Ripping Yarns Revisited

Thu 21st November 2013 | Formby
By Ian Templeman

Formby's trip to Silsden at the end of October gave Squirrels' officials Adrian and Merrick Cork the chance to make a long-awaited pilgrimage to the site of a past football comedy gem.

Prior to heading to the Angel Telecom stadium for the game, the Formby duo headed for Keighley, and to a street in the town that was used in the filming of a 1970s television series, in order to recreate scenes from the show.

Merrick takes up the story.

"In the late 1970s Monty Python's Michael Palin and Terry Jones made a TV series called "Ripping Yarns". Lacking the acerbic edge of the other Python writers, it's a nonetheless gloriously daft satire on assorted bits of British culture from the early part of the 20th century.

It ran for two series of five and three episodes in October 1977 and October 1979, with each episode having a different setting and characters, each looking at a different aspect of British culture. Some drew on upper class archetypes, others on Palin's Yorkshire roots.

One episode, called 'Golden Gordon', follows Gordon Ottershaw, biggest fan of non-league Barnstoneworth United. Beyond the classic Python silliness, there are a lot of elements that'll make devotees of our sparsely supported end of the non-league game laugh out of recognition.

Despite the dreary rain and low attendances at games, 'Golden Gordon' paints a warm picture of the non-league fanatic, we laugh with him much more than at him.

It's set in 1935, and Barnstoneworth United haven't won a match in six years. After losing 8-1 to Brighouse ("and four of them from back passes to t'goalkeeper") Gordon goes to watch the midweek training where there are only four players and three pairs of shorts. As Gordon's son - Barnstoneworth United Ottershaw - recites the names of players from the great team of thirteen years ago, Gordon decides to reunite that squad and restore his club to glory.

The trip to Silsden on Saturday 26th October gave us the chance of a pilgrimage to the site of Michael Palin's non-league football comedy gem, because the house used for the Ottershaw family home is in Bronte Street in Keighley, barely a couple of miles from Silsden.

We knew from the Ripping Yarns box set that it was filmed in the Silsden area, including the ground at Saltaire and the house at Keighley. Barnstoneworth even play in Silsden's colours of red, black and white.

In a further similarity to the NWCFL, Barnstoneworth doesn't exist, but the episode was shot near the similarly named Barnoldswick. They play at the Sewage Works ground, and not only is Barnoldswick's ground next to a sewage works, their most vocal fans are the famous Sewer End.

I like it when going to the game is about more than teleporting in to the football, and I often take the time to potter round a town and have a crafty pint before the game. Part of the pleasure of away games is the travel, getting to really know the North, especially going to the Pennine towns with such striking scenery. It's a fabulous bit of the world.

As people may have seen from Adrian's recreation of a promo shot for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" for the Twitter page in our match programme, we have a bit of a thing for visiting places we recognise from films.

So, ahead of the Silsden game, we visited the Ottershaw family home. The then-and-now pictures are shown above. We'd meant to go last time we played Silsden but it got postponed, and the replay was a dark midweek evening that didn't readily lend itself to commemorative photography.

In recreating the picture, Gordon Ottershaw's bar scarf in Barstoneworth United/Silsden's red and white wasn't a problem, as Adrian was a season ticket holder at Anfield for 25 years and our family are Reds.

The Squirrels won 4-1, so it seems Gordon brought us luck, and we'd be well advised to visit the hallowed terrace before all future games at Silsden.

For anyone who isn't familiar with the episode in question, the blog "Kubrick on the Guillotine", which carries reviews, analysis and essays on cinema topics, says this of Golden Gordon's appeal:

"That many clubs have had their existence threatened like Barnstoneworth means that many football fans know what Gordon is going through or at least know someone who has. We’ve all turned up to games expecting to see our team get stuffed, we all cling to past glories like the comfort blankets that they are and we all get misty-eyed about the star striker who once scored with the back of his head from 25 yards.

"We feel Gordon’s pain, the frustration, the despair and when we see it completely transformed from despair into glory, we share his joy because we’ve all been there, all had our short to medium-term emotions controlled by eleven blokes on a field, our dreams dashed by uncaring businessmen and the horrible sense of futility when you realise that the team that has been foisted on you at an early age is not the greatest team the world has ever seen no matter how many times you sing it on the terraces.

"This is our lot in life as football fans. We are all Gordon Ottershaw.

"The film captures this beautifully and with good humour. It is ridiculous that we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the game – it makes no rational sense. We spend fortunes, days of our time and vast quantities of emotional energy for the slim hope of seeing a game like Barnstoneworth’s 8-1 demolition job on those upstarts from Denley Moor. It’s a funny, sad, yet sympathetic portrait of what it is to be a fan".

The pictures above show Adrian and Merrick outside the house used in the filming.

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