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
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.”)
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!
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’.
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…”)
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!”
- 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.
- *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.