Horrible Histories

Posted: February 20, 2011 by josheppard in Telly
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

In a nutshell: History boiled down to the best bits in a blood-and-guts stew

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Horrible Histories was the surprise winner of Best Sketch Show at the British Comedy Awards this year. Yes. A children’s show, winning a comedy award. Isn’t that a bit like Dogtanian winning a Bafta for Best Drama? So, Horrible Histories has got to be brilliant, surely?

Well, kind of. Horrible Histories, a TV spin-off of a book series, aims to teach kids about history by emphasising the gross, the gory and the gruesome. Because let’s face it, those are the best bits. I, for instance, can remember nothing from my lessons on the Ancient Egyptians except that they used to prepare bodies for mummification by hooking the brains out through the nose, and that’s the kind of thing you’ll learn from Horrible Histories.

Arms are chopped off, disfiguring plagues are spread, monarchs are beheaded and barely an episode seems to pass without someone finding an excuse to do something weird with wee, all to great comic effect. There are moments when you’d have to be an eight year-old boy to really get it – I found the macabre sketches much funnier than the ones about snot and poo – but the scripts are sharp and the performers can’t be faulted.

The actual facts are sound, but presented, for the sake of comic effect, wildly out of context. So much so that the makers, unfortunately, feel the need to flash up cheery captions to remind us that “The Romans really did this!” and “This actually happened in the Middle Ages!”, the primary effect of which was to make me want to hold up my own sign saying “Stop patronising your audience!”

Which brings me to my only other niggle. You’ll get a couple of sketches on the Stone Age one minute, a song about the Tudors the next, and a talking rat popping up to tell a few gags the next, as TV producers like to imagine that kids today have the attention spans of gnats. But we’re doing children a disservice by not trusting them to stick with half an hour of sketches about a single era. Since we all know children can concentrate for long enough to clear eight levels of Call Of Duty, can’t we credit them not to get bored because the full 30 minutes of dismembering and puking happens to be about, say, the 1600s? There’s enough material in the Plague alone to keep most kids entranced with tales of rats, fleas and exploding groin-swellings for a week.

All in all, though, Horrible Histories is great fun. I’m not sure it quite warrants a Comedy Award, but having said that, it’s about forty times funnier than Miranda, and that won three. With that as the benchmark, the Horrible Histories team probably ought to expect an Emmy.

Reviewer: josheppard

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shirley Kernan, popcornbites. popcornbites said: Bleedin' orrible, ain't it? Our Horrible Histories review: http://t.co/8zZMM9r […]

  2. Sue says:

    And the songs are great – they’d be a welcome intrusion in the charts. The Four King Georges and The King of Bling make me very happy indeed (despite suspected innacuracy re which George actually died on the loo).

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