse of the Claw" are women dressed as men. Thanks to the restrictive Victorian morals they had all been living under, none of them apparently realized they were women. Mr Russell mentions feeling trapped in a man's body, utterly convinced about being a man.
    Kevin: That night we discovered that Russell had been wrong. He was a woman after all.
  • 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. Except Mr Hopper who is a communist and not a particularly honest one, though his intentions are probably noble enough (he expresses his wish to establish "a socialist state with centralised ownership of capital to be used for the benefit of all"). 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: One of the Brits in the expedition 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".
  • Embarrassing First Name: Gordon's son, Barnstoneworth, in "Golden Gordon". He was named after his father's (awful) favourite football club, Barnstoneworth United. Gordon's so fanatical about Barnstoneworth United the only other name he could think of for Barnstoneworth was United.
  • English Rose: An archetypal English girl, fair-skinned, pretty, nice and lady-like, appears in three stories:
    • Dora in "Murder at Moorstones Manor". She's Hugo's endearingly innocent fiancée. Hugo is the eldest son, obsessed with cars and viewed as the loony of the Chiddingfold family. She's a pretty young woman, fair-skinned with blue eyes and brown hair. When long-suffering Dora asks Hugo to choose between herself and his car, he chooses the car and then leaves her at the moor. She's seen several times in horrible weather as a Damsel in Distress, trying to get somewhere safe. In the middle of the night, Dora reaches Moorstones Manor, exhausted and in a terrible state. The thing is, both Sir Clive and his son Hugo have been murdered. The next day, Dora surprises everyone, claiming she can take care of herself and that she's not the demure little girl and Lady Chiddingfold's idiot son's fiancée they expected her to be. She claims she shot them both as a revenge for having had to bear Hugo for six years. But several other people take credit for those murders as well.
    • Lady Agatha, Kevin's childhood sweetheart and his lovely wife from "The Curse of the Claw". She's a beautiful girl, living next door to Kevin in Maidenhead, England. She's first seen as a child wearing a white dress and a pretty hat, holding a basket with flowers and enthusiastically waving to Kevin from her garden. Older Kevin mourns her death, reminiscing about her kindness, loveliness and beauty. Grosvenor, Kevin's manservant, acknowledges her beauty, too, with some indecent comments about her body, much to Keven's embarrassment and discomfort.
      Kevin: [She was] such a kind creature. Not a trace of guile or malice ever crossed her pretty face.
    • Miranda in "Roger of the Raj". Roger is a son of obscenely rich English aristocrats, later residing in India. The honourable Miranda is his equally noble and equally rich lovely girlfriend, with large eyes, classically chiselled features and a fair complexion. She proves her worth and determination when she saves Kevin from the shoot out of the revolting British soldiers and Mr Hopper, Roger's communist teacher who tries "to found a socialist state, with centralised ownership of capital to be used for the benefit of all".
  • Epic Fail: "The Curse of the Claw": Captain Merson and his men, most of whom are tribal, get lost on the very first day of their expedition. They mean to see if there is a river passage, linking the Ganges with the Brahmaputra River through Bhutan. They reach Kevin's cottage house in Maidenhead in the middle of the night. They were supposed to change at Woking, but some stupid ticket collector put them on a wrong platform. Three men are separated from the group already because they went on to Bristol.
  • 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.
  • Funny Background Event: In "Golden Gordon", while Gordon is talking to the scrap-metal dealer who owns Barnstoneworth United, the man's well-dressed wife is staggering back and forth in the background with armfuls of scrap iron.
  • Great Escape: "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B" is a parody of the trope and its associated conventions.
  • 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.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: In "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite", the bank manager explains that to be in his position, a man must be ruthless, and claims that to get where he is, he has had to tear grown men apart with his bare hands. A bank robber bursts in, demanding the keys to the safe, and the manager promptly demonstrates that he's actually a Dirty Coward.
  • Joke Title, Real Role: In "Tomkinson's Schooldays", "School Bully" is an official position that comes with outrageous privileges and the unspoken expectation to insult and abuse everyone (including the teachers and headmaster). Grayson, who holds the post, demands that everyone call him School Bully, and introduces himself as such (instead of by name) when he answers the phone. At the end of the story, the battered titular protagonist inherits the position from Grayson, who has vacated it to accept the position of School Bully at Eton (because their School Bully has left to join the government).
  • Kinky Spanking:
    • "Tomkinson's Schooldays": The headmaster in Graybridge thoroughly enjoys being paddled by the schoolboys. Being ordered to come to beat him appears to be a common form of discipline.
    • "Roger of the Raj": Morrison, an unfortunate British soldier, inadvertently alludes to kinky spanking during one formal regimental dinner party as the women are retiring to a drawing room note . For this terrible faux pas, he's given the option of suicide before dishonour.
      Lady Bartlesham: So, ladies, shall we retire?
      Captain Morrison: We'll be in to spank you later, you firm-buttocked young Amazons, you. [Beat] I'm terribly sorry. I don't know what came over me.
      Lord Bartlesham: All right, Morrison. I think you know what to do.
  • 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. They in fact had the upper hand and could have easily defeated him, but they were just too star-struck with the famous hero.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: Used for parody purposes in "Whinfrey's Last Case" when Whinfrey is locked in a a coastal inn and discovers that, as an old smuggler's haunt, it is riddled with secret passages; basically, he can't take two paces round the room without bumping into the latch on a secret door.
  • Mondegreen Gag: In "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite", when Eric turns to crime his girlfriend Enid decides to become his moll. Thanks to her accent, everyone initially thinks she said "mole" and starts wondering why she'd want to be a burrowing garden pest.
  • Oddly Small Organization: Inverted in "Whinfrey's Last Case" when Whinfrey arrives at a tiny, remote Cornish cottage to find it has a vast staff more suited to a stately home.
  • 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", a compulsive escaper who irritates the other prisoners by being too dedicated (and competent) to go by their rules.
  • Rich Kid Turned Social Activist: "Roger of the Raj", Roger is a son of incredibly, immensely rich British aristocrats. His teacher tries to invoke this trope and make Roger a leader in social revolution, believing that Roger should want to "found a socialist state with centralised ownership of capital to be used for the benefit of all". So he teaches him about social revolution, socialism, Marxism, the state ownership of capital, and the bloodshed that would follow the armed uprising of the proletariat. Roger is disgusted with his parents and their social class, but he has a different idea about his life: he wants to start a little shop and go into trade.
  • The Runaway: Tomkinson desperately tries to run away from the Boarding School of Horrors. He hopes to see his father and explain to him about the bullying and horrible abuse, thinking that of course he will understand and take him from there. Several times he gets quite far but is found out and sent back. When he does manage to talk to his parents, they insist he stays enrolled in Graybridge.
  • 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.
  • Secret Underground Passage: In “Whinfrey's Last Case”, the titular hero is imprisoned by the spies he has discovered in a coastal inn. However, as this is a parody of classic adventure fiction, the inn is inevitably an old smugglers’ haunt, and it is basically impossible to walk across the room without triggering the entrances to a couple of secret passages.
  • Slapstick: Ruth in "Murder at Moorstones Manor" passes out face-first into a plateful of cottage pie and remains like that for the rest of the episode. It's later revealed that she actually drowned in it.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Frequently parodied; most of protagonists are upper-class Englishmen who seem physically incapable of acknowledging pain or discomfort.
  • 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 on Polly Oliver: With the exception of Kevin and his first mate, every crew-member on board the Greasy Bastard in "The Curse of the Claw" is an attractive woman playing a man. Kevin is very attracted to them, one of them in particular. The twist is they are not aware they are in fact 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. It can easily be explained by Rule of Funny.
  • The Stinger: At the end of "Golden Gordon", Gordon and his family are gleefully smashing up their house in celebration of their team's victory. After the credits, Gordon is seen attempting to catch a heavy flowerpot thrown by his wife with his head, leaving him unconscious or worse.
  • 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.
  • Unexplained Recovery: In "The Curse of the Claw", Kevin is sailing to Burma to return the cursed claw to its rightful owners. Mr Russellnote  wants to keep sailing so she grabs the claw and attempts to throw it into the ocean. The ship blows up in a huge explosion. Turns out that Kevin is the only survivor. How he survived or how he got back to England is not explained.
  • Weather Report Opening: "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite" starts with a very thorough report about rainy weather. It's Eric's voice over narration.
    Eric: It were always raining in Denley Moor. Except on days when it were fine. And there weren't many of them. Not if you include drizzle as rain. And even if it weren't drizzling, it were overcast, and there were a lot of moisture in the air. You'd come home damp as if it had been raining, even though there hadn't actually been evidence of precipitation in the rain gauge outside the town hall. And the humidity level on the weather chart was constant for the entire period, despite...
  • 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.