The fifth episode of Ripping Yarns
, the series of splendid adventures set in the early 1900s created by Terry Jones
and Michael Palin
. "Across the Andes by Frog" was first aired on 18th October 1977, and featured Palin as the explorer Captain Snetterton, with Denholm Elliott
as Mr Gregory the vice-consul.
In 1927 the last corners of the world were being explored. Intrepid, adventurous men had conquered the Poles, had crossed the great deserts, were penetrating the deepest jungles and rivers. They had used sleds, aeroplanes, airships, anything that could get them to the inaccessible places they sought. One great challenge left was to prove that frogs could scale the highest mountains. One man, Captain Walter Snetterton, was convinced they could. He had studied frogs like a man obsessed, back in London, and now in May 1927 here he was in the Southern Cordillera of Peru seeking to make the final assault upon the Andes with his frogs.
He and his men arrive in the sleepy village of Quequeña, at the base of the brooding volcano El Misti. Up these treacherous slopes lies their route. They were expecting a proper reception befitting the dignity of a British military expedition, but there is only the sleazy vice-consul Mr Gregory, interrupted in some dirty carnal act, and a snoozing Peruvian native listening to the FA Cup Final between Cardiff and Arsenal on short-wave.
Snetterton wants action straight away. He wants guides ("Girl Guides?" Gregory asks, perking up), and right now, so that he can recce the approach before nightfall. Gregory explains that he won't get anyone while the Cup Final is on. And after that it's Wimbledon Fortnight. Snetterton is astonished that this could delay his great scientific expedition, but in the end all he can get is an old lady, and due to a translation problem she wants to supply him with giggling schoolgirls.
The village has quite an effect on his men. From time to time Snetterton keeps stumbling across his RSM or his corporal in the embrace of some dusky wench, and they want to give up the army, marry the Peruvian, and stay. Snetterton feels himself deserted -- and not just himself, for with all three of his men otherwise occupied, who's guarding the frogs?
The frogs have already caused trouble with the natives. They believe they are trapped spirits, and the volcano god is angry, which is why El Misti is rumbling, spitting out ash and small pieces of Silurian basalt. Mr Gregory warns the captain not to interfere with the customs of the natives, but Snetterton dismisses it as superstitious nonsense.
Now Snetterton rushes to check the frog boxes, but it's too late: all but the Himalayan Sleeping Frog are missing. Furiously, almost driven to madness, he orders the villagers at gunpoint to search for them. The last straw is when one of them switches on the wireless to hear Fred Perry playing at Wimbledon. Snetterton shoots the machine; then realises he has gone too far. Pursued by angry natives he takes the sole remaining frog, and sets out to cross the Southern Cordillera alone. He could not, of course, have made it, not with only a single frog. He had no chance.
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