Horrible Histories Review: Will The Real Charles II Please Stand Up..


Last night my housemate drank several bottles of cider and ended up renting an entire Thunderbirds boxset. The week before another friend of mine admitted to me on the phone that she has watched every single episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch whilst on a six month work placement in France, and last month I spent a lot of my day procrastinating while watching reruns of a not-so-well-known Nickelodeon classic Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.

Why do we watch this crap? For a long time I thought that maybe it was something to do with nostalgia and watching the shows that we grew up with, but then I realised that apart from perhaps The Simpsons none of the kids shows that existed then are actually shown now. I only got into Ned’s Declassified when I accidentally sat on the remote during a Rhianna video where her voice kept continuously getting louder AND LOUDER.

Horrible Histories is a perfect example of this for two reasons; firstly, finding a Horrible Histories book still means losing an hour of your life for many people of my generation, and secondly, it is a show that has gained cult status with adults as well as children even though it is relatively new. What makes it so compelling to watch? Let me explain..

1. It never has to push beyond the edge of what is acceptable – In some comedies you are tempted to hold on to a piece of furniture, because you know that are being ‘taken for a ride’. We don’t need to really think of that many examples: Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights (as well as Frankie Boyle in general), The Day Today, Sing If You Can. These are all shows that might make you laugh but at the same time you end up having to ‘discuss it with others’, discuss about what it all means. For example, they review the whole of Charles II by singing his life story to the tune of Eminem’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’, THEY put Shakespeare on a Mastermind seat and interview him about all of the words he used to say in his plays and highlights the problem of child labour in a Barry Scott Cillit Bang-style commercial. Pure joy.

2. You get to learn about things you never normally publicly admit to not knowing – In school your memory can be occasionally fleeting. The only thing I truly remember from that GCSE Science is that you are only supposed to put your hand into a Bunsen burner when it is on the safety setting and not when it is burning blue. My knowledge in history is limited to the year 1066, then several things about the Middle Ages, then the Gunpowder Plot and lastly some Thatcherism. In a way then, it is quite nice watching a history show that ‘quietly’ informs you basic elements of modern history without making you feel that all adults should know it already.

In the first episode this Sunday night they manage to break down the entirety of the English Civil War into a three minute shell in front of a weather map. No intense detail of battles of scenes, no complicated narrative highlighting the political consequences, no Tony Robinson touching soil – just enough to get the grasp of what happened for any pub quiz or any trivial historical accusation against you.

3. It has got Steven Fry in it. And no Alan Davies.