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Ripping Yarns

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Michael Palin

No. of episodes

Original network

Final episode date
24 October 1979



Country of origin
United Kingdom

Running time
~30 min

First episode date
7 January 1976


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Created by
Michael Palin, Terry Jones

Michael Palin, John Cleese

Program creators
Michael Palin, Terry Jones

Full Circle with Michael P, Brazil with Michael Palin, Michael Palin's New Euro, Michael Palin's Hemingw, Sahara with Michael P

Comedy connections ripping yarns 1 4

Ripping Yarns is a British television comedy series. It was written by Michael Palin and Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. It was transmitted on BBC 2. Following an initial pilot episode in January 1976, it ran for two series — six episodes in October 1977 and three episodes in October 1979. Each episode had a different setting and characters, each looking at a different aspect of British culture and parodying pre-World War II literature aimed at schoolboys. In the title, "ripping" is a chiefly British slang meaning "excellent" or "fine", and "yarn" is a colloquialism for 'story'.


Comedy connections ripping yarns 3 4

Pilot episode

In 1975, the BBC commissioned a pilot episode from Palin and Jones, envisaged to be a light entertainment comedy piece. The result was Tomkinson's Schooldays (a title loosely inspired by Tom Brown's Schooldays, and suggested by BBC director Terry Hughes). Palin and Jones both wrote and starred in multiple roles.


The nine episodes and their original airdates are:

First series
  1. "Tomkinson's Schooldays" – 7 January 1976
  2. "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite" – 27 September 1977
  3. "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B" – 4 October 1977
  4. "Murder at Moorstones Manor" – 11 October 1977
  5. "Across the Andes by Frog" – 18 October 1977
  6. "The Curse of the Claw" – 25 October 1977
Second series
  1. "Whinfrey's Last Case" – 10 October 1979
  2. "Golden Gordon" – 17 October 1979
  3. "Roger of the Raj" – 24 October 1979

Production details

Tomkinson's Schooldays was shot on videotape with filmed exterior scenes. The remaining episodes were all shot on film. They were also originally shown with laugh tracks, but with a couple of exceptions these have been omitted from reruns.

The series was repeated on BBC4 commencing with Tomkinson's Schooldays on 3 April 2014. This broadcast included a laugh track. The first episode was preceded by a documentary, Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns, which examined the assumptions and outlook of the original boys' magazines of which Ripping Yarns were a parody. Both Palin and Jones contributed to the programme.

The theme tune for the series was Fanfare from the Facade Suite No 2', by Sir William Walton, played by the City of Birmingham Orchestra, conducted by Louis Frémaux.


Terry Hughes directed most of the episodes, and would later direct The Two Ronnies, The Golden Girls and 3rd Rock from the Sun. Others were the responsibility of Jim Franklin, known for The Goodies, and two episodes in the second series were directed by Alan J. W. Bell, also known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Last of the Summer Wine. Bell used Michael Radford who later became noted for the films Nineteen Eighty-Four, White Mischief and Il Postino.


Each episode featured, apart from Palin, well-known guest actors including Ian Ogilvy, Kenneth Colley, Liz Smith, Roy Kinnear, Frank Middlemass, Iain Cuthbertson, John Le Mesurier, Jan Francis, Denholm Elliott, Harold Innocent, Richard Vernon, Joan Sanderson and David Griffin.


The series was nominated for a BAFTA award in 1978 for 'Best Film Cameraman' (Peter Hall) and won in 1980 for 'Best Light Entertainment Programme/Series'. Although not as well received as John Cleese's Fawlty Towers, Ripping Yarns has developed a cult status since the beginning of the twenty-first century.


The scripts were published in book form, with sepia-tinted stills, as Ripping Yarns (1978; ISBN 0-413-46250-1) and More Ripping Yarns (1980; ISBN 0-413-47530-1), and later collected in an omnibus volume, The Complete Ripping Yarns (1999; ISBN 0-413-77360-4).

Across the Andes by Frog originally appeared in Bert Fegg's Nasty Book for Boys and Girls, co-authored by Palin and Jones.

Video and DVD

The series was released on three VHS tapes in the UK in the 1980s. Two of these compilations were reissued by Revelation Films on Region 0 (worldwide) DVD in 2000, though the six episodes included were not remastered.

The fully restored series was released in October 2004 as The Complete Ripping Yarns. This 2-disc Region 2 DVD set included commentaries on all nine episodes by Palin and Jones and a deleted scene (without soundtrack) from Murder at Moorstones Manor. All of the episodes, except Tomkinson's Schooldays and Murder at Moorstones Manor, have optional laugh-free soundtracks.

The DVD set also includes the only surviving (and rather poor quality) recording of Palin and Jones's comic BBC play Secrets from 1973, as well as a documentary by Michael Palin entitled Comic Roots in which he goes back to visit his home town. Not linked in the menu are scans of the first drafts of the scripts for six episodes (Tomkinson's Schooldays, The Testing of Eric Olthwaite, Murder at Moorstone Manor, Across the Andes by Frog, The Curse of the Claw, and Whinfrey's Last Case), type-written with Palin's handwritten comments and changes in the margin. There is an informative booklet enclosed, written by Andrew Pixley.

This set also saw release in Region 1 with all of the above included, apart from Secrets.

A further box set, fully remastered, including the directors commentary, was released in 2004.

The DVD was re-released in March 2012. To publicize the event, Network DVD hosted a "Hopathon" to recreate the "Tomkinson's School Days" episode. The intention was to break a Guinness World Record; but not enough people took part..


Ripping Yarns Wikipedia