Joe Hunter: Crieff, November 2021
Monty Python’s Flying Circus is of course a benchmark for comedy and an example of 70s television at its finest.
A collective that spawned countless TV and cinematic moments of gold and inspired endless playground retellings and re-enactments… from ‘The Ministry of Funny Walks’ to ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’.
John Cleese and Fawlty Towers apart however, the rest of the Python’s solo work tends to fly under the radar.
In comparison, it’s similar in many ways to the Beatles solo projects, which rarely got the appreciation they deserved…. step forward ‘All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison.
Take Eric Idle’s excellent Rutland Weekend Television, although it hatched the excellent Beatles parody – The Ruttles, it was cut short after two series and was never truly appreciated in the UK.
Likewise, Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and Terry Jones was restricted to 8 episodes after the initial pilot… the hilarious ‘Tomkinson’s Schooldays’.
If you’ve never seen it, Ripping Yarns was a shameless parody of British culture. To be fair it could be a bit hit or miss, but when it hit the sweet-spot it was as funny as anything that’s ever been on TV.
There were nine 30 minute episodes presented in the style of Boys Own adventure stories, set in an era when all a chap needed was a stiff upper lip and a healthy dash of derring-do.
The series was tucked away on BBC2 at 9pm on a Friday night but once discovered, it became an essential part of my weekend.
In 1977, Joanna’s Night Club in Glasgow was my Friday night destination of choice, so as part of my weekly ritual I’d get spruced up, go round to my partner in crime Paul Fitzpatrick’s house and we’d watch the latest episode of Ripping Yarns before heading into town, armed with quips from the show still in our head.
Quips I hasten to add that confused the hell out of anyone that hadn’t seen the show (about 99.9% of the population), but would amuse the hell out of us.
My brothers George and David were also big fans of the show and we used to have some very surreal conversations in front of our bemused parents about Spear & Jackson shovels and black pudding (in Yorkshire accents) – as an homage to our favourite episode, ‘The Testing of Eric Olthwaite“.
There are too many great comedy moments in this 28 minute masterpiece, to break down, but the opening 3 minute sequence (below), will give you a taste.
A Yorkshire banker, Eric was sooo boring that his Father pretended to be French to avoid talking to him whilst his mother would feign bilious attacks or even death.
Heartbreakingly, Eric’s family run away from home to avoid further contact with him, he was just that tedious.
A confused and devastated Eric can’t understand why people find him so dull and you can feel his pain as he protests in his thick Yorkshire accent….
“It were hard to accept I were boring. Especially with my interest in rainfall”
Eric’s obsession with precipitation and shovels drive his family to distraction and ensure he’s friendless but like all good tales there’s a twist… if you’re interested to find out what it is, you can catch the full episode below and become like me… a fully paid-up member of the Ripping Yarns fan club.