Ted Palin - Ranmoor Tower Captain

  Among Ranmooor’s longest serving bell ringers was Ted Palin, father of Sheffield-born comedian, actor, writer and television presenter, Michael, now Sir Michael, Palin.

 Ted Palin rang at St John’s, Ranmoor between 1940 and 1970, serving as Steeple Keeper and becoming Tower Captain in 1964.

 The church and its bells meant a great deal to him – as a letter from son Michael to Ranmoor ringers, following a Quarter Peal, rung on the 40th anniversary of his father’s death, reveals:

Dear Ringers of Ranmoor,

It’s very good of you to remember my father’s 40th anniversary. I don’t think I ever knew he was a Tower Captain, but bellringing at Ranmoor was certainly a passion of his and one of his great pleasures. He subscribed to Ringing World and never missed the weekly practice. He was happy in the belfry and occasionally took me to watch the ringers at work. I can remember climbing the narrow staircase up the tower, hanging on for dear life. Once I’d clambered into the chamber it was like being in a lighthouse. I was in awe of the ringers who seemed to me like some secret society. I watched, wide-eyed, at first with apprehension, and then with some pride, as my father handled the power in one of the big bells, usually the Number 8, I think. It lifted him clean off the ground and at first I wasn’t sure if he’d ever come down again.
He was very happy to help younger ringers learn the skills of Bob Major and Grandsire Triples. Oddly enough I don’t remember him ever putting much pressure on me to learn, though I pulled a rope or two and quite enjoyed being swung in the air.
He would be very chuffed to be remembered for his ringing. The bells of Ranmoor were very special to him, and it gives me, and would have given him, enormous pleasure to know that a Quarter Peal might be rung in his memory, or indeed that he was remembered there at all.

All the very best


Overseas broadcast, Palm Sunday, 30th March 1947 70 years later
BBC Overseas broadcast, from Ranmoor
Palm Sunday, 30th March 1947,
J. W. Smithson, E. G. Dickens, E. M. Palin, H. E. Haynes

and 70 years later
Les Middleton, David Williams, Rev. Angela Lauener (on her leaving), Pauline Heath (rang in original tribute to Ted Palin), Nick Harrison

Ranmoor’s longest serving ringer, Pauline Heath, who rang in the Quarter Peal following Ted Palin’s death in 1977 and the commemoration 40 years on, remembers being taught to ring by Ted Pailin.

“I was 12 when I started ringing and Ted Palin was tower captain,” Pauline recalls.
“There was a certain standard of apparel in those days. They still rang in ties and waistcoats – and certain people always rang certain bells. I knew Ted Palin and his wife because they came to church. I liked him. He was a nice man, a quiet man, with a stammer. He showed me what to do. The learning process was widely different. You just had a few minutes on the fifth when they had a break. I did six weeks of just hand strokes. I just got 10 minutes during the practice, once a week.”

Michael Palin recalled Ranmoor and his father’s contribution to the church in a 2015 article for the Church Times
- Michael Palin my seven of the best

Many of my most potent early memories are associated with St John's, Ranmoor, at which I was a regular attendee throughout most of my childhood. My parents were both regular churchgoers, which in those days put them very much in the majority in our neighbourhood.

My father was a bell-ringer. St John's had a ten-bell peal. My father was also a keen chorister. The interior of the church was on a spectacular soaring scale; so, I can remember early filial pride as he sometimes led in the choir, his singing being completely unaffected by his serious stammer. And very occasionally he would be chosen to play the organ, which was particularly impressive.

I would go out after the Nunc Dimittis to Sunday school across the road at the vicarage.

On certain occasions, we could stay for the entire service, particularly when he had visiting speakers, my favourites being the missionaries: often bronzed, powerful men with wild hair who would grip the pulpit with one hand, the other having been lost at a mass baptism in the Limpopo. 

Among the milestones celebrated at St John's was my sister's wedding (I was an usher), and my first terrifying performance in public: reading one of the lessons at the Christmas carol service, at which I remember my knees wobbling like those of a new-born giraffe, as I stood before proud parents, sister, and some 250 Sheffield worthies.

Michael Palin’s memoires include other memories of his father:

Though I was born and brought up in Sheffield, my father was an East Anglian, the son of a doctor from Fakenham, and the two-week summer holiday provided the ideal chance for him to get back to the beloved county of his birth, and to the magnificent churches in the area. I can remember that barely had we unpacked than my father was off to see a church or three.

By all accounts, his engineer father could be something of a martinet as an intelligent Cambridge graduate who found himself in Sheffield as a civil engineer in a steel factory. He had a serious stammer, and felt that he never fulfilled his ambitions – he wanted to be a Church Organist. He spent a third of his salary to send Palin to the Shrewsbury public school he had attended and wasn't thrilled when his only son chose show business over a steady job.

He loved organ music and choirs and I think he missed out on that because his parents thought it was just the arts and he wouldn't make any money.

By the time the Pythons were making The Holy Grail, Ted had Parkinson's and he never got to see the film. Did he feel proud of his son's huge success in the end?

I think he was... quite pleased that I appeared in the Radio Times and things like that, but he never really got the Pythons at all. He was incredibly relieved that I was making money and wasn't dependent on him. That was his great fear. The thought of having to support me after paying for my schooling was unthinkable.

Friends describe Edward Moreton Palin as quite dour, a somewhat intimidating figure; a man whose frequent irritation was exacerbated or even caused by, his painful stammer.

I couldn't say that I was frightened of my father, but I never felt totally comfortable with him. Perhaps because of his stammer. When you just can't get the words out, it distances you.

Michael Palin would later draw on childhood memories to play Ken Pile, his speech-impaired character in A Fish Called Wanda, has, for almost 20 years, lent his considerable support to The Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children, based in central London.

He (Ted Palin) was always confronting people. Bus conductors, waitresses: he felt everyone was laying traps and should be treated with suspicion. There was always tension when he was around. I found it deeply embarrassing. That's why I hate rows and try to avoid confrontation.

•    E M Palin first appears in Ranmoor’s Tower Records on 16 Apr 1940 - two months before ringing was suspended for the duration of the Second World War, and was a member of the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers from 1940 to 1963.

•    He and his wife, Mary, retired to the village of Reydon, just outside Southwold in Suffolk in 1966 and died on 23 April 1977.

•    A Quarter Peal was rung at Ranmoor in his memory following his death, followed by a Quarter Peal of Grandsire Triples on St George’s Day 2017, 40 years after his death.

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