I Reckon Horrible Histories is the funniest show on television right now, on any channel.
Originating in 2009, it’s now in its 4th series, plus a few seasonal specials, a Prom concert in the Royal Albert Hall, and a transfer from the CBBC children’s channel to the flagship BBC1. Based on Terry Deary’s books, the concept has spawned countless magazines, CDs and more. It’s also the only children’s programme to win a British Comedy Award.
The latest series launched to much fanfare (in our house at least) last week, and it is hilarious. I’ve been recording every episode so I can watch them when I get home from work. The only other TV show I consider recording is the excellent but altogether different US drama Homeland. And so I’ve been laughing out loud every evening this week. One episode contained possibly the best 12 minutes of comedy I’ve seen in ages.
Cash in The Abbey was a brilliant explanation of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries that parodied a daytime TV show, swiftly followed by Hide and Priest, depicting Priest Holes in the style of a game “that brings Protestants and Catholics together – only not in a good way”.
Then HH TV News ran a near-perfect explanation of the Ascent of Man with a manically excited (Peter Snow?!) reporter, Bob Hale. This ran straight into perhaps my favourite comedy song of all time.
If someone can find me a better-written, better-observed, better-performed, funnier and educational piece of television, I’ll eat my proverbial hat (unless it’s another HH show!).
The show evidently owes a great deal to Monty Python, and like its ex-stablemate on CBBC I’m Sorry I’ve Got No Head, it steadfastly does not treat its viewers like children. Jokes come thick and fast with all sorts of historical truths and complexities woven in, but at no point does it talk down to its viewers. It’s been criticised for a seemingly trivial approach that talks more about poo than history, but frankly, I Reckon that’s bol***ks. The Darwin song explains Natural Selection pretty well in under 3 minutes, and carries off a fabulous David Bowie pastiche at the same time. Their Kings & Queens song even panders to the rote-learning so favoured by certain politicians…
History is at the heart of every sketch and song, but that doesn’t stop the writing from being funny. The show switches between micro- and macro-themes, from the impact of poor Saxon diets on their poo to The Pilgrim Fathers’ settlements in The New World. They ape (adult) contemporary shows with nuanced parodies. This week alone, as well as Cash in The Abbey, Historical Apprentice pitted Team Neanderthal against Team Homo Sapiens, Mr Shouty Man fronted an advertorial for the Victorian Great Western Railway and Queen Elizabeth I was seen online dating and in Oh Yea! magazine. And I really like this old episode of Historical Wife Swap.
But I think it’s the songs that get me the most. Wonderfully written and performed, with fantastic references to the originals, most of which are of my generation rather than my daughters. There are loads of these all over Youtube, and you could spend a very happy time seeking them out. But for your delectation I’ve already done this, and here are a few of my favourites…
Dick Turpin – a truly dandy highwayman?
The Aztec Priests (nice teeth)
Spartan High School Musical
Spitfire Pilots – Take That, Hitler!
My Name is… Charles II
I Reckon you could do a lot worse than setting your recorder CBBC on Fridays at 5pm. I will be, and my evening will be more than a little bit happier, sunnier, sillier for it.