Lose your head with Horrible Histories

I’ve always loved history.

I don’t understand people who aren’t interested in history. How can you grasp why our world today is how it is without knowing what happened to shape it? Without knowing what happened before, how can you prevent it happening again?

I love the CBBC show Horrible Histories. It’s a huge hit amongst children. It has been said that its success is due to acknowledging that children love gore, death, poo and blood – and the show has all these things in spades. Children are learning about history without even realising it – which is surely the best way.

Author Terry Deary has recently announced he is calling time on his children’s books, choosing to instead focus on gory historical books targeted at adults. The positive result of this news is that adults who missed out on decent history lessons at school may take an interest. Let’s hope they’re as entertaining as the children’s versions.

Since a young age, my interest in history was spurred by the gruesome moments. My Nan is also a history buff and loved all the spooky stories of people being walled up alive, or interested to see where the hanging tree was in the grounds of a stately home.

My wonderful A level history teacher, Mr Hall, stoked the fires of this interest by regaling us with macabre stories. Mr Hall was responsible for teaching us about the Tudors and Stuarts – full of gory moments as anyone who has every watched any film or TV programme about the period will know. As a teacher, Mr Hall had the gift of bringing the lesson to life and was full of anecdotes about the long-dead people we were studying.

During one lesson, he took great pleasure in telling the class, in great detail, how one might go about the process of hanging, drawing and quartering. This was in the lesson immediately before the lunch break; my fellow classmates and I really didn’t feel very hungry after that!

My interest in the morbid side of history extends to historical books and films. I recently read Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, a great tome of a book about Robespierre and the time leading to the French Revolution. There were lots of scenes of people visiting le guillotine, naturellement.

Mantel also wrote Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which I can recommend. They’re about Thomas Cromwell, his involvement in the Reformation and Anne Boleyn’s downfall. Besides being an excellent read that doesn’t patronise (she introduces characters and leaves you to figure out who they are within the historical context), they contain many scenes of burnings and beheadings. Great!

Talking of beheadings, a couple of years ago I went to see The Other Boleyn Girl at the cinema. The film was ok; as good as it can be with two Americans and an Australian playing the leading roles, anyway. At least the costumes were pretty. The book of the same name is waiting on my very tall ‘to read’ pile; I hope it follows tradition and is better than the film adaptation.

Anyway, after seeing a film, I often check out IMDB to see how fellow film lovers have rated the offering. There’s an active forum. One thread was called: ‘How was Anne executed?’. Readers with even the slightest grasp of Anne Boleyn’s story will think this was a blinking obvious question, but stay with me here.

A pedant for historical accuracy will note that Anne requested that Henry VIII send for a French swordsman to do the deed with her kneeling on the scaffold, rather than being dispatched by the more traditional English means of an axe on the block. Some films featuring Anne’s story execute her using the latter method.

One comment that had me in stitches read: “You could have put on a spoiler alert, now I know what happens at the end!” Yes, they seemed to be perfectly serious – they had no idea about the fate of the second of Henry VIII’s six wives.

This poster was pilloried with endings from other historical films: “Oooh, you’ll never guess what happens at the end of Titanic…” You get the picture.

It’s sad that people don’t take more of an interest in history. At least the gore, blood, death and poo of Horrible Histories are teaching the next generation about the history of the world they live in.

Oh, and by the way, while The Other Boleyn Girl is a bit rubbish, at least Anne had her head chopped off in the right way.

2 thoughts on “Lose your head with Horrible Histories

  1. JillJ says:

    🙂 Horrible Histories is a brilliantly inspired bit of television. I do hope writing for adults is done in a similar vein, to open this subject area up to a wider audience (me being one of them).


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