Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Horrible Histories - now a cult TV hit

If you know any school aged kids, you have probably heard of Horrible Histories. These are history books with a difference. Designed to enthral – this is history with the unusual, gory and unpleasant bits left in. Phenomenally successful, the series has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 31 languages.

In 2009, the BBC launched a children's TV series based on the books. Based on the insight that “when children go around stately homes all they ever want to know about is how the people went to the loo and how they diedit has quickly become a cult hit with kids and adults alike. And frankly, with sketches like the ‘The 4 Georges’ below, who could possibly resist?

More like an adult sketch show than usual children’s television fare, the creators have acknowledged that part of its success is based on the fact that kids “get that the tone is sophisticated and that it takes children seriously. It doesn't talk down to them."

But is it good history? The wide variety of sketches certainly raise questions of class, gender and power structures. Certainly, before kids can truly begin to question and examine history, they need to fall in love with it. Also - far from restricting the kind of discussions Horrible Histories can provoke, the use of satire is often intelligent and genuinely thought-provoking. Their sketch outlining the causes of World War One (with its comparisons to schoolyard politics) is a powerful representation of complexity and absurdity...

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