The seventh episode of Ripping Yarns, the series of splendid adventures set in the early 1900s created by Terry Jones and Michael Palin; and first of the second series. "Whinfrey's Last Case" was first aired on 10th October 1979, and featured Palin as Gerald Whinfrey.

England, 1913. In the War Office in Whitehall the chiefs of staff are discussing rumours that the Germans are up to something almost unthinkable: trying to start the war a year early. Indeed, they might already have started hostilities without letting the British know. This disturbing possibility might jeopardise their chances of having a proper war against the Germans ever again. To counter this, they resolve to ask Gerald Whinfrey to look into it.

At his Club the next day, Whinfrey politely turns down the admirals and generals. He needs a holiday, he tells them. In the last four months he's ended the Balkan Wars, annexed two new colonies, started an insurrection in Brazil, and sold submarines to France. So now he's going off fishing, and to enjoy himself for a little while in a village on the coast of Cornwall.

Something strange is happening in the village of Torpoint. The railway station is deserted, except for an oddly starchy porter who tells him he's got off at the wrong place, then disappears. The local pub also seems deserted. Then he is served by a tiny old lady, who does not reach above the counter. She tells him that his rented home, Smuggler's Cottage, is terribly dangerous to get to. The high treacherous cliff road is only accessible by the village taxi, which she drives. As she rattles blindly along the road she tells him of previous inhabitants of the cottage.

"It was at Smuggler's Cottage that a young retired vicar went mad... chopped his wife into six hundred and eighty-two pieces. Bits of her were found in people's shoes for years afterwards... Twenty years after that another retired vicar bought it. He used to organise knitting circles -- 'Balaclavas for the Boer War' he called it. But not one of the old ladies ever came back from one of those knitting circles. Years later they were found embedded in the --" (Whinfrey interrupts her as they almost plunge off the cliff, and they wrench it back onto the road.) "Well, a year ago a retired bishop took the cottage over. He had a huge cheese grater..."

Because of the remoteness of the place he had expected to fend for himself; so he is surprised to be greeted at the cottage door by a housekeeper, Mrs Otway, a stiff and forbidding woman. And her assistant, Mrs Partington. And the head steward, Mr Carne, already met as the porter. And a butler, two assistant butlers, boot boy, ostler, master of the bedchamber, bedmakers, under assistant bedboy, cook, kitchen boys, and so on. He is escorted by an entourage of these up to his room.

The next morning he notices an army of seventy or eighty gardeners drilling under his window. Mr Girton, master of the bedchamber, assures him this is normal innocent Cornish hospitality, removes his clothes, locks him in, and plots with Mrs Otway that Whinfrey must not be allowed out. Whinfrey at first despairs of escaping, then remembers he is in smuggling country. He finds a total of twenty-three different secret passages out of the room, and flees pursued by Otway and Girton.

He makes his way to the pub, and when he enters the Bavarian drinking-songs cease abruptly. It is full of stout, honest Cornish fisher-folk. One of them who speaks English uneasily introduces the rest as, er, Eddie, and Tony, and another Tony, and er, Eddie, and another Eddie...

As he starts explaining his adventure to them, the Smuggler's Cottage head staff burst in and introduce themselves by their real German names, and explaining their cunning plan: gradually infiltrating Britain with crack squads of nannies, vicars, shepherds, cockneys, village idiots, judges. And they would have succeeded if the great Gerald Whinfrey hadn't intervened and caught them. With admiration they thank him, and the chiefs of staff turn up to arrest them all and to thank him for saving the country again.

< The Curse of the Claw -- Ripping Yarns -- Golden Gordon >

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