Monthly Archives: April 2013


I am a king! Reduced to the state of a bum!
…Don’t laugh at ‘bum’, Terry. It demeans us both.

In which we visit, if are not precisely amazed by, some of the more unique corners of the series to date… also, the fully amazing Cleopatra.

In this episode:

Song: Ra Ra Cleopatra — Martha as the legendary (Fashion) Queen of the Nile; Ben as Caesar and Mat as Mark Antony (Parody of: Lady Gaga, feat. Bad Romance)

Recurring sketches:

Stupid Deaths — Griffith ap Llewellyn (Escaped from the Tower of London on a rope of bedsheets… that turned out to be just ten metres too short. “You’re through to the afterlife… Ooh, hey — mind how you go, there’s a bit of a drop...”)

Historical Hospital — Dr Galen, Roman physician (“Hail patient!”)

Shouty Man — New! Criminal’s Head (“Cures just about anything!”* *except death)

Historical Wife Swap — Special Royal Edition: Louis XVII & Marie Antoinette vs. Mr & Mrs. French Peasant (“You don’t expect me to eat grass! Do you think I look like a cow?” “…Serious question?”)

Historical Fashion Fix — Pete the Tudor Peasant Joins the Aristocracy (“Are you ready, Pete?” “…no.” “Then let’s get started!”)

Bob Hale — The Pharaoh Report (“Then Tutankhamen’s daddy became a mummy, which is a very complex operation.”)


Measly Middle Ages

Nice Exile if You Can Get It — Deposed Scots King John Balliol is distraught over his imprisonment in the Tower with only his family… and his luxurious trappings… and his servants, and his musicians, and his freedom to hunt… “I mean, you wouldn’t keep an animal like this! It’s inhumane!” “Fruit, sire?” “Agh! I don’t like grapes!… You see what I mean?!”

Frightful First World War

But Where Are the British Forces?! — A well-deserved reminder that the combined Commonwealth corps also included… erm, based on the accents, somewhere close to something resembling Canada, Australia and South Africa. More or less.

Ladies’ Tights Beneath Your Kilt — Because you’re worth it… and they do seriously help prevent chemical warfare burns, also of course generalised chafing… and, when the ‘so that’s what’s under there!’ gags start, they did also assign you a gun.

Terrible Tudors

The Queen of Picky-Faces — In which the seventeenth-century equivalent of impressing your friend with the latest iPad equates to giving Elizabeth I a little teeny clock on a strapwhich seems enviably simpler, until you realise that next year she was probably demanding one that “didn’t keep stopping because of her weird body chemistry!”

Fashion Follies (animated) — Wearing platform shoes in manure-filled streets was an excellent way of keeping your clothes dry… but watching where you were going was even better.

Field Notes:

  • Being the lone woman in a six-member historical comedy troupe has its advantages — yes, ones besides being able to work with the five guys, although as Martha is only human I bet that does make for some really smug online browsing sessions. The ones I was thinking of just at the moment, though, have to do with ‘getting to be a pop star’, as  the lady herself once put it in an interview.
  • The thing is, while everyone gets a chance to sing, only Martha gets that chance in the context of a conscious spotlight on the fiercest icons of herstory. Meaning she’s about guaranteed a sassy, sexy musical character whose song is all about how incredibly awesome she is — and it will be real awesome, not the manufactured kind your actual pop stars rely on these days.
  • Excepting of course those few who are shrewd enough to work the system, so that the awesome is a carefully-judged mix of real charisma and deliberately cultivated legend… Why hello there, Pharaoh Cleopatra, who would undoubtedly have worn a dress made out of meat or anything else edible did she think it would thrust her further into the spotlight. This is what her song is about, basically: to convince us that being the Lady Gaga of the ancient world — with, OK, some bonus total vicious amorality — was enough to propel her right to the brink of ruling the known universe.
  • That she does, absolutely, tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this musical number — and about Martha’s musical instincts.The performance is the female equivalent of what Mat does to fuse Adam Ant with Dick Turpin, and combined with some seriously clever, witty songwriting it becomes one of my all-time favourites.
  • Besides that… well, there’s the whole special French Revolutionary Wife Swap thing… in which the show pulls the same $@#$^ stunt as they initially did with the Tudors and bases the comedy around the more convenient but much less accurate legend. I am disappoint. My one big chance to see Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette brought to life, by the people who’ve just so skilfully interpreted Cleopatra… and Charles II… and oh right, the Lady Jane Grey thingy, that probably should’ve been a clue not to get my hopes up too far.
  • Rant re: the historical is below (enter at your own risk) but up here I will just point out that this version of Versailles is kind of completely freaking missing the approximately fifty-seven billion courtiers, servants and random people who rented swords at the gate… many who would be even then peeing in stairwells… oh, and the dogs, can’t forget those. Versailles was basically Trafalgar Square without the pigeons, is what I’m saying here, and I can’t even actually rule out the pigeons.
  • While Alice is at least everything Marie Antoinette should be physically — love those big floaty picture hats! —  Ben’s altogether too… well, Ben to be the Louis who said of his wedding night “Oh, I always sleep well after a good supper.” Not to mention that it is really, really hard to take Mat seriously as a pitiful peasant, not to say angry revolutionary, when he’s using that particular accent. Sure, he gets full cred for that mouthful of presumably real grass, but it’s not quite the same thing.
  • The rest of the recurring bits are also something of a mixed bag. Death does some more noir bonding with the corpse (at least, I’m assuming that last ‘drop’ gag wasn’t a hidden crack about ending up in a hot place). It’s not quite as engaging this time, as it’s also a curious one-off experiment in hilighting the stupid consequences of the death, rather than the circumstances — live-action Looney Tunes. Which, while I can see where it’d be fun for the f/x team , it mostly just makes me glad the show’s visual style doesn’t generally borrow from the cartoon-filled books that closely.
  • Elsewhere, Shouty Man makes a valiant, if not rather desperate, attempt to recapture his Victorian glory days by gaily swinging a severed head around (“Is there nothing you can’t do?!” — yeah, don’t even ask). Let us just say that in the process another HH viewer milestone has been reached: we are now at the point where a bug-eyed little man relentlessly hawking a severed head is only as exciting as speculation re: whether it’s the same head that played Raleigh earlier can make it. That is, not very.
  • On the other hand, the Bob Hale report… LARRY I OFFICIALLY LOVE YOU MARRY ME. Seriously, if he’d done nothing else on this entire show, that crack about ‘daddy’ becoming ‘mummy’ is enough to earn his legend.
  • Lesson hopefully learned: our Bobsy is much better off when he sticks to wholly fact-based, quantifiable reports, wherein can roam free his trademark ability to make hilariously huge comedy capital out of small fiddly details… such as random incest… and his Nan’s birthday… yeah, OK, we can skip the wedding, but I definitely wouldn’t say no to a few drinks. Especially if there was a dancefloor nearby… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
  • I’m sort of torn re: the Fashion Fix bits; they’re definitely getting repetitious, but then again, the direction they’re getting repetitious in is… oh, hi Bob. And Bob. (So tell me again, how there’s a ton of evidence for Mat and Ben, and not for Mat and Jim…?) Suddenly it’s a Historical Hospital episode, and I am cool with this, because although the real HHospital bit here is decently clever as they go — the ‘did you hear anything?’ bit is a fully effective use of the Howick creepy-cuddly mojo — the overall idea by now could really use some freshening up. By mashing the two concepts together you get just about enough novelty to be going on with.
  • Meantime, Ben is off being… well, Scots again. It’s official, there’s something about that accent just brings out an entirely new — and not at all unappealing — side of our Benjamin. Sort of roughens up his edges a bit, in a way that’s almost… familiar. Y’know, I joked about this last ep, but quite seriously, put Scots Ben in a plaid flannel shirt, give him a snowmobile and he could totally star in a Molson’s beer commercial — those of you who have Canadian relatives, ask them how seriously we take our beer commercials…
  • … whaddaya mean, ‘what about the actual sketch’? I don’t recall a sketch being attached to this character, so much as a single joke being heroically stretched to sketch-length almost solely via his efforts (Mat’s are also fairly heroic, but somehow fall a bit flat, largely I think because his character really should’ve known all this already). Although there were some chuckle-worthily mournful skirling bagipes over Balliol’s big ‘heartfelt’ speech, I do remember that.
  • Ben of course will always come off best in the accent sweepstakes — which is not very, in this particularly hilarious-for-all-the-wrong-reasons WWI sketch, but then even the most accurately ersatz Australian does have that tendency to sound like a Paul Hogan movie of itself.
  • What’s most impressive — not to say a bit weird — to me is that Mat isn’t doing a particularly horrific job of the Quebecois accent. He gets all the props at least for recognising it as distinct from European French, and a few more for evidently having picked it up from somewhere other than Pierre the lumberjack on the late-night movie. Larry the South African, on the other hand… yeah, well, they hired him to write, not be a walking Berlitz.
  • OK, yeah, yeah, so more mondo Lawry. New silver lining: he’s not actually meant to be filling in for Simon, this time. Because I am totally OK with the not having to see Lawry’s legs in tights, thank you very much indeed.
  • It has always struck me as sort of weird that they cast Simon as Leicester. From the portrait, and the fact that he was in reality much closer to the Queen’s age — well, not to put too fine a point on it, but you’d think it the one Tudor role Mat was born to play. At any rate, I like the direction the Tudor sketches are headed; Blackadder-style funny redefined as a rather nicely subtle way of getting across the real-life court tensions.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Right! *cracks knuckles* Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The Wife Swap here is actually a weird admixture of obscurely accurate details and wildly obvious missteps.
  • For starters, popular legend aside — no she did not say ‘let them eat cake’, that was something Rousseau had vaguely attributed to another princess twenty years earlier — Marie Antoinette was personally a kind, generous, enormously charming woman who was actually very sympathetic to the poor… at least when their plight was brought immediately into her view, as ironically is the very point of this sketch. I spent the entire first viewing convinced she was about to adopt these two and set them up in her royal model peasant village, as would’ve most likely happened in real life.
  • And just incidentally, no she would never have casually self-identified as Austrian at this point, let alone to her subjects. She had been the Queen of France for nearly two decades, was the mother of the Children of France, and, although the Austrian imperial family never hesitated to make use of her in a diplomatic crisis, is on record at several points throughout her reign as considering herself a proud Frenchwoman — especially given her enemies used her foreign birth as one of their foremost weapons in the propaganda war.
  • Meantime, her husband. In comparison to his vivacious bride, yeah, he was a bit of an oaf. He was obese, rather slow on the uptake, and very shy, and his relentlessly plebian tastes — he loved to hang out with the workmen when the palace was being renovated, and his foremost hobby was making locks — were a source of constant exasperation to Antoinette. Like many socially-inept types, his sense of humour did tend toward the loud and broad. In addition to the trouser-dropping he would scamper around his dressing room eluding his valets, that kind of thing.
  • But none of it would ever have happened in a public place, and never in front of a woman — he was a lump, but he was by no means a stupid lump. In fact he was quite cultured, a devotee of philosopher David Hume among others, and likewise personally sympathetic to the plight of the poor. In fact, during one of the first assaults on Versailles during the revolution, he ended up charming the peoples’ representatives with his quite genuine empathy.
  • But hey, it’s not all bad news: the bonnets rouges, or ‘liberty caps’, totally a thing, as shown adopted by the revolutionaries as their distinguishing symbol. OK, in reality they were Phyrgian-style caps, and so really should’ve had a peak, but hey… I don’t want to get all anal about accuracy here. I mean.
  • Still, as long as I’ve got a good satisfying pedantic worked up anyway: Henry VIII certainly didn’t try to hide his girth, and if he had it wouldn’t have involved a ratty grey bedsheet.
  • In fact, quite characteristically, he did the absolute polar opposite: when he could no longer wow with his athletic physique (thanks in fact largely to a series of old sports injuries reducing his mobility), he simply swathed what eventually became a 50″+ waist with the richest possible fabrics, added as much fur and/or bling as he could cram on there and turned it into an opportunity to outshine everyone else with his Royal magnificence instead. (Oh, and the little hat to go with? Covering up the bald spots.)
  • Funnily enough, as I mentioned, the show’s take on Elizabethan politics is by contrast quite impressively accurate. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and William Cecil really didn’t get along all that well. As the queen’s pre-eminent advisor on matters of state, Cecil basically distrusted Leicester’s influence as her pre-eminent advisor on matters that sent the Queen veering dangerously close to open scandal on more than a few occasions. (That, and the Earl happened to be the son of the John Dudley who’d been executed a traitor after failing to put Jane Grey on the throne, so.)
  • Both, of course, were devoted to the lady in question, who in her turn was genuinely fond of both of them. She called Cecil her ‘Spirit’ (in honour of his tireless work alongside her for the good of the country) and Leicester her ‘Eyes’ (ie. he was as intimately precious to her as her sight).

Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Series Three


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Well, from the records I’ve been able to find — birth certificates, that sort of thing — there’s a very strong possibility that you are descended from royalty!
*….* Of course I’m descended from royalty! I’m King!
Oh, so you knew?

The show bounces back from a rather stolid outing on a trampoline made of 100% pure endearing. This right here is the episode you show your friends, when they wonder what’s up with you and snickering madly at children’s TV. Trust me.

In this episode:

Song: Work, Terrible Work! — Ben, Mat and Larry as Victorian factory owners; the children’s chorus as their tiniest employees. (Parody of: Food, Glorious Food! from the musical Oliver!)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Fashion Fix — Gilbert the Middle Ages Peasant Becomes a Noble… Illegally (“C’mere, peasant, I’m arrestin’ you!” “What for?!” “That outfit — it’s criminal!” “Oh, that’s weak…”)

DI Bones: Historical Crime Squad — Caligula and the Mystery Assassins (“Oh, mother! What kind of sick man would attack a priest with a hammer?!” “…You’re really not getting the hang of this, are you?”)

Computer Game: Arena Fighter — The good news for Roman criminals: they were given a chance to battle it out in the Roman arena. The bad news? …Yeah.

Dominic Duckworth: HHTV Investigates — The Age of Chivalry… Not! (“Augh! He hit me with a fish!”)

Stupid Deaths — Knights Templar (One drowned in a latrine pit, and… “He made such a noise, that he woke all the Saracens in the camp! They swiftly surrounded and killed us!” “I have said sorry for that, y’know.”)

Words We Get From the — Greeks, part 2

Historical Headmasters — Spartan (“What? Stealing?!… Well done, lad!”)

George IV: Who on Earth Are You? — Hint: not somebody who was overly fond of his ancestors. Any of them. (“In an unusual twist on what normally happens on this show, the King of England has taken our historian into St. George’s Chapel, to prod some of his dead relatives. It’s all gone a bit weird, really.”)


Slimy Stuarts

The Happy Highwayman –“So, to summarise: You’re a Royalist, you’re down on your luck, and you don’t actually have any money. So then! Guess there’s only one thing for it!… *click* *EEK!* “…Here’s a bag of gold coins to tide you over.”

A Mug for the Royal Mug — Charles II has a moment of visionary clarity and strikes a decisive blow against tacky monarchist tchotchkes, thus earning him the gratitude of generations of Commonwealth citizens… that, and he was really looking forward to that ruby-encrusted statue.

Measly Middle Ages

Leech Catching a-Go-Go — A professional leech-catcher from the Middle Ages demonstrates how it’s done… involuntarily. Several times. While trying to explain to a sceptical pal how great his job is. (“Well, I’ll tell you what, Geoff: I think it sucks! Ha!”)

Rotten Romans

Are They Dead Yet? — So you’ve lost your gladiatorial match, and you’re lying on the ground convinced that this could not possibly get any worse… Then the guy dressed as the god of death shows up wielding a red-hot poker, and you remember: you’re Roman.

Field Notes:

  • Hello! Now, how did I manage to miss this episode? I mean, I didn’t actually miss it, because it turns out to be a personal Greatest Hits collection of all the sketches whose memory makes me go ‘Yeah! Hee! I should so watch that one again… now, which episode was that?” I kid you not: somehow it has never subsequently clicked that the ‘That DI Bones one with Caligula!’ and ‘The one where Larry’s catching leeches!’ and ‘Wait, wasn’t there one where George IV actually starts pulling tombs around?!’ internal dialogues all have the same source.
  • And somehow I just forgot altogether that there was a Fashion Fix featuring Mat and Jim falling all over each other’s naked chests. I feel specially bad about this one — not only on account of my apparently incipient Alzheimer’s but because the boys are working SO HARD to make sure this sketch is not only memorable, but full-on makes it onto Tumblr. They’re tossing in every last bit of fan bait possible, up to and including sniffing… well, everything above the waist, really. And as far as I can tell, it didn’t work.
  • This is a total shame, even if you skip the innuendo-fest. It is just so cute, how even the uber-bitchy FF host (“Smelling salts for the star! And a skinny mocha!” — seriously, I think they skipped the script & just sent Mat to intern with Free People for a week) can’t resist Jim the Woobie, who is in turn pulling out all the stops here, to the point where he might as well be an Eeyore illustration.
  • Literally every moment is worthy of a .gif — they even throw punny Larry in there, presumably as a last-ditch sop to the Hale groupies — but nope, it’s Baybond that’s inevitably become the thing. Were I Jim, I think I might be mildly insulted by this.
  • The universe — or at least Larry, evident author of the leech-catching bit — has however seen fit to reward our Howick with a rare character that isn’t karma’s chew toy. In fact he actually gets to deliver the punchline, and you can tell he is so appreciating this to the full, because he looks way happier than any man should to be delivering a pun that abysmal.
  • Mind you, Larry is at the same time doing full penance for his sins, not only here but in the Stupid Death; thus definitively proving himself either the world’s best sport or its most benign masochist. Either way, the resulting air of wounded dignity shining through the goop is ridiculously funny, especially when combined with the ability to simulate being attacked by leeches. How you would phrase this on a performers’ CV I have no idea, but I do think it deserves at least a line.
  • Meanwhile Mat’s also off in odd corners being funny, with full emphasis on the ‘ridiculous’ (and even fuller emphasis on the ‘falling over’). In fact he’s so excited apparently to be playing Charles II again, I caught myself involuntarily muttering “Down, boy!” Although really, he has a point — to the extent that the credibility stretch actually messes with the mirth a bit. Y’know, the man goes around dressed like that, he has a right to assume his advisors know he’s OK with blatant overkill.
  • Also, those wigs; interestingly enough Mat turns out to be the only one who can wear them without looking like he’s being slowly devoured by the Lion costume from the Wizard of Oz. (While I’m on, the Baynton nonchalance re: plastic wings glued to his temples is also impressive. I’d be batting at them compulsively within seconds.) Ben has a much more understanding relationship with the stiff Cavalier hat from the highwayman bit – something about the way it’s bristling along with his indignation tickles me mightily.
  • Oh, look, somebody’s figured out a way to combine Lawry’s total inoffensiveness with his psychotic bastardness in one sketch! Now that is clever — charming, even, in a weird making-personable-lemonade-out-of-a-lemon-persona way. Especially since, I don’t know what it is about HH villain characters and their villainous note-taking, but every time they pull those little pieces of paper out – shades of Draco in the ‘Historical Law’ bit — I cannot stop giggling.
  • Between all this, and totally wanting that cape, I am almost reconciled to the realisation that the show is just going to keep bunging variations on the stick-insecty theme at me until I give in. I will even concede that, despite his mildly dopey name, Sir Francis Guesswork proves a (comedically) sophisticated foil to George IV, as well. It also gives Ben a break for once — that royal-advisor smug of his is fully amazing, but looks like it might get painful to maintain after awhile.
  • Characteristically, Lawry does an especially fine job of looking totally grossed out… come to think of it, those coffins would be nigh-irresistible to a prank-inclined props team. Really, that whole genealogy sketch is just… whatever I was saying about lazy writing last ep, forget it, OK? Just a deliriously perfect blend of characters, subject matter and sheer non-sequitur dark comedy that is like nothing the show has or will ever manage again — just brilliant.
  • This is another way you can tell that the comedy is now the confirmed priority: sketches that are obviously about the writers playing with the character, not their historical value. There’s another beautiful example here in the beyond-hilariously-inspired pairing of DI Bones and Caligula — and can we all just take a second to be relieved that Simon’s back playing the latter? Apparently, His Imperial Loopiness got a brunet rinse for the occasion and everything.
  • (Oh, and the story about killing the priest instead of the sacrificial beast, are we all convinced that’s just the most gruesomely giggleworthy anecdote ever, yet? You in the back? Yeah, just wait…)
  • Anyway, so he’s already totally fun to write for, and on top of that someone’s taken a real shine to the dour DI, and/or has an affinity for American B-movie melodramas. They also, evidently, know what Mat can do with melodrama given the chance. The result plays almost as a parody of the duo’s usual Roman-sketch dynamic: Here, it’s Mat who forces Simon to underplay to him… which Simon characteristically turns into a chance to make Caligula even more deliciously unhinged. It’s all just immensely satisfying for the serious HH fan.
  • What? Yes, of course I remember there was a song. It’s… um, a very catchy song. Yeah. In fact, it’s a catchy song about the horrors of Victorian child labour which is in turn a takeoff of a catchy ditty about the horrors of Victorian-era workhouses. So the parody has a sort of recursive-meta-loop thing going on, which I enjoy because I’m Aspergers-y like that, and totally not because I am looking for ways to keep my interest level high enough to comment in the first place.
  • …At least, not entirely. Because, OK, those uber-Broadway numbers that end with everyone’s arms outstretched to the balconies are not really my thing, especially not the moppet-intensive kind. (I think Annie — the Albert Finney movie version — may have caused my snark instincts to develop prematurely.) Even the cue cards can’t really cut through my scepticism here. The fact that this is the approximately 9328th iteration of the theme (in fact it’s basically the very first sketch on Victorian child labour set to music) may also not be helping.
  • For those of you who do enjoy this sort of thing, though, go nuts with my full backing. It’s a great video. It’s beautifully produced, and entirely accurate — Oliver! Lite, now with 50% less simplistic melodrama. It also features Ben finding the absolute best use for this talk-singy smug ever… really, just one of the best uses for Ben ever. The man was born to play an old-fashioned Carnegie capitalist type, to the extent where any picture I have subsequently seen of him without muttonchops causes some faint melancholy.
  • I also very much like the way Mat’s coldly stern pose visibly dissolves the closer his contact with his teeny ’employees’ — very sweet. There’s no way to blame him; although this lot is extraordinarily adept at the song-and-dance stuff by the standards of kiddy TV — especially the little pickpocket — they are in no way over-rehearsed. The combo produces a charming effect similar to the actual kids’ voices used in the Peanuts specials.
  • Oh look, it’s another random recurring invasion of the present by the past: Historical Headmasters…. yeah, yay. This (spoiler alert) really should’ve been a one-off bit; this one is just a rehash of the Spartan song, only now with new extra-special weird in the form of NOBODY FREAKING CALLING THIS OUT AS WEIRD! I mean, c’mon now people! At least call a PTA meeting, or whatever you have over there!
  • Although… given the way the fluorescent lighting hilights the extreme plastic-ness of the ‘leather’ armour, it’s possible to imagine dude’s merely an escaped mental patient and everyone’s been advised not to disrupt his fantasy until the doctors get there. Which helps. Also, cute Bertie is cute… and so is Rattus’ little random Rembrandt outfit! ‘FleaBay’ — squeeee!
  • Oh… so that’s who Dominic Duckworth is? Apologies to whomever’s entry I deleted off TVTropes because I totally didn’t recognise the name. Even after the ‘hit me with a fish!’ line was used in S3 promos over here for the longest time. I will be having a stern discussion with my hippocampus shortly.
  • Right, so this is a decently clever bit — obviously so, to the point where I’m rather surprised it hasn’t been tried before this. The ‘Bible-Cam’, another nice touch. I do wish they’d sprung for a power tie or cufflinks or something on Dom, though. The set, on the other hand, is really making me wish the budget increase had kicked in before the Field of Cloth of Gold sketch…

95% Accu-rat:

  • “Short tunics are very fashionable now!”… cue panicked blushing as every adult in the viewing audience starts realising why short tunics were fashionable, for men in particular… then realises their kids are looking at them funny… Well played, show.
  • So, Captain James Hind. What he was captain of is a bit obscure, but swashbuckling seems as good a candidate as any. OK, so the good taste in capes may have been exaggerated a bit. And the claim that he solely robbed Cromwell supporters seems only to have been made by the man himself as he was about to be executed for high treason, ie. supporting the Royalist cause — like Dick Turpin, he wasn’t above thuggery and murder when it suited him, regardless.
  • But in every other respect he was as flamboyant a Stuart-era character as ever twirled a moustache. His positively affectionate entry in the Newgate Calendar (the 18th-century’s answer to the True Crime Library) makes for excellent light reading, along the lines of the Scarlet Pimpernel: Hind has often been celebrated for his generosity to all sorts of people, more especially for his kindness to the poor, which it is reported was so extraordinary, that he never injured the property of any person who had not a complete share of riches.
  • Yep, that’s Charles II’s ‘s real face on the mug. Years of what back then would’ve been dubbed ‘debauched living’ will do that to you. He was in fact dark-complexioned enough (thanks in real life to that French and Italian background) that several of your more enthusiastically revisionist African Pride websites have dubbed him ‘The Black Boy King of England’ and insist that he was in fact black by heritage — where that heritage comes from gets a bit murky; there are the usual mutterings of ancient tribal migration into Europe and what not.
  • Short version: no, of course he wasn’t. He was however unusually tall for the era, standing well over six feet, and must’ve cut an imposing figure regardless (…ladies), which according to Wikipedia led to some real difficulty in finding disguises to fit whilst fleeing from Cromwell’s army. Stuffing him in an oak tree was among the more creative solutions.
  • Hey, did you know the real Caligula might not have actually been a native-born psychopath? He was the youngest son of a honest-to-goodness national hero, Germanicus, whose popularity was such that when he died suddenly it was (and is) widely assumed that Emperor Tiberius had him poisoned, to eliminate the possibility of a palace coup. Good ol’Tiberius — remember his paranoid streak? — then proceeded to execute Caligula’s mom as a traitor for being ticked at this. Then he starved her two older sons to death.
  • Caligula, on the other hand, he took something of a shine to, taking him into his household and *gulp* teaching him everything he knew. Despite which Little Bootikins was remembered by (an admittedly desperate, but still) populace mostly as a nice kid, and when he ascended the throne actually seemed to be living up to those expectations… right up until he mysteriously fell ill a few months later. Brain damage? Epilepsy? All anybody knows for sure is that that’s when the Perversity Parade started up in earnest.
  • Yeah, so, as I mentioned the last time chivalry came up, nobody actually acquainted with the human race — especially that section of it engaged in historical research should be real surprised that it worked much better as an ideal than as any sort of practical guide to human behaviour. Or, come to that, be amazed that a nice fresh fish would be considered a valuable prize in an era prior to refrigeration, especially the further inland you were.
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Series Three


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“Stone him”?!
It’s fine. We simply lay a large stone upon his belly. One upon which the sun has never shone!… we get them mainly from Scotland.

Time to give the floor to the tried-and-true, who deliver a solidly entertaining episode… perhaps just a wee bit too solid. Still: helicopters.

In this episode:

Song: William Wallace Scottish Rebel — Ben in the Braveheart kilt; Larry, Jim, Simon & Mat as his hard-rocking rebel posse

Recurring sketches:

Shouty Man — New! WWI Wee-Wee (“The multi-purpose liquid revolution!”)

Scary Stories — The Tale of Evil Edmund (“Right: I’m not doing this anymore. I played Macbeth, you know! I gave a semi-competent performance! And that’s not me talking — that’s the Wolverhampton Gazette.”)

Historical Paramedics — Stuart (“Nigel, go and get Flossy!” “What’s Flossy?” “I think you mean, ‘Who’s Flossy’?” *baaaaaa!*)

Stupid Deaths — James II of Scotland, son of James I of Scotland, father of James III of Scotland (Killed during testing of his ‘shatterproof’ cannon — but never mind, “what you lot need is Death’s Big Book of Baby Names! Over two copies sold!”)

Bob Hale — The French Revolution Report (“…What? Nope, pretty sure I didn’t say helicopters…”)

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the French invasion front in… Fishguard, Wales? (“Bonjour Maman!” “Look, can you not do that, please? The waving thing? Very irritating…”)


Frightful First World War

Life in the Trenches — I don’t care how naiively patriotic you are, if you get down there and a certain gruff-voiced redhead is giving you instructions, desertion suddenly becomes a viable option… which goes double if the rats start talking back. (“Just for the record, Billy: rats aren’t ‘disgusting’! Unsavoury, maybe, but not disgusting!“)

Smashing Saxons

Invasion, Invasion, Invasion — Ancient real-estate deals tended to involve a slightly more literal interpretation of ‘cut-throat’. “Negotiations over further land have got a bit out of hand. In fact, they’ve turned into an all-out war. And Horsa has been forced to pull out of the deal.” *erk* *thud* “Told you I was a better fighter than him!”

Terrible Tudors

Queen for Nine Days — “Day Seven: Relax and take in the luxurious surroundings!” “Like I could be any less relaxed…” “Ma’am! Our armies have been defeated in Cambridge by Mary Tudor! She says she’s the Queen now, and she’s marching on London!” “OK… so now I’m less relaxed.”

Not By a Tudor Mile — The question ‘Are we there yet?’ takes on frankly terrifying levels of annoying in an era prior to standardised measurements.

Field Notes:

  • Awesome, this is the one with the William Wallace song. How coo… wait, why does this look like the bumbling whitebread dad from those Tide commercials spent too long at the party from those Molson’s commercials? Isn’t this that kickass authentic hard-rock vocal I fell in love with over mp3?
  • As it happens, yes. I’d forgotten how long it took the audio track to overcome my scepticism after initially viewing the video. It did, though, and I now consider it honestly one of the great vocals in HH history, containing more than enough passion, cynicism, rage and grim humour to bring the Wallace legend to something resembling accurate life in three minutes on children’s TV.
  • It becomes even more impressive when you realize that was achieved a) without benefit of Gibson’s actual crazy and b) with benefit of ‘not!’ jokes. (Oh, and: “Sent Englishmen to heaven”? That is one spiritually generous — or, hopefully, massively sarcastic — homicidal maniac.) All I can figure is that Ben’s effectively internalised all those Thick of It scripts over the years, and maybe Billy Connolly routines during the breaks…
  • …and the HH creative types then just set it down in a random field, put it in plaids that are ‘worn’ like that old comforter on your basement couch and held a meeting re: staging that clearly went “Eehhh, Scots, Vikings, close enough.  Say, are those bourbon cremes?” It does pick up some towards the end, thanks to the fairly clever application of fake flames in the foreground and eccentric Larry in the background (he — and Jim — have experience in this sort of thing, after all; see S02E11)… but it at all times is hampered by the disconnect between vocal and visual Benjamin.
  • Now, I suppose it’s possible that even this show might balk at exposing kiddies to the filthy, visceral reality of medieval guerrilla warfare — or, knowing this show, assume that the kiddies have already seen Braveheart. Also, I don’t know, maybe my cultural bar is set a bit high here; versions of HH Wallace, triumphantly upraised arms and all, can be found in any Canadian suburban man-cave over any hockey playoff weekend. Mostly cleaner-shaven and maybe a bit lacking in imagination re: kilts, but at least they usually think to put on some face paint.
  • Whoa, Bob Hale’s life-force is draining away fast now, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I like Bobsy immensely, but I also have always had a bit of an irrational phobia re: those time-lapse things where they age a person thirty years in as many seconds. So at this point, while Bob’s up there being oh-so-whimsically clever, my imagination keeps insisting on creating scenarios involving phrases like ‘slow descent into the madness of the alligator-haunted void’, which is kinda getting in the way of my ability to appreciate the adorable. (And the big ol’animated basket of ghostly-pale severed heads is not helping.)
  • But I kid our resident eccentric history maven!… sort of. Anyway, he does a fairly decent job here of explaining the French Revolution by stringing together its child-friendly aspects. Although it still seems like there’s at least thirty seconds or so of THEY CHOPPED OFF AAAAALLLLLL THE HEADS that could’ve been used instead to more effectively summarise the revolutionaries’ philosophical rationales… erm, yes, I’ve done almost as much reading on this subject as I have on the Tudors. Apologies in advance.
  • More Scary Stories? What, seriously, show? As mentioned previously, I don’t actively hate the concept – and I can see where if Baddiel says he’d like to come back, you’d feel a bit silly turning that down – I’m just genuinely baffled at how such a veteran creative team figured it was worth labouring on a single mediocre joke this long. Maybe they spent more on the set than they could recoup in one series? Come to think of it, the fez looks custom.
  • Well, I’ll be damned. The maternal parent used to be a huge fan of Location, Location, Location (mostly for all that unabashed rural scenery porn). The very British take on high-stakes real estate – as Mum eventually began to wonder openly, “So… they spend the whole time catering to these people, and in the end they don’t sell them anything, and everyone’s OK with this?” — turns out to be a great satirical vehicle for historical land claims & conquests; bit disappointing that they didn’t carry it further. Imagine what they could’ve done re: Native vs. colonial Americans, for instance.
  • It’s also a neat way to kick off Mat’s new go-to parody role as your cynically wholesome reality-show host… which, amazingly enough, will require he spend quite a lot of time standing around looking fetchingly tousle-haired in civilian dress… nahhh, I’m sure it’s all about how perfectly he can mimic middle-aged real estate agents. At any rate, in this event his accent’s not quite comfortably urbane enough, to my ear, to really pull it off. The hand gestures look fairly familiar, though.
  • On the other hand, Simon’s Scandinavian accent… yeah, just all the usual happies, with a couple extra thrown in while he’s conscientiously setting the table for the treachery. Larry can totally get away with just standing there randomly inflecting vowels, that’s how ridiculously hilarious they are together. Funny that no-one’s ever thought of pairing them before; they clearly understand each other perfectly, in some much more happily eccentric universe just next door to this.
  • Love also for Ben’s quick little up-and-down before accepting Rowena — and for Martha’s reaction. By now it’s clear that regardless of which demographic the material’s aimed at, the whole troupe are, as they will shortly begin insisting to an increasingly interested media, ‘just making a comedy series’ —  increasingly abetted by both knowingly assured casting and these longform sketches, designed to give them the chance to play with comic subtleties the quick ‘ewww!’ bits don’t.
  • Ohai military Lawry in the Shouty Man sketch… now with bonus precious catchphrase? Is he supposed to be parodying anyone in particular? Anyway, it serves to liven up one of Shouty’s less memorable outings… if almost literally nothing else. OK, yes, I have a problem: the WWI bits are always set outdoors, in what always looks like grim November, and — well, sure, the less-than-fit guys in the trench-based bits are all part of the joke, I get that; I just always have the uneasy feeling the joke’s about to become a whole lot more morbid than necessary.
  • For now, though, I must admit Jim looks almost unbearably cute in his little granny glasses. Like that kiddy comic character — what’s-his-name — Billy Bunter? At any rate, clearly, my Howick plushie will be needing accessories. Besides which the WWI sketches mark the beginning of a series-long running gag involving Rattus actively protesting rodent prejudice – evidently the newfound confidence in the creative possibilities encompasses even the puppet.
  • Thus it’s frankly kind of weird that the same, usually remarkably sensitive — and no, I don’t believe I’m typing this either – sewer rat, or more to the point his handlers, can’t work up even a bit of sombre for a sixteen-year-old girl about to have her head chopped off for something she was railroaded into to serve the selfish ambitions of those she should’ve been able to trust the most. It’s really a shame they ignored the truly Horrible potential in Jane Grey’s story (see below) to go with such a glib, misleading overview.
  • As per Bobsy above (and Joan of Arc last series), I can totally understand the need to make complicated adult motives and/or philosophies accessible to the younger set… I’m just mildly paranoid that it’s crossing the line into routinely lazy writing. Doesn’t help that while Alice does a truly great line in angry petulance, thus far this series it’s the exact same line every time. It’s making me really want chipper, capable Lowe from the S2 songs back now.
  • …So I’m just on the verge of working up all this really satisfying cranky, and they go and toss me a Historical Paramedics bit. and… and… the huge red crosses on the hats… and Jim’s little wink… *dies*
  • *determinedly picks self back up again* Yeah, so, after that Tudor measurement bit I’m really starting to be concerned that they’re getting sloppy, and… and the sheep named Flossy… and… “It’s no good, there seems to be a massive stone on him!”…  *dies*… and Rattus’ wee shiny little trophy… *dies*…
  • …Death with a baby-name book… *dies* OK, OK, show, you win, for now at least. Besides giving us our first glimpse into the afterlife’s enchantingly fussy suburban trappings — also, more of Mat’s Scots accent, not to mention his increasingly entertaining tendency to equate ‘quick character development’ with ‘how far to widen the eyes’ — there’s something all sort of satisfyingly cosmic, man, in the notion of Death having heard pretty much every name possible throughout history.

95% Accu-rat:

  • OK… Lady Jane Grey, the full story. Hold on, folks, this is about to get ugly…
  • Jane wasn’t ‘vaguely’ related to Henry, at least not in succession terms. She was his great-niece, the daughter of his younger sister Mary’s daughter Frances, later Duchess of Suffolk. More than close enough for a dying, spiritually desperate Edward VII to notice — with some pointed help from his chief advisor John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who may-or-may-not have turned away at intervals to twirl his moustache and cackle evilly — that she was the only officially legitimate, Protestant heir in his generation. He made a will altering the succession accordingly.
  • Fifteen-year-old Jane, of course, only found out about all of this later — specifically, when she noticed all the bowing and scraping suddenly having moved to her vicinity post-Edward’s deathbed. Even from her formerly strict (and, she claimed, abusive) parents. You’d think their earlier having married her to Guildford Dudley, son of Northumberland, would’ve provided a clue, but Jane was a famously bookish, erudite sort with no interest in politics. So yes, the ‘discovered reading’ thing here is one, if pretty much the only, nice touch.
  • In reality she had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the throne; how literally is disputed, but it is at least clear that she held out against the assembled great and powerful adults for some time, insisting that Mary Tudor was the rightful Queen. She only accepted the crown, in fact, literally after checking in with God. She begged for a sign, got nothing, and interpreted that as the Divine go-ahead. After all, it must be remembered, she was as fanatical a Protestant as Mary ever was a Catholic, so the idea of His choosing sides made perfect sense… to both, as it later fell out.
  • The rest of it follows pretty much as shown, although it was actually her dad the Duke who broke the news of her de-queening, tearing down the cloth of state and bluntly telling her she’d best get used to civilian life now, kthxbai. Then he and the rest of Jane’s supporters entirely abandoned the teenage girl in their rush to be the first to explain to Queen Mary that they’d been totally intimidated by that nasty Northumberland, and were so her loyal subjects forever, and much more along the lines of ‘Queen Jane? What Queen Jane?”
  • Frances Grey claimed the same, and — thanks to ‘Bloody’ Mary actually being, as discussed previously, another political naif with a conscience — actually succeeded in getting her family mostly off the hook. This would’ve eventually included Jane… were it not for Jane’s dad continuing to be a selfish idiot. He supported the later Wyatt rebellion, upon which the Spanish ambassador informed Mary that her fiance Philip II couldn’t possibly be sent over until his security was assured… exeunt Jane, one of the most distressing victims of realpolitik ever.
  • Meanwhile, you know the whole ‘Hengist gives his daughter to Vortigern in exchange for Kent’ thing? Well, the real story also turns out to be a lot more exciting… OK, also a lot less true, even than Rattus implies, but still, check this Wikipassage out: [Rowena] is first mentioned in the 9th-century Latin Historia Brittonum as the lovely unnamed daughter of the Saxon Hengist…. At her father’s orders, Rowena gets Vortigern drunk at a feast, and he is so enchanted by her that he agrees to give her father whatever he wants in exchange for permission to marry her (possibly by bigamy—the fate of Vortigern’s first wife, Sevira, is not specified). The text makes clear that the British king’s lust for a pagan woman is a prompting by the Devil… According to the Historia Brittonum, Vortigern “and his wives” (Rowena/Rhonwen is not named directly) were burned alive by heavenly fire in the fortress of Craig Gwrtheyrn (“Vortigern’s Rock”) in north Wales.
  • On the other hand, the Battle of Fishguard was totally a real thing… it’s just the whole ‘began and ended with a bunch of peasant women’ bit that’s a fraction dodgy. The really moronic French mistake was made when they allowed the fort at the harbour to raise the alarm, despite having it completely outgunned. Even the town’s official site, as linked, concedes that not only a 400-plus-member militia but pretty much the entire civilian population then promptly turned out to beat off the invaders.
  • It does appear though that local cobbler Jemima Nicholas, at least, was not a lady to be messed with: H.L. Williams, who was present as a member of the Fishguard Volunteers, went on to describe her actions: “On her approach she saw in a field, about twelve Frenchmen; undaunted she advanced to them, and whether alarmed at her courage, or persuaded by her, she conducted them to and confined them in, the guard house in Fishguard Church.”

Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Series Three


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To help remember all your kings I’ve come up with this song — a simple rhymin’ ditty for you all to sing along, ohhhh…


…Bit short, innit. We need more kings! Who came next?

In a bid to remain on viewers’ minds for approximately forever, the show unleashes the ultimate edutainment extravaganza-slash-earworm… plus some other fairly cool stuff.

In this episode:

Song: The English Kings and Queens — Simon as William the Conqueror; Jim as Henry II, Richard III and George IV; Ben as Henry VIII & George I; Mat as Henry I & Charles II; Larry as William II & Henry V; Martha as Elizabeth I and Victoria; Lawry as George III; and Greg Jenner as the Knight

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Stuart (“I want these historical chefs to cook some food for me, and for me to really like it.” “THREE MINUTES!” “EIGHT MINUTES!”)

Words We Get From the — Greeks

Stupid Deaths — Unknown Greek boxer (Took out his jealousy by ‘beating’ what turned out to be his named rival’s particularly unsteady statue.. that name being, in case you were still wondering: Theagenes of Thasos. “Don’t say that name!” “Oops, did I say the name Theagenes…? Did I…hmm. Sorry, it turns out I did say the name Theagenes.” “Stop it, yeah?!” “OK, let’s get on with your stupid death… ooh! Did it by any chance have anything to do with the name Theagenes of Thasos?”)

Historical Pet Shop — Georgian

HHTV News: Mike Peabody Live — From the Battle of Malden, Essex

Monk Magazine — Everything for the modern monk (“First edition out now! Second one available… as soon as I finish copying it.”)


Nasty Knights

Castle Assault — Knights debate their battle plans: they can either duck hails of arrows, boiling oil and swords… or they can do things the hard way. (“Any questions? Yes, Davis?” “That is completely insane!!” “OK, that’s not really a question…”)

Siege Forecast — Being stuck inside a besieged castle: not fun. Graphics upgraded a bit, though. Next!

Slimy Stuarts

Dinner with the Raleighs — Accepting dinner invitations when your hostess has lovingly preserved the severed head of her husband: Miss Manners suggests you avoid complimenting the ‘lovely cut of beef’.

Gorgeous Georgians

New! Roller Skates — An attempt to film an advert featuring their inventor John Joseph Merlin, a very slippery floor… and the inevitable. (“Brakes! Knew I’d forgotten something…”)

Vile Victorians

First Flush of Flushing — The ol’ ‘inappropriate toilet noise’ gag finds the ultimate justification — at a dedication ceremony for the first flushing toilet. Archie Bunker would be so proud.  (“Um, might want to leave it five minutes…”)

Nobel Endeavours — “I shall use my massive fortune to establish a special prize. One that rewards positive human endeavours in the pursuit of peace! So that when I do die, I won’t just be linked to explosives! And I, Alfred Nobel, shall call this special Peace Prize… Prizemite!”

Field Notes:

  • So you’re a hit historical sketch comedy, and you’ve just debuted all the most sophisticated results to the world… and now it’s time for Episode Two. What can you possibly do for your loyal audience that’s going to live up to the cape and eyeliner alone?
  • Why, haul out every damn royal in British history, of course! …well, starting with William I, anyway, because frankly the older ones’ names are gonna be very hard to rhyme (as it is you’re going to be heavily reliant on modern nicknames, esp. in and around ‘William and Mary’). Also you’ll need to fudge over that pesky Lady Jane Grey — still causing the succession problems, lo these five centuries later. Even after that, you’ve still got one hell of a lineup, and you’re going to see to it that they get namechecked in their full native fabulousness. 1066 and all that, baby.
  • *turns off Eye of the Tiger* OK, the real if no less charming story goes like this: somewhere midway through the second series’ airing, the HH team noticed that kids were starting to memorise the lyrics to the songs, to the point apparently where they were being besieged by adorable rapping rugrats wherever they went, and were tickled enough to up the ante. Why not, they thought, deliberately create the ultimate musical history mnemonic?
  • Thus this song, a five-minute full-on “Twelve Days of Christmas’-style cumulative epic that fully impresses despite — or perhaps partly because of — using already established/upcoming characters, costumes, sets and even stock footage. It not only gives the kidlets something really satisfying to lord over their playground peers, but doesn’t drive their resident adult totally bonkers in the process. Yes, that’s absolutely an applicable creative parameter. Do you lot get Dora the Explorer over there? Right.
  • And before you ask: yes, I do know the entire chorus by heart. Oh sure, I may have to mutter quickly over some of the more random Edwards in the middle, but I’ll stack my ‘Oi!‘s against any six-year-old on YouTube. Really. Ask me to demonstrate, next party.
  • OK, so critically it’s all quite a lot to take in over five short minutes. Some of the notable debuts:
  • Simon as a big cuddly bear of a William the Conqueror — who looks nothing whatsoever like the corpse seen ‘way back in S01E05, but trust me, you’ll be too mesmerised by the Dancing Farnaby to care. Really, one of the more impressive costume/makeup jobs in the show’s history.
  • Greg Jenner, HH production assistant in charge of pedantic stuff, as his… general? Squire? Personal secretary? Anyway, way to make excellent use of a cameo. I do like onscreen Greg generally, and not just because he does me the favour of reading here from time-to-time. Comedy-wise he’s got that sort of Chaplinesque pure innocent fool thing going on, very appealing.
  • Victoria ver.2, as essayed by Martha under old-lady makeup extensive enough to suggest that having it applied has the secondary purpose of helping her get into famously dour character. She at any rate does a decent job of seeming accustomed to being unamused, albeit having George IV to kick around undoubtedly helps. Overall I like her much more as the young and newly-crowned Vicki — and later sketches will suggest that I’m not alone.
  • Henry VIII’s simplified costuming… which frankly I’ve never been at all a fan of that grey — robe? Poncho? Favourite t-shirt he was totally wearing when he won Flodden? No idea, esp. in comparison with the truly gorgeous (and authentic) magnificence of his original getup. Seriously, where the f/x team got ‘regal’ let alone ‘legendary narcissist’ out of a ratty Ikea throw, I’ve no idea.
  • Charles II… while his dancing skills seem to have gone seriously downhill, his outfit, by contrast, has been taken right over the top in parrot (Pierrot?) red. I quite like this latter change actually. Flattering and a sure sign His Royal Insouciance will be reappearing soon.
  • Richard III, ditto. Still pointedly grumpy, but the astute viewer will notice the cuddliness level has been bumped just a wee bit… (Oh, and speaking of brilliant bits of Howick-ness, could I just add: “Hi, Henry II, killed Thomas Becket!” …Never change, show.)
  • Larry’s very first shot at fully regal impersonation, of which likewise much more later. In the meantime, I do hope they gave him a cake or something to mark the occasion (also possibly completion of that alarmingly ‘method’-looking roller-skating bit). He is meanwhile now solidly in place as the go-to Generic Guy, and is really starting to relax and enjoy the possibilities… well, for a given value of ‘relax’. Still, it’s a measure of what a phenomenon this troupe is that even the odd corners are filled by offbeat charm this sophisticated.
  • Jim as George IV — mostly intact save for maybe a few missing medals — totally doing the ‘ride the pony’ move. Right, not actually a debut per se, but, erm… do they get HH in South Korea, by any chance? No? Yeah, OK, just checking.
  • Before all of the above, of course, there was an episode. Which would’ve made for a perfectly acceptable — even something-above-average — diversion, were it not for the all-singing all-dancing Debrett’s nuking rational thought centres from orbit. Eventually, though, awareness filters through the earworm again (protip: try to avoid sedately adult environments, like *ahem* for instance your dentist’s office, until it does) and you remember that there was, for instance, a historical Masterchef segment.
  • Of course a second later you’re going “geez, there’s only four of these, guys, pace yourselves,” and the moment is sort of ruined…. but not for long (see what I did there?), on account of for one thing you’re not a cynical critic, and for another I don’t think it’s physically possible not to smile at these bits. Not even when they’re trotting out the %#$%# ‘Stuart novelty foods’ schtick for the third series running. By now Martha is almost literally being asked to make reciting the multiplication table interesting.
  • Which — of course — she does, with the help of both Ben and the wonderfully total self-assurance that she brings to all her characters. (Besides, I must admit, throwing the whale phlegm in there at the end was a solid curveball.) Then there is Jim, who is fully making me want to check out an episode of the original show, just to see the clueless for myself.
  • The rapidly expanding elaborateness of the whole setup testifies that the point anyway isn’t the food facts; it’s totally ragging on the food show, the hosts of which I guess are the writers’ new dartboard picture now that Simon Cowell has been, um, dealt with. Yeah. I have frankly given up trying to peer too deeply into these irrational reality-show hatreds, because they’re only getting more surreally hilarious as they go along, and by now I’m genuinely excited to see if Series Five will bring me, say, a garden-show host with an unhealthy fixation on pansies.
  • I’m less enthralled with the other new recurring bit, the Historical Pet Shop. Not to the point that I want to boo and throw things at the screen, mostly because Martha does an enjoyably recognizable take on certain middle-aged doggy moms of my acquaintance. And as animal-based anecdotes go, it’s at least an improvement over hearing about the Baron Rothschild and his zebras again. But really now, show. In any era some people do odd things; that’s not teaching history, that’s Yahoo! News on a slow day. Especially, again, when you’re repeating the same odd anecdotes over and over.
  • Much more fun to be had in the full-tilt approach to the ‘Nasty Knights’ bit — although of course Larry-the-poopsicle might beg to differ. Still, despite mostly being a rather slight string of clichés, it’s always been an especial treat of mine. I particularly enjoy Mat’s very sporting enthusiasm for self-parody… he always has struck me as a sort of aristocratic throwback, which the outtakes (available with the DVD, or YouTube, and highly recommended) suggest might run a bit deeper than merely his tilting forth his heroic chin: “You don’t have to bully me today, Mat!”
  • On the other hand, that odd little cloth bonnet-type-thing Ben’s wearing… look, I know — or have enough faith in the producers by now to assume — it’s authentic. But he’s clearly supposed to be the mature sensible one here, and I’m just saying, it’s really really hard to keep my inner twelve-year-old from sitting there going ‘hee hee! Baby bonnet!’ (Incidentally, I have since gathered that the excrement Larry’s covered in is mostly made of chocolate, so now that same twelve-year-old is just all kinds of conflicted.)
  • To shut it up I am forced to pay close attention to Lawry. Which is actually not a total hardship, given that this is another one of those roles so precisely suited to his style: the weaselly guy in the lineup of heroes. A grand comedy tradition, esp. in British terms. These characters will become more frequent now that he’s out of Simon’s long shadow, and — well, as long as they’re spaced out far enough, say every three-four eps or so, I’ll be reasonably OK with that.
  • Especially since, with some minor modifications, the same schtick also makes a very decent foil for ever-conventional Mike Peabody — as does Mat. I now desperately want all Peabody sketches to include a severely untalented poet monk even though I know his voice would shortly force me to hurl something through the screen, that’s how worth it those few more moments would be.
  • Regardless, I do enjoy our perpetually right-man-on-the-wrong-scene tremendously, and I’m glad he’s a big part of this series – I remember that, on account of he’s one of the few HH characters whose satirical purpose I don’t have to filter through overseas sensibilities. Anybody who’s ever watched  CNN — and more particularly, the ones who’re, y’know, female and stuff — must like Mike.
  • We also get our first (and fully brilliant) Stupid Death of the series, and I return to wondering just how much of his part Simon gets to ad-lib. This is the one recurring sketch that never quite falls into predictable routine, and I dunno, there’s just something about the utterly non-sequitur loopiness of Death’s character development that suggests the voice of the Boosh is being heard in the land. Case in point: the skeleton with the hand thoughtfully propping up its chin.
  • I also note with pleasure that Martha & Jim are not only firmly ensconced as the go-to comic couple, but somebody did in fact decide to give them their own sitcom — or at least the closest approximation possible. Both take full advantage of a wonderfully-written Nobel sketch, especially Martha (“Well, this paper says you’re dead, and they’re usually very reliable,” – totally love that and hug it and call it George). It’s Rattus holding up the little ‘Silly’ sign that really seals the punchline, I think.
  • On the other hand, while it’s nice to have Alice back, and damn that costuming is lush… I don’t know if the premise of the Raleigh sketch stretches belief too far for a single throwaway gag. Really amazing job on the head f/x, though, and some genuinely good lines in response to it, so I’m not complaining too loudly…
  • …wait, did I just compliment the children’s show for the authenticity of a severed head on a stick? Damnit, you lot are a bad influence. OK, maybe not bad, exactly, but definitely educational in ways I don’t think were entirely intended.

95% Accu-rat:

  • *Sigh* Y’know, show, I’m not saying you’re wrong to ensure Richard III gets all the sympathy for being the victim of a vicious propaganda smear campaign… merely that it’s a bit hypocritical to still be simoultaneously totally OK (at least, until S4) with going along with Protestant propagandists in painting Mary I as this horrifically ‘scary’ ghoul whom everyone ‘dreaded’.
  • In reality, most of Mary’s problems stemmed from her being entirely too nice, not to say naiive. She was entirely lacking the trademark shrewd Tudor political sense, preferring to rule according to the dictates of her conscience — which you can imagine how well that went over, even in the sixteenth century. Especially once the same conscience started insisting that she give ‘heretics’ a taste of fiery hell for their own good.
  • Didn’t help that she was in fact convinced she had been preserved by God Himself through all the indignities Henry heaped on her and her mother,  in order that Mary might bring England back into full accord with the dictates of the True Church — a perception that was only strengthened when, despite being formally declared illegitimate and stiff-armed out of the succession by Lady Jane Grey, she was hailed to the throne in a massive popular uprising.
  • This, incidentally, is why Jane is left off the song here: it was then hastily decided that Henry VIII’s will, which named his daughters ahead of her, had never been legally superseded because his son Edward’s subsequent codicil had never been ratified by Parliament (as all changes to the succession must be). Thus, along with all the other indignities that come with being all-but-forced onto the throne at fifteen and then executed for it at sixteen for reasons likewise largely beyond her control, Jane is officially only a pretender to the throne, who was never crowned besides.
  • Well, I gotta admit I was sceptical, but it turns out ambergris — now used mostly as a fixative for certain high-end perfumes — was totally a thing you sprinkled on your 17th-century breakfast eggs, and maybe also in your drinking chocolate. That is, once it was actually horked up by the sperm whale, then washed up on some rocks, then completely dried out so as to lose the ‘fecal’ smell… yeah, ‘phlegm’ turns out to be a rare instance of the show putting it kindly.
  • Anyway, the real thing has much more of a crunchy crumbly texture than shown here, and has in fact managed to impress at least one modern foodie connected with Gourmet magazine. It was also reputedly an aphrodisiac, which, y’know, explains Charles II’s enthusiasm — and also possibly his death; as the link explains his fatal stroke was sudden enough, and his affection for a pungent ambergris appetizer well-known enough, to give rise to theories that it was used to mask the taste of poison.
  • No, of course Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throckmorton Raleigh didn’t hold dinner parties seated opposite her husband’s head on a stick! Geez, people. She was a strong-willed, intelligent lady, and by all accounts was deeply in love with her Walter — so after he was beheaded for treason she, um, had his head embalmed and kept it in a special red leather case instead. Which she in turn kept near her person more or less at all times, which I can see making afternoon tea a bit awkward. But not dinner parties.

Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Series Three


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Incredibly clever, yet incredibly simple. aBook is the new book that rewrites the book on… writing books.

The show kicks off its first wholly self-referential series with an episode that showcases the outer limits of the possibilities: the f/x budget lavish enough to accommodate real imagination, the credibility to blatantly mimic mainstream adult comedy and the veteran troupe proven not only able but willing to handle all of it…

…short version: this is the one with the erotic singing highwayman. Regardless of demographics, when you’re a hit TV show, life is good.

In this episode:

Song: Dick Turpin, Highwayman — Mat as Adam… uh, Turpin, Larry, Jim, Simon and Martha as the ‘notorious gang of Gregory’ aka chorus, Ben as the postman. (Parody of: Adam and the Ants, Stand and Deliver)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Masterchef — Aztec (“We are looking for an exceptional cook, who does exceptional cooking, exceptionally.” “I’M SHOUTING FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!”)

Words We Get From the — Vikings

Historical Paramedics — Vikings (“He urgently needs soup!” “No, he needs hospital!” “Will you stop making words up and just listen to me?!… Now, let us carve runic symbols into a whalebone, to ensure this young man’s good health.”)


Rotten Romans

A Triumph of Bureaucracy — When you award victory parades based on a specific number of enemy dead, the sketches starring little accountant types standing by the battlefield basically write themselves. (“Yes… I’ll give you that one. He’s moving, but realistically he’s not going anywhere without his head.”)

Introducing aBook — What ‘thinking different’ looked like in the 1st century AD. “With the new aBook, you simply turn the page, using the unique turnable pages to reveal new information.”

Fabulous French

You’ve Been Artois’d! — In the best argument yet against messing with temporal reality, medieval prankmaster Robert of Artois tries to construct a reality show out of random MTV cliches. “‘Top of the pops, bay-bee! I know these words, you see? I am ‘street’, yes? Whoo-OOOO!…” …Seriously, we need to show this to NASA.

Terrible Tudors

In the Gong Family Business — Following your heart (or nose): not a major theme in medieval career counselling.

Royal Progress to the Loo — An Elizabethan nobleman learns that he will be hosting her Majesty as part of her annual tour, thus enriching the national treasury and ensuring his country remains strong and free. Also, that Tudor Blackadder was pretty much a documentary.

Angry Aztecs

Howl to Get Yourself Killed (animated) — Howler monkeys mull over how the Aztec hunters always seem to find them even in the densest jungle. YEP, IT’S A MYSTERY ALL RIGHT!

Gorgeous Georgians

Newgate Prison — Bribe your way to good food, clean sheets and decent service whilst incarcerated in a tiny bare room… I’m sorry, was this meant to be a parody of a modern hotel advert?

Vile Victorians

Politeness is No Picnic — The dashing hero of carefree alfresco romance discovers too late that he’s actually wandered into a sociological Whack-a-Mole game.

New! Victorian Floral Messaging Service — Say whatever you like with flowers… just be careful of the ones that have thorns. (“Do you by any chance have one that means ‘I love someone else?’ And another that means ‘And it’s your best friend?'”)

Frightful First World War

Battle of the Somme — “So at this rate, we should be in Berlin by… ah, don’t tell me… four hundred ninety, divide by the two… add the five… carry over the doo-dah, then the whats-a-me-face…” “It’s over a hundred years, sir.” “Oh! Well… we won’t be alive by then, will we?” “Not with you in charge, sir.”

Fabulous Fat King’s Fat Factory — And if you need any more explanation than that forget it, ‘cos my stomach has to run and catch the nearest porcelain bus.

Field Notes:

  • This is the show they wanted to make. Or rather — since that much has been obvious since Day One — this is the apotheosis of that show. If Series Two’s hallmark was giddy excitement at being allowed to make certain creative choices, Series Three radiates the self-confidence of those same choices validated, in – well, almost every way possible. They hadn’t actually started winning awards yet.
  • Still, stratospheric ratings and burgeoning critical acclaim – especially for the music — had clearly done what it usually does. Except that in this case it did it to a children’s series, which makes it far more interesting, given that the result could still only be about creativity. (You can tell: while Robert Artois openly sniggers about sending jets of water up ladies’ skirts, the next shot shows the jet actually going off in Martha’s face. There is something strangely reassuring about this, for all demographics.)
  • Still, even within those bounds, the show clearly no longer feels the need to even bother to distinguish the house style from the comedy mainstream. Historical edutainment is now definitively the show’s hook, not its purpose; and it all is propelled by a bonafide comedy troupe, whose personal styles are integral to the funny. More than ever, this is a show not for children, nor adults, but for its creators.
  • For the viewer, this means basically… more of the same, only much more so, and with the few remaining ragged edges filed off. Rather like the progress of a long-term relationship; the wildly innovative bit is over – at least for the moment – but the good stuff still grows… spiked, hopefully at least, with enough unpredictability to keep things interesting. Granted much of that last is, as I recall, concentrated in this one spot (this being one of the few S3 eps I’ve seen more than once); there’s more than enough for me to give the whole the benefit of the doubt.
  • Particularly in regards to the f/x. Series Three is gorgeous… yes, yes, I know, sexy Dick Turpin song, getting to that in a sec. It’s more generally cool that this means that for the first time the visuals can also be an integral part of the satirical process. (The simplified costuming on Liz I’s a bit disappointingly cheap-looking, though – like a drugstore Halloween costume of itself.) My favourite result — besides the aBook sketch, which is, like Mary Poppins, uniquely Practically Perfect in Every Way — is actually in the Victorian sketches, which get more subtle effects that nevertheless reward the literate viewer enormously.
  • If you don’t mind humouring me for a minute longer, I’d like just to run a quick compare-and-contrast on the show’s handling of the Angry Aztecs, which unlike the Incan ditto contains not a speck of awkwardness. Perhaps the lack of llamas meant the writers had to work harder regardless. At any rate, while they did have pyramids, the Aztecs instead simply show up as part of a brilliant sketch, accurate and interesting. Clearly, the Mesoamericans are now just part of the humanly flawed gang. This, also, is reassuring.
  • Although, the subsequent howler monkey cartoon… yeah, I don’t think the gag was quite that clever, guys. And has the animation gone downhill a bit, or is it just me?
  • Also, they then attempt to bung some extra diversity in there by casting a black actor as… a venal, amoral prison inmate. He does a really decent job, but, yeah, another one of those fun little total differences in cultural sensitivity, I’m thinking.
  • Right, moving on to the stuff we all can understand: Damn, that Dick Turpin sure is sexy, isn’t he? Of all things HH, the music stood to benefit the most from the new confidence, given that it was already a fully developed and nurtured idea that only required that financial and artistic boost to send it over the top – and, spoiler except totally not, that’s exactly what happened. With a few notable exceptions, the seamless awesomeness of S2’s musical best becomes the norm here.
  • Really, there’s not a lot of justification for this one, otherwise. Sure, it’s fairly Horrible that a vicious thug like Turpin should be romanticized, but honestly, how often does that happen? And if there isn’t already a fandom calling themselves ‘Turpintines’ and dotting their undying Twitter fealty with little hearts, did anybody really think dolling Charles II up in cape and eyeliner was going to prevent their formation? (Personally, I’d never heard of Turpin before this, and now I’m completely intrigued by the possibilities. I always did have a soft spot for guys in capes.)
  • Nope, clearly what we have to blame here is an old-skool New Wave fan with a sense of humour, a fairly decent CD collection, and a gig writing music for HH, roughly in that order — and the rest of the creative team knew exactly what to do from there. Just for fun, I was going to go all raging iconoclast and declare that video didn’t do a thing for me, but I totally cannot do it. Mat’s performance is easily the most adult thing ever committed to children’s media. The hell of it is, I don’t think it was – entirely — intentional. It cannot at least have been his fervent desire to create a legion of tweens disappointed that he doesn’t actually wear Michael Jackson’s hair.
  • If you look closely through the makeup and posturing to Mat’s actual performance, and are familiar enough with what’s driving it, then it is actually possible to laugh at it — because it’s actually a note-perfect parody, taken just far enough over the top to be frankly ridiculous, but not enough to be unkindly obvious, and thus spoil the fun entirely. That, plus some of the best pure songwriting – probably, again, because some of the closest to the source material – ever done for the show, turns the whole into a genuine work of art.
  • Interestingly enough, given the obvious frontloading-the-debut-for-the-critics going on here, this episode also rather obviously collects the hilights of Mat’s S3 tour. He will spend part of this series away filming Spy, meaning HH will basically devolve into the Ben and Jim Show for several eps… which I seem to recall as having something to do with the lack of future excitement. No, not so much because of missing the minstrel eyes — I swear! — as that they’re usually found in the vicinity of something intriguingly offbeat.
  • Mind, the others get new and frequently novel showcases too – besides the Masterchef hosts and Artois, I specially like Ben’s ‘kindly peasant dad’ schtick and the return of Politely Unstable Simon from (of all things) last series’ teatime sketch. The latter then turns out to segue very nicely into Simon the Proper Military Chucklehead. Also, all the welcome-back hugs for Other Little Guy Who’s a Much Better Actor Than Bertie, Though Not as Blond. Really must get his name, someday.
  • It’s sort of the same issue as I had with the lack of Farnaby, last series, except in this case (thank god) they didn’t attempt to bring on a random attractive goofball to help out… although come to think of it, Jalaal Hartley from S4 might’ve worked… look, for the moment let’s just be grateful a) that Larry’s a permanent fixture by now and b) Mat made it into enough good stuff to be going on with.
  • Like, for instance, the return of the Historical Paramedics — my favourite one, yet. I won’t attempt to critique it, because all it would be is incoherent cooing with ‘squee!’ where the punctuation should be, but seriously, damn I am glad that someone recognized the potential and ran with it (literally, in the case of the tagline). It just captures the hilarious essence of Jim & Mat together – perfectly structured, while still allowing for whatever random Pythoning to happen. Y’know, in case you’d forgotten that under the weird Larry’s also a hugely talented screenwriter.
  • So is whoever wrote the aBook sketch, showing off a nice satirical judgement which Mat then carries through to perfection. To the point where it serves as a sort of found proof of the newfound priorities; kind of hard still to be just a silly kiddy show when this bit routinely gets passed round as Twitter humour by adult tech writers. All the points to Baynton besides for attempting a notoriously tricky accent… although it occasionally sounds more like a Californian attempting a Scots accent, which is a trifle distracting.
  • Speaking of accurate takeoffs – also, goofy accents — I gather Ben and Jim are considered to do devastating spoofs of the real Masterchef hosts. Which is cool, but honestly, these bits are so wonderfully done they work even if you’ve never seen the source material — in fact, they might work better, as unfamiliarity amplifies the surreal funny. As a long-time fan of competitive cooking generally, I do totally appreciate the advanced cleverness of the parody whole; even if the weird-food stuff hasn’t gotten any more exciting since the old ‘Ready Steady Feast’ bits (you really do have to be twelve to appreciate ‘gross’ properly as a comedy concept).
  • Especially since elsewhere Jim’s forays into crazy are… well, much less successful for the character, but for the rest of us, schwing. The You’ve Been Artois’d! sketch has, let’s face it, no real justification either as a history lesson or parody; it’s carried almost entirely on familiarity with the performers’ styles – ie., basically, Jim being Jim after somebody got his hopes up way too far — and it is one of the funniest damned things I have seen ever, in any comic media.
  • The really hilarious part… OK, besides Larry’s flouncy little scream… is that, complete and uncompromising tool that Artois is, you actually do feel a wee bit sorry for him at the end. Honestly, our Howick is brilliant at what he does in a way that I still remain baffled he isn’t an indispensable star of the British comedy scene yet. If you lot aren’t going to use him, can we have him? We’ve been at loose ends a bit since Corner Gas was cancelled.
  • So the Fabulous French aren’t introduced by name until the third series; this still counts as praiseworthy cultural restraint. Well done, show — ooh, and bonus Gallic Mat voice on the cartoon intro guy! Kind of disappointing though that they just reused the same medieval peasant model… they could’ve at least slapped a moustache or baguette or something on him.
  • Ohai Tudor obsession!… well, it’s a decent Blackadder pastiche, if another one of those ‘yeah, so?’ bits historically. Lovely to look at, too — albeit noticeably missing the approximately 32,785 servants that would in reality be flitting through the scene; even luxe budgets can only stretch so far, evidently. I’m also not entirely sure why Mat is playing the Earl as actually mentally challenged, but whatever gets you through a long day’s filming, I guess. (This would also handily explain how much Martha seems to be enjoying the chance to smack him, not to mention why her own face screws up well prior to the ‘surprise’ pie hitting it.)
  • Oh, and while we’re on about the ‘manners’ sketch: “So I just left the pheasant where it was, and shot Mr. Darlington instead!”… I do love you so much, show.
  • I also love you (especially Rattus) for the ‘floral messaging’ bit. Kind of missing Mat’s Cockney accent here, though, you’d think it’d be a great opportunity for some real Artful Dodger stuff. I think he’s going for a swishy florist instead… but it’s a bit too subtle, so ends up just making me wonder if he and the flowers need some *ahem* alone time. Finally… Simon, can I just thank you again for not being whisked off to fame and fortune via your movie? I know it’s selfish of me, but it’s sincere. Really.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The Roman Triumph: technically, at least, supposed to be an exercise in self-effacement. Per Wiki: Republican morality required that despite these extraordinary honours, the triumphator conduct himself with dignified humility, as a mortal citizen who triumphed on behalf of Rome’s Senate, people and gods. Of course, the article then goes on to totally horselaugh at itself; these are Romans we’re discussing here, Republican period or not. Despite attempts by conscientious contemporary historians to draw the moral lesson, the triumph laid the foundation, if not the actual blueprint, for all noble processionals thereafter.
  • While I’m being unnecessarily pedantic: the term ‘book’ actually technically applies to any medium for recording information. The Rosetta Stone is a book, and so are scrolls. What Stevius Jobius here is hawking, and what we now think of at the standard, is actually a specific form of book called a codex — albeit again, these days mostly only by those really desperate to compensate for that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey lurking under their thesis notes. This refreshingly-pedant-free ‘Enyclopedia Romana’ article gives a more in-depth compare-and-contrast on the two recording methods.
  • Couple of realities require ignoring if the Tudor toilet sketch is to be enjoyed fully… no no, please don’t thank me for now describing them in excruciating detail, it’s what I live for. So yeah, the ‘strew rushes on the floor to (hopefully) absorb (most of) the gunge’ method of hygiene practiced back then did require the monarch — especially one as notoriously fastidious about foul smells as Queen Elizabeth I — to move on approximately every few months or so. However, this wasn’t what led her to impose on her aristocracy; after all, she had a lot of palaces at her disposal.
  • What’s happening here was actually called a royal progress, or trip round different parts of the kingdom, which for obvious reasons usually happened in the warmer months. Officially it was a way for Her Majesty to show herself off to her subjects, and for them in turn to have the honour of hosting their monarch; in reality, it was all about saving the royal treasury household expenses.
  • Which the nobles in fact gladly did — you couldn’t pay TV fees to view royalty back then, so they were totally free to instead break themselves providing lavish banquets, entertainments etc etc. The most famously elaborate of these visits is the one paid to Kenilworth Castle — at the time home to Liz’ main-maybe-squeeze, Robert Earl of Leicester — but the pattern was pretty much the same everywhere. In reality the Earl here wouldn’t need to move out to the garden, because he’d’ve likely already built an entire mini-manor there just on the off chance she might show up.
  • On the other hand, a fragile flower in need of perpetual cossetting our Bess emphatically was not. Like the dad she idolised, she was in reality a tough, shrewd type who carefully cultivated her down-to-earth Englishness, and so wasn’t at all above quaffing a few ales and sharing earthy jokes with her mostly-male court — so long as she was the one who made them, of course. A typically cheerful sally, after the Earl of Oxford returned to court after years of self-exile for breaking wind in the royal presence: “My lord, I had forgot the fart.”
  • Frankly, nobody in the Victorian picnic sketch earns a whole lot of sympathy from me. The male half ought to have known he was in for trouble as soon as she consented to be alone with him without a chaperone (that she is makes complete nonsense of her pique re: his sitting too close to her — she’s already irretrievably compromised herself anyway). I mean, look at her, she’s totally dressed for the late Georgian period! Clearly a nefarious time traveller with an agenda of her own. (Probably in league with whomever gave Robert Artois access to cable.)
  • More plausibly, she could’ve been hoping to beat him into a ‘breach of promise suit’. This was the Victorian etiquette equivalent of losing that last boss battle: if you promised marriage — or, as in this case, made it impossible for society to infer otherwise — only to later come down with a bad case of commitment phobia, the lady’s family could retrieve her value on the knot-tying market by hauling your honour-free butt into court,where you would be forced to publicly take the blame and thus re-certify her as sound. This legal concept totally still exists, by the way.

Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Series Three


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S02E13: Savage Songs

I love this band…

To celebrate his employers’ decision to remain purely awesome, Rattus throws the ultimate disco dance part-ay. Featuring — with help from the animated intro characters — some suspiciously familiar (and, cleverly enough, chronologically sorted) videos…

In this episode:

Spartan School Musical (from S02E03)

“Everyone’s a jock here, there are no Spartan nerds –
The weedy kids were left to die, as breakfast for the birds!”

Where I’d rank it: 6th

I said I liked this one enormously,  and that’s absolutely true. However I must admit that this is increasingly less about the actual production and more about my dark-hearted delight at any means of exposing Disney’s relentless kiddy media machine as the soulless, sanitized, wholly vapid abomination it is…

…what? Yes, I’m a bit obsessive about this. Were your pop-culture engine insistently shoving the daughter of Billy Ray ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ Cyrus in your face daily for years, you too would cackle with especially fervent glee at the squeaky little American accents in HH… which, right, is what we were actually talking about. Sorry.

So this clearly isn’t a healthy state of mind to maintain for any length of time, and otherwise, this video — which, let’s face it, was never particularly nuanced to begin with — tends to slip the memory a bit. In fact, despite the heartwarmingly all-out efforts of everyone involved, it’s not difficult at all to get along without it for quite long stretches. Sic transit gloria Mouse, guys…

Boudicca (from S02E10)

“Gonna cause a stink
Won’t be the first to blink
I’m not who you think
Don’t mess with me, I’m Boudicca!

Where I’d rank it: 4th.

I spent some time second-guessing my thoughts as to the classic-ness of this one, as defined in the initial review. While I still have nothing but unqualified praise for Martha as the lead… in my affectionate fervour to find subtle nuance I may have, for instance, totally discounted the police siren.

Still an’all, the affection remains, and  not just because of the fantastic beat and floofy dancing (although I do cherish the latter deeply.) While most stories of this type — up to and including Pixar’s recent Brave — approach this story from the self-conscious POV of a girl rebelling against her ‘female’ role, this one is about a woman who was motivated to take a stand for herself because she was frankly mad as hell, for reasons easily understood whether you also have girl parts or not.

Boudicca’s gender cheerleading thus is earned as human, not obliged as a construct. And it is so incredibly badass that you can’t help but cheer it along. Regardless of viewer perspective, what’s not to love?

The Viking Song (Literally) (from S02E01)

“Let me in now, won’t you please
We’re here to raid your monasteries…”

Where I’d rank it: 2nd.

“So were these guys, like, rock stars or whatever before?… Is that how they got to do this?”
my Mum, after listening to this song.

…which pretty much sums up everything important you need to know, yes?

Going by their respective solo careers, I’d guess the (fully brilliant) central concept belongs to Larry, who then brought Mat on to ensure it worked as an actual song — the idea perhaps being for Rickard to have more time to perfect his smouldering-yet-icy blue gaze. At any rate, he clearly left our resident Angsty Artiste a free hand. The net result resonates with an unironic musical sophistication unique among HH tunes.

Really in terms of my pure enjoyment this one and ‘King of Bling’ are more-or-less a tie; only that one is about the sublimely clever parody, and the other about perfect (albeit mildly embarrassing) familiarity with the parody subject. Mat is always gonna be more convincing as royalty than he is in armour, but otherwise, y’know… in the one Ben juggles, in the other he plays an axe. Details.

Do the Pachacuti (from S02E12)

“’The rocks they are my warriors,’ I then used to boast,
And that little lie helped us win wars – but violence helped the most!”

Where I’d rank it: 8th

Let’s be honest: this is not a great song. Oh sure, it’s a great concept — if anything too successful; as I may have mentioned previously, there are perils inherent in mimicking stupid too closely. I wouldn’t call this a definitive example… only that it doesn’t help anything either that as a solo lyricist, our Larry is a wonderful writer of prose sketches that aren’t required to scan.

(Although the characteristically non-sequitur lyric above still ranks with the best. You can never keep a good British comedy writer down for long.)

On other plus sides: little bouncy lyric-following skulls. All the points. They go very well with bouncy Mat, who is working this video as though he’s been convinced it’s his ticket to Clown Heaven — and looks pretty good in war paint besides. As the show’s treatment of Mesoamerica goes, this is a sterling example of tact, taste and (what especially sneaks it past No.9) accuracy.

Charles II: King of Bling (from S02E02)

“I love the people, and the people love me
So much that they restored the English monarchy!
I’m part Scottish, French, Italian, a little bit Dane – but one hundred per cent party animal (Champagne?)”

Where I’d rank it: 1st.


No, really. If you can’t find something to be charmed by somehow in this sweetly sophisticated, souffle-light hip-hop romp, you might want to check your medical history for cybernetic replacements, esp. in the chest cavity. Either that, or you’re the sort of hopelessly cross-grained grump who enjoys hating on rap as an occasional diversion from ordering those derned kids off your lawn.

…In either case, why are you watching Horrible Histories to begin with? (You can keep reading my blog, though. I’m not that picky.)

Blackbeard’s Song (from S02E06)

“And I loved to escape detection, and to win my crew’s affection…
(Which was nothing to do with the twelve guns he wore, on his belt, that were for protection!)”

Where I’d rank it: 7th.

Basically because I find the antics of the background chorus here much more entertaining than the ones in the Pachacuti song, and because I’m just a wee bit more impressed with Jim doing a complete 180 from useless to badass in the span of two episodes than with Mat shaking his nonexistent booty.

It does lose a few points for the redundant “captive’s lovely ring that shone like a jewel in the night”, tho. Because yes, I am just that frustratingly pedantic. Look, I’m writing a review blog about a children’s comedy series; any sense of literary proportion I had went out the window a long time ago.

George IV: Couldn’t Stand My Wife (from S02E05)

“Great palaces I did design —
Buckingham was one of mine.
Art and fashion, I so rated!
(And wives?)
That’s more complicated…”

Where I’d rank it: 3rd.

As frequently discussed in these pages, one of Jim’s great creative gifts is his ability to convey the ultimate in what TVTropes calls a Jerkass Woobie. Essentially, he’s what would happen did that one unpleasantly spoilt brat in every grade-school class grow up resolved to use his sniveling powers for good – oh, and had a really extraordinary singing voice besides.

…so yeah, when it came time to record a lite-FM attempt to make Georgian self-pity simoultaneously hilarious and touching, nobody was really startled when he turned it into a classic on all the demographic levels. Again, not a rampantly fabulous song per se, but it’s tight enough to get the point across, and damn is it funny. (Especially in the Prom version, wherein Simon’s George III retakes his rightful place.)

Real Live Cowboys (from S02E09)

Where I’d rank it: 10th… or, if I had my druthers, not at all.

We’ve never held up banks at all
We’re poorly paid
And kinda small
If you still wanna be a cowboy
Stick with me!”

I was looking back over my review of E09, and how I was having real trouble telling how far this song was in earnest, and the logical rational part of my brain — always something of a swot — piped up “Y’know, the extended fart solo might be a clue that it`s not actually meant as a thoughtful consideration of Old West mythmaking.”

Whereupon my primal reactionary brain went “What extended…?” and bustled over to YouTube.

And lo, memory returned. The universe had somehow been ensuring that I’d been distracted nearly every time that sequence threatened. Clearly, it agreed with me that it isn’t worth having my eyeballs re-seared with stupid over cliches already routinely mocked in in salsa commercials. Sorry again, Larry — you’ve been outvoted.*

*More soberly: Sure, this was a fun novelty for UK kidlets, who are of course the target audience here. But from a creative standpoint either of the two missing tunes — Learn Your Hieroglyphics (from S02E08) or The Monks’ Song (from S02E11) would’ve been much the more deserving choices.

Victorian Inventions (from S02E07)

“There’s just one little oversight…
…we invented *koff!* dynamite.”

Where I’d rank it: 9th.

The production values are undoubtedly amazing. And the song itself is cute ‘n’ catchy, giving Alice a well-deserved showcase spotlight and Ben a chance to show off his talk-singy flair… yeah, OK, ‘flair’ might be pushing it a bit. ‘Smug with style’, though, absolutely.

Unfortunately, all this is expended in the service merely of remaking S1’s hugely forgettable We Are Greek: shoehorning a random list of accomplishments into an artificial, misleading, and frequently-disputed set of parameters. In effect, this is a song with the YouTube arguments consciously built in. Not the most point-ful creative decision ever made.

We’re the WWII Girls (Original Girl Power)

“When the war is over though
We’ll be proud cos we will know
Thanks to us is due, girls
Came to the rescue, girls
We’re the World War Two girls
Original Girl Power!”

Where I’d rank it: 5th

This is where I pull feminist privilege… also, my privilege as a human being to just, y’know, really like something a whole lot. These ladies aren’t just strong role models, they’re appealing personalities. This seems to be a standard by-product awesomeness of the HH format: focussing on the flaws of their subjects means they most often default to their well-rounded humanity.

Is their song a bit unnecessarily heavy on the “geez, this man-work is hard!” stuff? Yeah. But hey, that’s part of being human too. The really important thing, as the song points out, is that they did it. And when that’s allied to a catchy, sassy, triumphant tune, as performed to the hilt by modern women obviously fully invested in the spirit of the thing…

…um, something kind of… gets in my eyes, right around that last stanza. Every damn time.

Encore: Born 2 Rule (from S01E01)

“I vas the sad vun!
And I was the bad one…
I was the mad one!
And I was the fat one…”

Where I’d rank it: 1st…

…among the Series One songs, and as the one that started this whole journey. Kind of a Year Zero thing, really. It’d have been even cooler had they thrown the Plague Song and Burke & Hare in there, to show the progression.

Still, what a lovely chance to revisit the moment when it all began — and realise that they pretty much had it exactly right, from the first. Give the 4 Georges production values to match George IV’s solo, and I’m not sure they wouldn’t give Charles II a serious run for his charming.


Posted by on April 7, 2013 in Series Two


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