Thursday, 17 June 2010

TV Gushings: Horrible Histories

I loved Horrible History books as a child. I was the precocious, question-asking type of child, the one hateful kid in class who had already been to the Maritime Museum before the school trip, and who actually held their hand up the highest in class to ask a rhetorical question. I really should have more physical scars.

Horrible Histories brought the world that I was interested in to life. Luckily I went to a fantastic primary school (Westgate CP, you were awesome) who let me make Terry Deary-inspired wall charts when we were doing about the Tudors while everybody else listed the many wives of Henry the Fatty and coloured in printoffs of the Globe theatre. Not that he'd appreciate this - Terry hates schools, and will never visit them. He thinks of teachers as lazy and ignorant, and prefers to help kids to learn on their own, feeling that their potential isn't met in a school environment. I wish he'd have seen my Year 4 class when the actor dressed as a Tudor sailor came to visit. He was set to join the navy for the Armada. He played cards with us. He made us talk in Tudor slang. It was and still is the most memorable lesson I ever had in school. Congratulations Miss Hamlyn!

Recently, Horrible Histories was given it's own TV show, which inevitably I groaned at, proclaiming it to be "...terrible, just like Tracy Beaker". How wrong I was. If you haven't seen it, Horrible Histories is a sketch show aimed at bright kids, throwing facts and interesting stuff at you in between semi-educational hilarious songs and skits. And a talking rat hosts it.

Deary co-writes the show, and with brilliant actors who aren't visibly ashamed to sing, dance and act like prats, and a whole load of excellent and catchy songs (soft rock Viking ballad "Literally" being my favourite) the entire programme feels like a project taken on by a group of friends who watched too much Monty Python when they should have been trying to grow moustaches and asking out girls. I love it. Strangely (or possibly not, when you think about the type of people who are writing it) Horrible Histories transcends the child audience like all kids shows should, and has gained a cult following among fun-loving adults everywhere.

The Times recently sang its praises, calling it a "boundary-pushing sketch show" and quoting a child saying the best thing ever: "Will Tillotson, 6½, thinks it is one of the best shows on television: “When King Charles I had his head chopped off and the blood went in everyone’s eyes, it was really funny.”" And why shouldn't it work? Having it's directors and writing team from backgrounds such as Green Wing, I'm Alan Partridge and Have I Got News For You, making this show surely couldn't have been a flop, even if they'd tried.

Try playing the "where have I seen them before?" game when you next see it. Jim Howick - he was Gerard in Peep Show. Ben Willbond - The Thick of It. Simon Farnaby? The Mighty Boosh, of course! Remember? He had a conker for a head? How could this show not be brilliant, with these sort of people at the helm? Kids love watching programmes that feel to old for them, I remember rushing home after swimming on a Friday to watch Blackadder, why should the children of today be any different?

Bearing in mind that Terry Deary has long been a hero of mine, I have decided to include his favourite song for the series for you all to enjoy. And here he is to sign you off:
"Katie, away from desk so sorry to be brief. Fave song from series 1 was The Plague Song. Haven't seen all of series 2, but The Cowboy Song if and when it appears is my actual fave. I Have to declare an interest. I wrote the plague one and I appear playing harmonica in cowboy one.
Cheers, Terry Deary."

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