It’s true! William the Conqueror really did explode at his own funeral… see if you can find that on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Having full-on stormed the boundaries of children’s media and come out the other side still on the air, the show takes a moment to relax and enjoy the view…
In this episode:
Song: Sorry, true believers, it’ll be awhile yet before the music becomes mandatory. In the meantime, have some gratuitous shots at Simon Cowell.
Bob Hale — The Stone Age Report
Court of Historical Law — Anglo-Saxon Britain (Ethelred the Unready vs. a horse thief)
Fractured Fairy Tales — Goldilocks, the Saxon version (Wherein stealing gets you branded on the forehead & ears/hands cut off.)
Historical Hospital — Dr. Montague Fuzzlepeck: Master of Georgian medicaments
Pharaoh Phashion Magazine — Playing it cool in the desert, from your hair down to your… erm… let’s just say the depilatories must’ve been really impressive.
Mouse Fresh Max Toothpaste — No, of course they didn’t just stuff the mice in live! They cut them in half first! … Doesn’t really help, does it?
Louis XI and the Pig Piano (animated) — A bored French king demands a nifty new musical instrument, which turns out to be auto-squealing pork, which turns into the aforementioned Cowell riff. (…”Though even I’m not that old.” *oink!* “I’m not!”)
Measly Middle Ages
HHTV News: The Domesday Book — The conquering Normans survey their new holdings… and if this sample is anything to go by, were severely disappointed.(“How many chickens do you have?” “Fifteen.” *squawk! thud!* “Fourteen.”)
William I: Hurry Up and Bury Him — Royal funerals were a bit… different before TV. But arguably a lot more entertaining.
Caligula vs. Poseidon — The definition of a big problem: being the Emperor of Rome’s generals the day he decides to go to war with a god. (“BIGGER THAN MEEEE?!!”)
Savage Stone Age
Modern Stone Age Family (imagine spot) — Why Emily Post suggests your dinner guests should always be at the same evolutionary stage. (“Please, take a seat…wait, what are you doing?” “Ugg take seat!”)
Join the Georgian Navy — “Bravely defending Britain’s empire with some people we picked up off the floor in the local tavern.”
- Nope, no song — in case you were still wondering just how far they’d come in four series. At this point in the show’s evolution that particular lavish care was being expended instead on the animated bits. Not incomprehensible if you’ve ever seen the books — but clearly a decision made prior to (independently of?) taking a good look at the live cast, or for that matter, most of the live-action scripts.
- Because otherwise this is such a lovely romp of an episode — well, the (unusual) insistence on the realistically bloody maiming of cute li’l Goldilocks is a bit much, but other than that, just pure good times. None of the sketches are exactly insta-classics, but they’re all frankly hilarious, suggesting that the writers were rapidly becoming very comfortable indeed not only with the material, but in adapting it from the source to fit their own notions of *ahem* family entertainment. Besides all of which I’m so very grateful for an episode that isn’t actively trying to give me or my inner history nerd nightmares.
- Besides that… lots of Mat, and specifically, lots of Mat having a whole lot of fun, in a way that vividly illustrates why these people signed up for HH in the first place and have stayed all these years. Y’know, biases re: beauty aside, Mat’s not the best actor of the troupe per se — that would be Ben or Jim, depending on the requirements of the sketch — but as a clown he has something that were I a genre expert I suspect I’d be dubbing genius, and am certainly able to call intensely watchable.
- Rattus’ crack — the first of many similar — about Neanderthals being ‘your PE teacher’s relatives…’ I dunno. I mean, ragging on boring ol’school, integral part of the HH/Terry Deary/small children everywhere experience, I get it. That PE teachers are obviously far less respected and feared over there than here, a little odd (do you people not play dodgeball?), but OK. The thing is, though, as it turns out some of the cast actually are PE teacher relatives, or at least have relatives that are PE teachers. Do they have Thanksgiving in the UK? ‘Cos I’d imagine this is the sort of thing that’d make it weird.
- Trivia time: if you guessed that the first HH actor to get a full-frontal scene (with the relevant bits tastefully obscured of course!) would be Javone… well, hey, you’re in luck. He’s got nothing to be ashamed of — unlike the rest of the sketch, which is doing that thing the show always does to demonstrate historical beauty choices, ie. applying them like a toddler raiding Mummy’s makeup bag. This has always struck me as vaguely unfair, besides leading to things like Return of Museum Matron Sarah and [actress name to be inserted here on receipt] making like a low-rent KISS groupie. Something else I thought they didn’t have in the UK.
- Elsewhere, this episode features the debut of one Terry Deary, apparently just for a lark. I’m not the man’s biggest fan — there’s a point at which ‘loveable old curmudgeon’ becomes just plain ‘self-absorbed old crank’, and to my mind, if he hasn’t crossed it, he’s hovering dangerously on the verge — but hey, without him none of us would be here. And he gets all the respect besides for making himself actually useful and funny onscreen, not just standing around waiting for a medal.
- Also debuting here: Cartoon Simon Cowell (complete with lovingly delineated moobs — nice one, animators!) and the show’s inexplicable need to get all up in his grill wherever possible. Not exactly complaining, you understand; just a trifle bemused by the specific importance of it all, especially since his relevance over here is long since done. Does one of the writers have an embarrassing Pop Idol audition buried in his past somewhere? Does this mean that with suitable stimulus — financial or otherwise — we could displace that rage onto, say, Chris Brown getting whomped by a megabear?
- What a wonderful sketch Caligula vs. Poseidon is. Everything that inspires me to blog about HH, in one neat package. Whenever my warm fuzzy levels are off I watch it again, once for the pure funny — how did they all keep a straight face? — once to appreciate Simon’s advanced masterclass in comic crazy, and once to… well.. Mat. Um. Even if I’m pretty sure the Romans didn’t actually invent hairspray, and even if in terms of convincing armour-wearing he is still the charter founder of Skinnymandria. Shut up and watch he and Jim adorkably high-five each other, inner history nerd.
- The Domesday Book is another guaranteed gigglefest. Not so much in and of itself — although the gags are solid and expertly played — as for the implications in odd corners. I love that Martha gets a rare non-gender-specific role (and/or one in which she’s not stuck wearing hideous blouses — sorry, Sam). Then there’s Jim cutting up in the background — not saying he’s trying to mess with Mat, but it’s the perfect opportunity, and another fuzzy-inducing indication of how much fun they were having putting this thing together, even at that early date. (Is there a blooper reel attached to Series One? My *ahem* online copy doesn’t include one.)
- They’re also starting to get a more nuanced understanding of their leads’ strengths, as demonstrated by the Stone Age Family sketch — or, more accurately, by an expertly-cast Ben, Mat and Sarah fully rescuing same from what could’ve been a dreadful morass of overplayed cliches. And while I’m handing out individual laurels, let’s hear it for Larry the perpetual — and perpetually anonymous — patient in the Historical Hospital sketches, demonstrating his willingness to put up with anything for an onscreen laugh. Nice knowing now that he’ll be rewarded for it.
- You can tell this is very early days for the Bob Hale Report, as not only is ol’Bobsy still blond — incidentally, this side of the pond, that floppy ‘do is mostly associated with aging surfers in particular and males who’ve been refusing to grow up since 1995 in general, leading to delightful speculations on B.Hale: the College Years — but his catchphrases go by with barely a pause. Also, the fadeout isn’t to Sam but to Rattus, in what I think is the only direct interaction to date between he and the HHTV crew. When someone decides to work out the timey-wimey stuff of the HH universe — and yes, it’s the internet, of course someone will — I fully expect this to be a major plot point.
- In a similar vein, the actor ‘playing’ William I’s corpse doesn’t bear much resemblance to Simon’s later live-action take. Still, all hail Whatshisname and his amazing ability to remain dead throughout what’s essentially the Worst Extra Job Ever, including highly convincing-looking flames (and while I’m at it, huzzah to whomever convinced the owners of that gorgeous Great Hall to let it be set it on fire). Must make for quite the memorable resume in both cases.
- Not really a historical note per se, but I do love the mental image of baffled parents attempting to explain the ‘hair of the hound that first bit him’ to their wide-eyed darlings. Good one, show.
- OK, so, Egyptian hairdressing turns out to be a bit too ridiculous to be true. The provenance for those wax cones is limited to paintings — contemporary wigs don’t show a lot of residue — but it’s thought the idea if any was to melt perfume over your ‘do (picture a cross between hot oil treatments and aromatherapy), not just prance round with the cone stuck up there. In a desert-dwelling aristocracy, where, as the sketch does accurately indicate, the higher you climbed the more clothes you required, not smelling like old socks was a valued sign of status.
- The mouse-paste, however… sorry, animal lovers, that one’s golden: The mouse, which was considered to be protected by the sun and capable of fending off death, was often used by individuals with a toothache…applying half of the body of a dead mouse to the aching tooth while the body was still warm. (So why, I’d like to know, does Rattus not throw a tantrum as he will over later sketches featuring rats being threatened? Evidence of teeny little rodent apartheid?)
- Ordeal by cake, meanwhile, also totally a thing. In Anglo-Saxon, corsned: literally (and even more delightfully), the ‘bread and cheese’ ordeal. In real life, of course, since God was doing the judging they had to make sure this lump of dough was untainted by yeasty evil, so an exorcism was conducted… ie. totally featured a priest going all William Peter Blatty over, basically, kindergarten snack time. You may now close your eyes and appreciate that scene to the fullest.
- Back? Great. Just in time for a long and involved discussion in the YouTube comments on the genealogical controversies inherent in… WAIT NO STOP PUT DOWN THAT EYE-GOUGER. Seriously, no, even I’m not going back in there. Non-mouth-foam-intensive version: ‘Unready’ really refers not to poor old Aethelred, but to his advisers, pace Wiki: (“Unready” is a mistranslation of Old English unræd (meaning bad-counsel) —a twist on his name “Æthelred” (meaning noble-counsel). A better translation would be “ill-advised”. Also, there seems to be some problem with calling his uncle ‘Earl Harold Godwin’, whether he even was his uncle in the first place, and even more with his actually having taken the corsned. Horrible Histories: proudly reminding me that people really do care deeply about this stuff since 2009.
- Animal instruments along the lines shown here have a long and storied history, albeit mostly as novelty items — you ever spare a thought for the poor servant forced to clean that piggy piano, five minutes later? My personal favourite is the Katzenklavier (‘cat organ’), which if it existed would’ve been much the same thing, but it didn’t exist, because, hello, cats having their tails pulled, nobody wanted to get in front of that. Still: The instrument was recreated using squeaky toys… for a garden party held… in 2010 by Prince Charles [for charity].The tune Over the Rainbow was played and caused great amusement. To paraphrase Death: I love the British so much, sometimes. I do. I really do.
- Guess what: Caligula really did take on Poseidon, the Greek god, not Neptune, the Roman one. If he actually did take one a god at all, of course. Like all things Little Bootikins (check back to S01E04 for details), sources naturally differ widely on whether he fully believed in his divine war, or if it was merely a legend grown up around the symbolic gesture of marching to the sea (the details of the ‘battle’ will be covered in another sketch). But whatever it was, it was apparently happening against the Hellenic deity.
- Finally (boy this episode just keeps on giving, doesn’t it?)… Neanderthals: As it turns out, not really all that stupid. Not Rhodes Scholars or anything, but pretty darn good at being cavepeople, ie. able to independently evolve tools. It’s currently suspected that they may actually be an obsolete subspecies of Homo Sapiens… meaning Bored Yuppie Ben is probably sitting there chatting to his embarrassing cousins that nobody in the family really likes to talk about. Makes the sketch that much better, doesn’t it?