Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns. Image shows from L to R: Michael Palin, Alexander Armstrong. Copyright: BBC.

Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns

BBC Four documentary. 1 episode in 2014. Features Alexander Armstrong, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Matthew Grenby, Dennis Butts, Kim Reynolds, Peter Wothers and others.

Press Clippings

A splendid job of skewering much of the white-man snobbery of what had gone before was done by the Python spin-off Ripping Yarns, which came a little later. And a very decent fist of that was made in Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns, an unabashedly loving tribute to the programme itself - and also to the inspiration behind it all, the Boy's Own Paper. Armstrong was the perfect presenter: and he, and Michael Palin and Terry Jones, showed, with nuance, that dreadful love-hate relationship between public-school lunacy, as evinced in the BOP and so successfully spoofed in Yarns, and the common good-humoured decency of the male race, as demonstrated by all three men. There was a certain wistfulness in Armstrong's tone as he read from RM Ballantyne: "Boys ought never to decline to climb a tree to pull fruit merely because there is a possibility of them falling off and breaking their necks." A rewatchable delight.

Euan Ferguson, The Guardian, 5th April 2014

Review: Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns

This could easily have been just a rehash of jingoistic values, without the mitigating Python silliness - and sometimes it was - but Real Ripping Yarns also provided a novel lens though which to view a major change in British culture.

Ellen E Jones, The Independent, 4th April 2014

Alexander Armstrong's Real Ripping Yarns (BBC Four), an exploration of the literature - boys' books and magazines, Boy's Own Paper etc - that inspired Michael Palin and Terry Jones's post-Python television project. By the amiable actor, comedian and presenter now inextricably linked with the word Pointless (I actually hear that sound - the frantic tinkly synthetic pizzicato ascending scale as the red bars disappear from 100 to zero - whenever I see his face).

It's a world of healthy outdoor living, risk-taking, British pluck, colonial heroes and derring-do; one in which hobbies were encouraged but onanism was a big no-nonanism (it leads to sickness, both physical and mental, of course). Most things could be sorted out by a good thrashing or an ice-cold bath.

What's nice about the programme is that as well as quite rightly ridiculing the BOP and the rest, AA is clearly also rather fond of them. It's celebratory too then, affectionate even. And so, in keeping with the original Ripping Yarns of Palin and Jones, who both feature here, basically everyone's tossing everyone else off, or would be if it wasn't such a sin.

Sam Wollaston, The Guardian, 4th April 2014

Radio Times review

The post-Flying Circus break-up is a bit like the Beatles' story. After the Pythons initially "disbanded", there was a flowering of individual creativity: Cleese went on to Fawlty Towers, Idle to the underrated Rutland Weekend Television, Gilliam to Time Bandits and beyond, and Palin and Jones to their majestic upending of the Boy's Own universe...

Ripping Yarns ran for just nine episodes from 1976-9 but is fondly remembered by those who enjoyed its arcane world of bullying cups, crusty colonials and crossing the Andes by frog. It was a very different kind of comedy, expensive, all made on film after the pilot and with top-notch guest stars.

Alexander Armstrong briefly takes off his Pointless hat to explore the preoccupations that the Yarns found ripe for ridicule - the rituals of boarding school, aggressive imperialism, and scarcely credible sporting heroics.

Michael Palin and Terry Jones themselves chip in with genial observation. While not shirking the more indigestible ingredients of Boy's Own Paper - the xenophobia in particular - it also celebrates their more laudable aspects in these risk-averse times. A spiffing wheeze indeed.

Mark Braxton, Radio Times, 3rd April 2014

Boys "ought never to decline to climb up a tree ... merely because there is a possibility of their falling off and breaking their necks". RM Ballantyne there, in his 1861 novel The Gorilla Hunters - the sort of stiff upper-lip stuff sent up by Michael Palin and Terry Jones in their 70s comedy Ripping Yarns. In this gleeful one-off, a perfectly-cast Alexander Armstrong explores that show's influences, from an era when boys were men, girls were nurses and the empire ruled the waves. Spiffing.

Ali Catterall, The Guardian, 3rd April 2014