The Proper Gander column from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
“We’re girlies from the thirties; wash the dishes, scrub the floor.When all of a sudden our hubbies went to war.Did you think we’d shrink in England’s needy hour?You what? ‘Course not, ‘cos we’ve got girl power!”
Imagine that sung to the tune of a girl band’s hit single, and you’ve got a taste of the BBC’s Horrible Histories. The series gives snappy history lessons to kids, told through comedy sketches and pop song pastiches. So, Charles the Second raps about being the “king of bling … who brought back partying”, while “angry chick” Boudicca warns us “don’t dis this miss”. Palaeontology is explained through a Randy Newmanesque song, and Roman Emperors brag about their atrocities in a pastiche of Michael Jackson. Horrible Histories is just downright bizarre when compared to the po-faced way that history used to be taught to children.
The show was adapted from the hugely popular range of books of the same name, and the franchise has grown to include magazines, video games, live shows and even a proposed theme park. It might be churlish to criticise Horrible Histories when it has the laudable goal of making kids interested in history, and which does so in such a lively way. The imagination and energy behind the show can’t be praised enough. The only quibble would be that by focusing on our most colourful ancestors, it reinforces the ‘great man theory’ of history. For a show which aims to breathe new life into the subject, it’s a shame that it has such an outdated perspective. But that somehow doesn’t matter when you can hear Cleopatra sing “famous beauty coming at ya” in the style of Lady Gaga.