After Monty Python’s Flying Circus ended in 1974, the BBC wanted to find other avenues for their team of talented comedy writers and performers. One the first ideas, was a proposal for a Michael Palin series. Palin was keen to try something different, but was unwilling to take-on any planned project without his writing partner and fellow Python, Terry Jones. With an offer to make a pilot, the pair came up with Tomkinson’s Schooldays, a hilarious spoof on Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
Partially inspired by Palin’s own experiences at public school, the show starred Ian Ogilvy as the School Bully, Gwen Watford as Mummy, Jones as the Headmaster, the Bear and Mr Moodie, and Palin as Tomkinson and in a selection of other roles. The pilot proved a major hit, and led to a series of Ripping Yarns - each a brilliant single story episode, with an all-star supporting cast (including Denholm Elliott, Joan Sanderson, Roy Kinnear, and Judy Loe), covering such derring-do tales as bank robbers (The Testing of Eric Olthwaite), POWs (Escape from Stalag Luft 112b), Agatha Christie-type whodunnit (Murder at Moorstones Manor), stiff upper lip heroes (Across the Andes by Frog), and misadventure on the high seas (The Curse of the Claw).
A second season was commissioned, but only 3 episodes were made, as budget costs and a lack of nerve from the BBC unfortunately led to Ripping Yarns cancellation. This BBC documentary, directed by Maria Stewart for Comedy Connections, gives a fascinating and revealing insight into the making of one of British TV’s finest comedy shows.