Belfast Telegraph

It's history...but not as we know it

By Linda Stewart

The dirty, the disgusting and the downright dangerous — what is it about Horrible Histories that we love so much?

We’re predicting that the free Horrible Histories posters we are giving away all next week will become much sought-after items — such is the runaway phenomenon that the series has become.

Since the book series by Terry Deary was picked up by the BBC, viewers have been treated to an Eminem-style take-off about Charles II, a Victorian Dragon’s Den and some horrific insights into the Aztecs.

We’ve learned about the most disgusting way to attack a castle, a meat and no veg diet advertised by Henry VIII and how a German submarine captain had the worst toilet accident in history.

Before the CBBC series even aired in 2009, the BBC promised it would be stuffed full of “blood, battles and black humour”, while also giving children some of the great facts and stories of history.

Explaining how he came up with the concept, Mr Deary told the Belfast Telegraph how he discovered an “amazing secret” 20 years ago. “I found that children love hearing about the dirty, the dangerous, the disgusting, the crazy and the cruel things that people used to do to one another,” he said. “They want to learn about the foul food, the terrible toilets and the torturing teachers. They even love my jokes that are older than Queen Victoria’s granny. Who’d have thought it?”

Mr Deary reveals that the BBC proved “very adventurous”, asking for a sketch format written by adult comedy writers and adding: “We really like it, but we feel the poo quotient needs to be higher.”

And since the Pythonesque show first aired on CBBC, it has been a huge hit, winning a string of awards. It even became the first children’s programme to win best sketch at the Comedy Awards.

Belfast father-of-one Thomas Stewart explained why Horrible Histories has such appeal.

“Kids are finding out something they aren’t supposed to know, things they would get shouted at for if they did it in the house,” he said. “Children love anything they think they aren’t supposed to be doing. You have the narrator standing in front of a weather map doing the War of the Roses in the style of Jon Snow and it always ends up with somebody being shot.”

Another Belfast dad picks the Eminem-style Charles II song as a highlight: “It’s history pitched at children in a Pythonesque way that adults can also enjoy. My youngster has learned a lot.”

Fascinating facts ...

Awful Egyptians

Did you know ... Cleopatra took the throne when she was about 17 years old in 51BC. She then married her brother, Ptolemy XIII, who was about 12.

Did you know ... In Victorian England people flocked to see a mummy being unwrapped! Refreshments were served after the ‘performance', just as if it were a theatre show.

Rotten Romans

Did you know ... The Romans enjoyed their circuses. But they weren't the sort of family day out we have at the circus today. No clowns, no jugglers, no tightrope walkers. But lots of violence, blood and death.

Measly Middle Ages

Did you know ... Many of the Anglo-Saxons believed that a child born on a Friday would have a miserable life — so they spared them the unhappiness by killing them when they were born!

Did you know ... Paper was expensive and hard to make in the Middle Ages. No one would use it for toilet paper. Instead you'd use a bit of straw or moss. Posh people might use a damp cloth.

Terrible Tudors

Did you know ... Henry VIII looks very fat in his portraits. But as well as having an over-fed body, his clothes were thick with padding — at least it kept him warm in his draughty castles.

Did you know ... In Tudor times only one person in 10 lived to the age of 40. Many died in childhood — the first year was the most dangerous of your life.

Perilous Pirates

True or false

Pirates had wooden legs and eye patches. Aye Jim Lad! Cannon shots could mangle legs and smash faces. A saw would take off a crushed leg and there was always wood to make a stump — if stinking gangrene in the wound didn't kill you first.

Pirates made enemies walk the plank. Never me hearties. If pirates wanted enemies dead they just chopped them to pieces and fed them to the sharks.


Free Horrible Histories Posters - with your Belfast Telegraph 4th-8th March


From Belfast Telegraph