The sixth episode of Ripping Yarns
, the series of splendid adventures set in the early 1900s created by Terry Jones
and Michael Palin
. "The Curse of the Claw" was first aired on 25th October 1977, and featured Palin as Sir Kevin Orr and his Uncle Jack.
A wild and stormy night in 1926. Sir Kevin Orr looks out at the night, troubled, sad. He has much on his mind. He is dwelling on the past. He has some terrible secret burdening him, and has had for many years, and this night is the one that he has long feared.
He is startled by a knock on the door. Who could be out in this fearful storm? It's a Captain Merson, who is leading an expedition to the Naga Hills of Burma, and has a number of native bearers with him. This is slightly surprising, since they're still in the comfortable south-east English town of Maidenhead. Merson explains about the beastly complications they'd had missing trains. They've already lost three men... they went on to Bristol, and the worrying thing is that they're headhunters.
The tribesmen sense some terrible power in the house, on the mantelpiece, and begin doing savage dances of worship to it. Sir Kevin realises that, as he dreaded, his past has come to catch up with him. He begins to tell Captain Merson the whole ghastly tale. Flashback.
Born in Cheltenham in 1881, Kevin had a very very restrictive Victorian upbringing. His parents thought everything was sinful, and his mother was knitting completely black head-to-foot coverings for the human body. It was quiet and still in their garden. His sister had been imprisoned and left to starve for putting too much butter on her scone, and his brother had been killed for walking on the flower beds. Young Kevin dared not confess his growing interest in sweet, innocent Agatha next door.
Kevin's only outlet from this choking atmosphere was to visit his exciting Uncle Jack, who was absolutely filthy and caught every tropical disease known to man, and was proud of them. But Jack had a secret: one day as he approached his sixtieth birthday he confessed it to Kevin. He had taken a monstrous, sacred bird's claw from the Naga Hills of Burma, and there was a curse on it. It had to be returned to the Naga tribesmen to lift the curse. Kevin promised he would do his best, and on no account touch the horrid thing itself.
He runs away to sea and becomes the captain of a dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack trafficking between England and Burma. But he finds the sick curse of the claw is operating on him: he finds himself, to his horror, carnally attracted to the ship's petty officer. After some agonising they discover that the petty officer, and in fact almost all the other crew, are really women. (Back in those days such gender suppression was an easy mistake to make.) Their voyage becomes a paradise, and when they approach the coast of Burma the others don't want it to end. The petty officer throws the claw into the sea, and the ship immediately explodes.
Kevin, the only survivor, eventually makes it back to England. Thus he lived, having failed to end the curse, until that dreadful night when, his lovely wife Agatha now dead, the Naga tribesmen track him down. He sees his chance to return the claw, which has found him again. But it has one last terrible trick to play on them, continuing the horror.
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