BBC 4 rediscovers Ripping Yarns

We unearth some classic Ripping Yarns clips ahead of a new BBC 4 programme investigating the Boy’s Own inspirations for the seventies comedy classic.
  • Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Ripping Yarns
    Gary Harvey
    Last updated: 03 April 2014, 17:04 BST

    Ripping Yarns, the much–loved series created by Monty Python stars Michael Palin and Terry Jones, is returning to screens with BBC Four beginning a run of all nine episodes on Thursday nights.

    To introduce the innovative series and the inspirations behind it, this Thursday’s pilot episode will be preceded by a documentary in which comedian Alexander Armstrong taking a closer look at the British Empire adventure fiction stereotypes the show lampooned, with the help of Palin and Jones themselves.

    Alexander Armstrong with Michael Palin for The Real Ripping Yarns

    To get you in the mood for some truly spiffing British silliness, we’ve picked out some classic clips that typify the institutions they parodied so unforgettably.

    Boarding school brutality

    Moving on from the quick-fire surrealism of Monty Python’s sketches, Ripping Yarns was a showcase for Palin and Jones’ shared desire to create longer form comedy characters and situations, filmed with the quality of a drama series.

    Pilot episode Tomkinson’s Schooldays picked the ripe topic of British boarding schools, sending up the bizarre traditions, rituals and characters with a dash of trademark Python surrealism.

    The military

    Few British institutions feature so frequently or display such raw stiff-upper-lippiness in the Boy’s Own Paper adventure tales Palin and Jones were parodying as the military. From the heights of the British Empire to the World Wars, the pair had an endless stream of characters to play with.

    The third episode of Ripping Yarns was one of the most memorable, a perfect take on the unbreakable spirit of prisoner of war camp soldiers in WW2.

    The hardy Northerner

    Palin was also keen to focus on the idiosyncrasies of his own Yorkshire upbringing and brought to life several memorable scenarios of gloomy Northern life populated by oddball characters. Among them were Eric Olthwaite – a boy so dull his father spoke French to avoid communicating with him – and Golden Gordon, an unrelentingly loyal fan of a terrible football club, able to recite reams of useless statistics but also prone to outbursts of destructive rage on returning home from matches.

    The Testing of Eric Olthwaite:

    Golden Gordon:


    Alexander Armstrong’s Real Ripping Yarns airs at 9pm on Thursday April 3 on BBC Four and is followed by the pilot episode, Tomkinson’s Schooldays.

    Photo credit: Rex, BBC

    Gary Harvey
    Last updated: 03 April 2014, 17:04 BST

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