“Ripping Yarns” is a comedic masterpiece that cleverly satirizes classic adventure genres while celebrating the absurdity of life’s quirks. Each episode is a gem in its own right, showcasing Michael Palin’s comedic talent and the brilliance of the writing. This series remains a beloved classic in British comedy, offering timeless humor and insightful social commentary.
- Setting the Scene
- Michael Palin’s Versatility
- Subversive Satire
- Stunning Cinematography
- Enduring Legacy
- Ripping Yarns
In the world of British comedy, “Ripping Yarns” holds a special place. This classic television series, created by the iconic British comedy duo Michael Palin and Terry Jones, graced the screens in the late 1970s. Although it may not be as well-known as some of its contemporaries, “Ripping Yarns” remains a hidden gem, cherished by those who have had the privilege of experiencing its unique blend of humor, satire, and adventure. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this beloved series and uncover what makes it so special.
Setting the Scene
“Ripping Yarns” is a collection of episodes, each telling a self-contained story. The series transports viewers to the fictional worlds of classic British adventure fiction, taking inspiration from the likes of H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, and John Buchan. Each episode is a loving parody of a different adventure subgenre, creating a delightful pastiche of the British storytelling tradition.
Michael Palin’s Versatility
One of the standout features of “Ripping Yarns” is the incredible versatility of Michael Palin. Known for his work with Monty Python, Palin’s role as both the lead actor and writer of the series allowed him to showcase a wide range of comedic and dramatic talents. From a bumbling, inept explorer in “Tomkinson’s Schooldays” to a rebellious World War I fighter pilot in “Escape from Stalag Luft 112B,” Palin’s ability to immerse himself in diverse characters is nothing short of remarkable.
While “Ripping Yarns” expertly pays homage to classic adventure stories, it also serves as a platform for biting satire. Each episode cleverly lampoons the conventions and stereotypes of its respective genre. For example, “Golden Gordon” takes aim at the British obsession with sportsmanship and fair play, while “The Testing of Eric Olthwaite” pokes fun at the mundanity of everyday life and the pursuit of utterly unremarkable achievements.
Beyond its comedic brilliance, “Ripping Yarns” also stands out for its high production values. The series was filmed in picturesque locations across the UK, showcasing the stunning natural beauty of the country. This commitment to authenticity and attention to detail enhances the viewer’s immersion in each adventure, regardless of how absurd the premise may be.
Despite running for just two series with a total of nine episodes, “Ripping Yarns” has left an enduring legacy. It continues to be celebrated by fans of British comedy and remains a source of inspiration for subsequent generations of comedians and writers. The show’s blend of humor, adventure, and social commentary has a timeless quality that continues to resonate with viewers.
Here are the episodes of “Ripping Yarns” with extensive synopses and critiques for each.
Series 1 – 1976
Date: September 7, 1976
Synopsis: Young Tomkinson is sent off to St. Trinian’s-style school, where his survival skills are put to the test. The school is filled with eccentric teachers, dangerous initiation rituals, and bizarre challenges.
Critique: “Tomkinson’s Schooldays” serves as a hilarious parody of classic British boarding school tales. Michael Palin’s portrayal of the naive and ill-fated Tomkinson is both endearing and comically tragic. The episode cleverly mocks the absurdities of the English public school system while maintaining a sense of nostalgia for the genre it satirizes.
The Testing of Eric Olthwaite
Date: September 14, 1976
Synopsis: Eric Olthwaite is a young man obsessed with the most mundane achievements. His life revolves around building the smallest dry stone wall and boasting about it. When he’s called to serve in World War I, he finds himself in a series of ridiculous and uninspiring situations.
Critique: This episode is a masterclass in absurdist humor. Eric’s obsession with utterly trivial accomplishments is taken to extremes, highlighting the absurdity of misplaced priorities. The juxtaposition of Eric’s mundane life with the epic scale of World War I creates a darkly comedic commentary on the futility of war.
Escape from Stalag Luft 112B
Date: September 21, 1976
Synopsis: Squadron leader Roger Bartlesham is the only British officer held in a German prisoner-of-war camp. However, his fellow inmates are far from what he expected. They are more concerned with theater productions and escape plans that are hilariously inept.
Critique: “Escape from Stalag Luft 112B” offers a brilliant send-up of classic WWII prison camp dramas. Michael Palin’s portrayal of the perpetually optimistic Bartlesham is a highlight. The episode uses humor to undermine the seriousness of war, emphasizing the importance of camaraderie and creativity in the face of adversity.
Murder at Moorstones Manor
Date: September 28, 1976
Synopsis: Lord Oliver Pratt inherits a haunted mansion and invites guests for a weekend hunting party. However, the guests’ enthusiasm wanes when they realize that the “hunts” involve supernatural creatures and not traditional game.
Critique: This episode blends horror and humor to create a delightful parody of Gothic literature. The atmospheric setting and eccentric characters contribute to the eerie ambiance. “Murder at Moorstones Manor” humorously highlights the absurdity of upper-class pursuits while paying homage to classic ghost stories.
Across the Andes by Frog
Date: October 5, 1976
Synopsis: Adventurer Bindloss sets out on a perilous journey to cross the Andes, but instead of using conventional means, he decides to do it with a giant, mechanical frog. His quest is filled with absurd obstacles and challenges.
Critique: “Across the Andes by Frog” is a whimsical adventure that showcases the absurdity of Victorian-era exploration. The use of a giant frog as the means of transportation is a surreal touch, and Palin’s portrayal of Bindloss as a fearless but utterly clueless explorer adds to the comedy. The episode is a playful critique of colonial-era adventurers’ eccentricities.
Series 2 – 1979
The Curse of the Claw
Date: October 17, 1979
Synopsis: Two brothers, battling for their inheritance, go on a journey to uncover a family curse that involves a mysterious claw. Their quest takes them deep into the jungle, where they encounter dangers and strange creatures.
Critique: This episode is a rollicking adventure filled with jungle perils and familial rivalry. Michael Palin plays both brothers, showcasing his versatility. “The Curse of the Claw” humorously mocks the tropes of adventure tales while delivering a satisfying and absurd conclusion.
Whinfrey’s Last Case
Date: October 24, 1979
Synopsis: Detective Whinfrey is on the case of the mysterious disappearance of Britain’s lighthouse keepers. His investigation leads him to a remote island where he faces eccentric inhabitants and a baffling puzzle.
Critique: “Whinfrey’s Last Case” is a delightful detective parody, blending elements of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with the supernatural. The absurdity of the case and the eccentric characters add layers of humor to the mystery. Palin’s portrayal of Whinfrey as an unflappable detective is a comedic triumph.
Date: October 31, 1979
Synopsis: Gordon Ottershaw is a mediocre athlete who becomes obsessed with winning at the British Golden Games. His ruthless pursuit of victory leads to hilarious and unexpected consequences.
Critique: “Golden Gordon” offers a satirical take on the British obsession with sportsmanship and fair play. Palin’s portrayal of the single-minded Gordon is both comical and sympathetic. The episode cleverly critiques the culture of competitiveness and the lengths people will go to achieve success.
Roger of the Raj
Date: November 7, 1979
Synopsis: Roger Bartlesham, now a civil servant in British India, becomes embroiled in a series of absurd adventures. He encounters scheming colleagues, a bizarre cult, and a vengeful deity.
Critique: “Roger of the Raj” takes on the colonial adventure genre with wit and humor. The absurdity of Bartlesham’s predicaments and the eccentric characters he encounters make for a memorable episode. It’s a clever commentary on British colonialism and its often misguided attempts to impose Western values.
“Ripping Yarns” is a testament to the creativity and comedic genius of Michael Palin and Terry Jones. Its ability to seamlessly weave adventure, humor, and satire into a single, cohesive narrative is a testament to the enduring appeal of classic British storytelling. While the series may not be as widely recognized as some of its contemporaries, it has earned a special place in the hearts of those who appreciate its unique brand of humor and its affectionate tribute to the adventure fiction of yesteryear. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching “Ripping Yarns” yet, it’s a journey well worth embarking upon.