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
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!“)
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!”
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.
- 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.
- 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.”