The oft-repeated saying from Spanish philosopher George Santayana goes: “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” While I can’t really say is this statement is absolute truth, I can say this: the general compulsory educational system can making learning History a downright chore. Thank goodness, then, for Terry Deary, and Horrible Histories.
The series first existed as a book series, written by historian Terry Deary, to educate children about History without being too… school-y about it all. And – as most British “90’s kids” can tell you – they do succed at their aim. Filled with black comedy, the books are deeply entertaining, and oddly respectful of their audience even with the heavily informal tone. But we’re not here to discuss the books. See, the books were only the start of the franchise. There’s been stage plays, video games, a short lived (and relatively unsuccessful) animated series, and most recently? Horrible Histories became an award winning live-action comedy sketch show for the BBC.
This show exploded. And yeah, the over dramatic language is really necessary. You see, Horrible Histories, despite its brilliance, is aimed at children. Children’s comedy sketch shows, well, they’ve never really gained a reputation of being brilliant. The best way to explain Horrible Histories is that someone actually, oh I don’t know, realised children aren’t morons. Yeah, okay, maybe that’s a bit cruel, but considering how the state of children’s television had been in the few years previous to HH coming on to the scene, it can give you pause to wonder.
Filled with talented comedic performers, the humour is very Pythonesque in its tone, making it very appealing to those outside the target audience. It must be stated, though, this incarnation has always been aimed to be a family show. Part of what makes the humour ring so strongly is that everything in the show is true. All these events happened, they’re part of our history, so why not laugh at their stupidity? That’s not to say they treat everything with a heavy dose of (again, black) humour. There are very sobering moments in the series where – just for a moment – humour is dropped and the audience is reminded of just how horrible events were. Rule of thumb, this will generally come after sketches relating to either World War. In fact, the newest series has a fantastic example of it being done in a heart-warming manner, in their RAF song.
And that’s another aspect of the show which seems to appeal to all ages. The music. The first series had its songs be more of your sing along educational ditty, which were nice but – barring one stand out example in The Four Georges – just that, nice. From series two onwards, they followed in the footsteps of The Four Georges. The songs were now pastiches on musical genres – Boudicca as a punk rock girl, Charles II as a party-loving rapper, and George IV’s solo number was a slow, boy-band like ballad. This continued in the third series – Dick Turpin is not a dandy highwayman, but his song might make you think otherwise – and seems to be a continued stalwart of the fourth – Charles Darwin using a musical homage to David Bowie’s Changes!
And I find myself rambling again. I said this series is award winning. That’s right, it is. It’s won many awards, rightfully so, the most brilliant being Best Sketch Show at the British Comedy awards in both 2010 and 2011. Why is this so brilliant? It was the first ever children’s show to be recognised at the ceremony, that’s why! This was a fantastic step forward, it was a great honour, a moment that made people go “oh, hang on,” and pay attention. A recut version of the show hosted by Stephen Fry was even shown on Sundays on BBC 1!
If I was going to sum it up in any coherent, short way, it would be this: Horrible Histories is gory, and disgusting, and the name really fits it. Quite honestly? It’s what makes it brilliant, and a show that everyone should be watching.
And that’s 100% Accu-Rat.
(Bit of a History Geek, me. Also, I want a charity crossover with Doctor Who. MAKE IT HAPPEN, BBC!)
Editor’s Note: Links included in this post are not approved by the BBC, but we’ve included them to give you a bit more of a flavour of the show. No copyright infringements were intended. We also didn’t upload them, so thanks to those who did!