Tag Archives: court of historical law


They beat [Becket] to death on the altar of Canterbury Cathedral! The holiest place in the whole of England!
I said I’m sorry…
Are we gonna do this now, Reg?
Yes, but I —
NO. Shush.

That moment at the midpoint of every HH series, in which, having conquered the heights of audacity, the show takes the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy the view…

In this episode:

Song: Victoria & Albert: A Love Ballad — Martha and Jim as the nineteenth-century’s ultimate celebrity couple.

Recurring sketches:

Horrible Movie Pitch — The Leif Ericsson Project (“Are you saying you discovered America before Christopher Columbus?” “Is this a fantasy film?” “Ooh! Are you Conan the Barbarian?!”)

HHTV News: Royalty Today — Live from Henry II’s pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, 1174 (“Is this some sort of initiative to make the Royal Family seem more down-to-earth? If so, I think you may have taken it a bit too far…!” “It’s penance. For I have done a terrible thing — well, if you include the terrible thing I did on the road near Gillingham, two terrible things…”)

Court of Historical Law — Tsar(evich) Peter III -vs- the rat who nibbled his toy soldiers (“… assuming you are a rat, and zat is not an elaborate disguise!” “Er… sorry, what would disguise itself as a rat?” “A mouse! With delusions of grandeur!” “…Good point.”)

Stupid Deaths — Hannah Twynnoy, Georgian barmaid (Thought it would be hilarious to repeatedly poke a menagerie tiger with a stick, thus becoming the first person in Britain to be killed by one. “Ooh, hey — Stupid Deaths are grrrrrr-eat! You know, like the tiger does in the advert?… *to mummy* Whaddaya mean, that joke’s a bit dated? Look who’s talking!”)


Potty Pioneers

Columbus (sic) Finds India (sic) — “Can’t you just admit for once that you’re wrong!?” “NEVER! I am Captain Christopher Columbus, the finest sailor and navigator on the planet, and if I go looking for India, India is what I find! Good day! “ “…Door’s over there.” “I know that. It’s my cabin.”

Measly Middle Ages

Cash My Sin — “Call 0-800-I’VE-BEEN-NAUGHTY now! It’s easy! It’s great value! And what’s more it means you won’t burn in the fires of hell for all eternity! It’s got to be worth it!”

Rotten Romans

Salted Payments — A Roman legionary is dismayed to discover that he’s on the wrong end of the controversy surrounding the origins of the word ‘salary’… also, that he’s in a live-action Asterix comic. (“Join the Roman army, they said… It’s a great career, they said… Get paid in salt, they forgot to mention!…”)

Just Deserter — “Ah, y’know what, I’d like nothing better than to spend the next ten years fighting in some God-forsaken corner of the Roman Empire — but unfortunately, look: no thumbs!” “I see… Well, you’re not going to believe this, but this is the third time this has happened today…”

God Compare — Gaulish warriors have difficulty deciding which of their pantheon to sacrifice a prisoner to, so… uh… something. Really, folks, if you haven’t already, you need to see this one for yourselves.

Savage Stone Age

The Early Show: Domesticating a Wolf — “What exactly is the point…?” “Well… they’ll be useful in hunting, they can warn you of danger… Oh, and if you throw a stick, they’ll fetch it and bring it back to you!” “But if you wanted a stick, why would you throw it away in the first place?” “…I don’t know.”)

The Not-So-Great Mammoth Hunt (animated) — So there’s these two cavemen, and they’re congratulating each other on the new hunting technique of driving a mammoth off a cliff, while standing right under a cliff… yeah.

Vile Victorians

Victoria and the Great Exhibition — “The problem with building our Crystal Palace in a park is that the local sparrows have taken to sheltering in the roof, which has caused a few issues, such as noise and –” *SPLAT* “EEEK!” “…I probably don’t have to finish that sentence.”

Field Notes:

  • So here we are at the half-way point already, and boy howdy it’s been quite a series thus far. Demographic shifts and legendary guest stars and ever-more-elaborate reality-TV parodies and… whatever that Snakes on a Plane thing was. Even the slow moments have been filled with impressive arabesques of monologue, also Spartans.
  • But for all that it’s been just a trifle difficult to locate…I dunno, the essential HH-ness. I miss the slight but singularly quirky, audaciously charming house comedy style I myself fell in love with, away back in Series Two (right around S02E10, to be exact). Back when they were still basically a little kiddy comedy taking big chances, y’know?
  • Until I get to this episode, and I realise all that is very much still there. For all the show-offy sophistication, at heart these are the same people who decided at the time that pinching matches and pistol-packing Reverends were the way forward to maturity… and are now further demonstrating their creative confidence by setting Jim and Martha (and their ridiculously potent couple-chemistry) up with a soft-focus love duet. Because catering to your core female demographic is nice, but frankly messing with their minds is fun.
  • Hence, the Victoria & Albert song, which if you listen closely is actually intended as a satire of your standard sugary-sweet pop duet. This alone would’ve been a fine rebuttal to The Young Victoria et al., had they not gotten a wee bit over-confident and attempted to also cram in celebrity cynicism *and* a parody of BBC costume dramas *and* oh yeah, the historical detail, all at the same time.
  • It’s all fairly clever, in the usual style (I specially enjoy Victoria’s pointed little ‘Called us Alboria, but I preferred Vicbert!”) but it never really gels, so eventually you just give up and go with the pretty soft-focus twirliness…
  • ….which turns out to be EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED YOU TO DO MUAH-HA-HAHHH WHO’S SOBBING HELPLESSLY NOW, CYNICAL CRITIC PERSON?… No, I’m not really, but damned if they didn`t expertly manipulate me right out to the edge. Despite, mind, my having just been sniggering happily at the Crystal Palace sketch… only breaking off to wonder at the sheer, erm, volume of the gag; to paraphrase Bill Bryson, that must’ve been one sick sparrow.
  • Even after all that (and Lawry), Martha still absolutely earns her poignant ending; everything that the Queen was mourning for all those years is all there in her face at the fadeout, even under all those prosthetics. Remarkable. *snif snif*
  • *ahem* Right! Resuming the zippy snarkitude now. In case you needed any further proof that the producers know their fandom entirely too well, I give you the Leif Ericsson sketch: three solid minutes of Larry Rickard standing there in full Tumblr fetish gear… and still basing his Scandinavian accent off the PA system at Ikea, but, y’know, details. Clearly the producers knew they’d face complaints re: the LoG bits, and scheduled accordingly. “Irrelevant? Annoying? Just WAIT UNTIL WE UNLEASH NORDIC LARRY MUAH-HA-HAHHH.”
  • Quite seriously, it cannot be a co-incidence that for once the LoG`s banter is noticeably downplayed in favour of petitioner closeups. I think I was probably the only fan — female or otherwise — for whom the ensemble comedy was still the main event. Just FYI, it was still pretty decent, and that`s even besides the gloriously broken American-ese. The reunion portion of this experiment, at least, is an unqualified success.
  • “But,” you have been impatiently waiting to protest, “where is Baynton in all this discussion of deliberate demographic-mind-messing? He must be included, but after the guyliner became an international sensation, what could they possibly have left for him to truly impress us with?”
  • Glad you asked. For starters, that would be our Mathew in the ‘Historical Law’ bit wearing a blond wig and speaking in a Russian accent. Shortly after which, he implied in an interview that he didn’t actually consider Peter III the ‘silliest and biggest characterization’ he’s ever done. Meaning that between this claim and the potential return of God Compare Guy I spent the rest of the series on full Threat Alert mode.
  • Truly though, if there’s a must-see performance in S4, this is definitely it. It had been far too long since Mat had been allowed to thus fully unleash his inner aristocratic whackazoid (scientific term), and the sketch is designed brilliantly around that opportunity. Including but by no means limited to Ben, who was quite literally born to play the Tsarevich’s foil… also, as it turns out, his accent coach.
  • Yep, I almost hate to spoil the magical mystery that is ‘How the hell did Mat learn to not sound like the low-rent gigolo stereotype in a bad Agatha Christie adaptation?’, but turns out Willbond once studied in Russia. So that when Mat hauls out the teeny little gallows, I’m assuming our Benjamin’s stunned expression is actually the result of the weirdest life-goal-reassessment angst ever.
  • Oh, and worth noting as well that Rattus is finally moved once again to protest the treatment of his brethren, and is still fully adorable in the process. Albeit somewhere the ghost of that skewered rat from S3 HMasterchef is probably now laughing hollowly and checking his haunting calendar for the first free Saturday.
  • Moving on from the ridiculous to the sublime, we find Cash My Sin, which is essentially the direct descendant of the ‘Roman Gods Direct’ bit from S1, only given all the creative and budgetary advantages Great-Grandpa Sketch never had. Mat blithely rechannels the camp into a sort of hyper-sincerity; just authentic enough to be absurd, and just absurd enough to neatly avoid stepping on his audience’s spiritual toes.
  • The only thing off… ish… is, once again, Ben’s place in all this. I’m willing to admit that he’s showing up a lot more than my memory initially suggested, but — I dunno, it’s as though they’ve swopped roles within the troupe. So that Ben’s now the spot performer, while Simon’s picked up the Impressive Leading Man ball… and neither quite seems like it was their idea.
  • As for instance, Simon as the theoretically-suave HHTV News reporter, basically reconfirming — in combination with the more characteristically wonderful military conscription bit — that he’s much better left alone to create a wholly unique character, rather than a specific parody like this. (The making Jim look like a doll of himself by contrast, not really optimal either.) I was squirming uneasily, right up until I realised that a) hey, at least Simon’s hair is making the most of the chance and b) he wouldn’t actually be replacing Mike P. but Alice’s newsbimbo, right? Never mind, forget I said anything, carry on.
  • So they did, and it is frankly wonderful. Mat, Ben and Larry, each playing their own precious version of the guy who got into knighthood mostly because of the cool uniform — how perfect a microcosm of the HH Experience is that? Specially Mat ‘eating’ the mic. Well-played, show, well played indeed… at least, right up to the contrived ‘rid me of this troublesome reporter!’ bit, which is where I started to suspect that Henry really knows exactly what he’s doing and just keeps the idiot knights around for plausible deniability.
  • Meantime, despite the Columbus sketch having rather obviously been written with Mat in mind — and the f/x team also having gone above and beyond — the real star, nay quite possibly hero, of that sketch is Jim. While Mat’s off discovering new and innovative heights of strung, Howick is by contrast clamping both hands firmly onto his big chance to be the voice of reason, not only off the coast of not-India but as Henry II and the Roman military recruiter, and stubbornly refusing ever to let it go…
  • …and still managing to get himself stomped all over, because c’mon, it’s Jim (and Mat, and Simon). Regardless, though, that exquisitely exasperated disbelief stuff, we can haz moar pls? Absolutely priceless.
  • What? No, of course I haven’t forgotten the God Compare bit. It’s only… I only…Yes, of course I giggled helplessly like everyone else when it first aired, but… Look, I even went back to the original parody subject to confirm, and it didn’t help either. The universe in which this concept can — or should — be coherently assessed is clearly at least a few down from the one I inhabit. So I mostly just spend subsequent viewings marvelling that they even got it filmed in the first place. Full-on obsessive desperation on Mat & Ben’s part, is my guess.
  • Come to think of it, I would not be surprised if the universe in question was Death’s, and on account of sheer surreal awesomeness overload is starting to leak. You can tell about the awesomeness thing because his sidekicks now have their own little spinoff psychodramas, complete with skeleton-on-mummy hand-holding. (Which, I like to imagine, in this universe represents a shockingly controversial inter-monster romance.) It was inevitable, really.
  • Meantime Martha gives an unexpectedly game, lively performance as the barmaid — to the point where you’re really disappointed (but still impressed) when she turns out to be easily the most stupid human being ever featured on the show. Sorry, the italics just pop out no matter how rationally I try to discuss this woman. Ginger really suits Martha, though, gotta give her that.
  • And on the further subject of unexpected yet hilariously effective characterizations… yeah, it’s kind of a niche topic, everywhere but where this troupe is concerned… Fine, Larry, you win. Or rather, Asterix for the win, always and forever. They just basically dropped a stack of the comics in front of you and Willbond and told you to have at it, didn’t they? And now I have to spend the rest of my life wondering wistfully what an entire live-action Asterix saga featuring the troupe would look like, don’t I? …yeah, you-all are just really lucky Ben looks that distractingly fetching in big-dumb-lug mode.
  • I’d been wondering where Larry’d got to during the God Compare bit, come to that… then realised he’d probably been a bit busy, what with the being chased by slavering prehistoric wolves and all. (Although as filmed it’s pretty obvious that those are actually trained dogs, ‘attacking’ on a command hidden by the jump cut.)
  • At any rate, I award him the Willbond Memorial Star of Merit for going above and beyond in a most excellent satirical cause, and Simon a cupcake for turning out to be a very quick study, where this suave host parody stuff is concerned. Everyone else, your gold stars are in the mail — plus extra sprinkles for whomever came up with the concept, because somehow it just makes me deeply, deeply happy.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So yes,the show is not exaggerating either the cashing in one’s sins, or the utter cynicism of the process. Although it might just be pointed out that it wasn’t really supposed to be that way. In Catholic theology, the idea of paying to escape punishment for sin, usually meaning shorten your time in purgatory — either for yourself, or, not mentioned here, any newly-deceased you might care about enough — is formally called an ‘indulgence’, and technically exists to this day.
  • Of course, technically it is, and was, supposed to take the form of so many dutiful recitations of a particular prayer, or maybe a nice sincere pilgrimage to the Vatican, or something noticeably non-profit like that. At the very least, the medieval Church formally insisted, any monies were to be accepted on the understanding that they only represented a short period of reprieve, and were furthermore to be used strictly for good — building cathedrals, organizing Crusades, like that.
  • Those paying attention over the last few episodes will not be surprised to learn that many lesser medieval spiritual authorities (or, eventually, anybody with writing skills and a suitably devout expression) got really bored with all this altruism real quick and cut straight to the chase. Hence literal little Get Into Heaven Free slips, duly authenticated by the Pope — proof? How dare you question a man of God! — good for centuries’ worth of reprieve, yet still available for just a trifling donation…
  • …the trick being, of course, that there was a built-in repeat market. All a monk looking to replenish the monastery’s cellars had to do was go forth and paint lurid pictures of poor departed loved ones, suffering miserably as they awaited their fate. Who wouldn’t willingly fork over to speed Mom on her way to celestial bliss? A monster who’d better break the piggy bank himself just in case, that’s who.
  • Eventually things got so bad that they inspired Martin Luther’s righteous — and famously public — indignation as nailed to that church door, and with the advent of the Protestant Reformation the Church realised it had better regain the moral high ground. In 1562, the Council of Trent finally clamped down for real.
  • There would be no such reprieve for Karl Peter Ulrich, son of a minor duke and eventually Peter III, Tsar of All the Russias. Yep, as it turns out he was actually German — merely a nephew of the formidable Russian Empress Elizabeth — and, whoopsie, had only been educated up to what everyone thought would be a purely ceremonial existence as King of Sweden. Hence the fascination with the trappings of military pomp and circs, with none whatsoever of the practical experience. He was overall probably what we would call developmentally-delayed, although whether this is a matter of nature-or-nurture is hotly debated.
  • At any rate, when he finally made the throne, his subjects got a serious taste of the obsessiveness displayed here. He not only passed a whopping 220 new statutes in the first few weeks — mostly about trifling stuff that made Oliver Cromwell look like, well, Charles II — but started in enthusiastically hero-worshipping the hated Prussians: Historians mark Peter III’s actions as disordered and unreasonable, and had no support in wider Russian society… His personality and policies were so bizarre that no one could guess what his next move would be. 
  • It wasn’t long before the only military supporters Peter had were three inches high. The inevitable coup attempts had the full support of Peter’s wife (and second cousin), Sophia Augusta Frederica, Princesse de Anhalt-Zerbst… better known by her Russian name, Catherine II, ie. the Great. As you can imagine she was not the type to put up with a mate who preferred his toys to her, let alone at bedtime. By skilfully positioning herself as a dignified (and very lovely) martyr to the disaffected generals, she easily earned their sympathy — and then loyalty. Exeunt Peter, exiled and probably assassinated shortly thereafter.
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Posted by on July 14, 2013 in Series Four


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Guards! Take him away and make him dead!…Unless you can think of something worse than death, in which case, do that too, OK? OK.

The slight but curiously endearing interlude just before the steam fully ran out on Series One: a reminder that while the experiments may not all have worked, the great thing is they never stopped trying.

In this episode:

Song: British Things (Sarah as Queen Victoria, Mat as her Butler)

Recurring sketches:

Oh Yea! Magazine — Henry VIII wedding special

Stupid Deaths — Pausanius of Sparta (declared sanctuary from his pursuers in a temple… so they bricked him up in it)

Court of Historical Law — Draco of Athens vs. an apple thief

Fractured Fairy Tales — Sleeping Beauty, the Ancient Greek version (In which she falls afoul of the idleness laws…)

Bob Hale — The British Empire Report

Words We Get From the – Vikings, part 2

Ready, Steady Feast — Live from the Siege of Orleans, 1429


Terrible Tudors

The Axe Factor (imagine spot) – Who wants to be the next Tudor executioner? And, not incidentally, demonstrate the increasingly blurry line between actual reality-show logic and parody?

Vicious Vikings

Warrior Poetry – No I am not going to write this description in rhyme. It’s a silly thing to do, and besides, I’m out of tim– Curse you, Dr. Seuss!

Slimy Stuarts

Guy Fawkes’ Firework Tips – The first of several pennies chucked at the hapless Old Guy, who couldn’t even keep ‘Stuff some explosives in the basement and run like hell’ straight.

HHTV News: Pick a Side, Any Side – The quiet countryside during the English Civil War was suddenly fraught with peril… marauding armies rending the kingdom asunder, half-dressed comics re-enacting ancient vaudeville routines, take your pick.

Measly Middle Ages

Too Grim For the Reaper – Or as I like to think of it, the moment at which Death finally chucked up the pointless paperwork (seriously, where was he filing those?) moved to Vegas and started hanging out with blonde skeletons.

Field Notes:

  • Confession time: I have always enjoyed Sarah as Queen Victoria just a leetle bit more than Martha, despite the latter being really a much more faithful take. Sarah, though, has the ‘We are not amused’  down to the point where frankly I would hate to be the go-fer accidentally serving lukewarm tea on any set she happened to frequent.
  • So I rather like “British Things”, as a production concept anyway. Granted the song’s revisionist earnestness is in further over its head than a random jock at a feminist rally, and Mat’s still not quite the buttling type (albeit at least they didn’t try to shoehorn poor Ben in there). It still overall works as a sort of lavishly illustrated frontispiece for Bob H.’s likewise unsettlingly thorough report on the travails of empire — at least to me, the Canadian (mentioned by Bobsy, woo! represent!)
  • Obviously I can’t speak to the UK’s empirical angst, esp. since I feel like we’ve gotten off fairly lightly — save perhaps still having to take respectful notice every time a minor Duchess sneezes — so am mostly just going on artistic merit here. When they do get to the bit about ‘Victoria’ actually being (gasp!) Latin, the only thing really is to be grateful they got it out of their systems early, and switch that part of the brain over to anticipating Series Two’s music instead.
  • Ohai General Pausanius!… boy, you’ve changed. Or will change. I guess death by slow painful starvation might have had a part in that; it would at least explain, which I feel I must point out in fairness to your fourth-series likeness, why you’re not any more buff than he is despite continuing to be Spartan. That is to say, I’d just like to remind the producers, a career warrior battle-hardened from a toddler. I’m starting to realise why Hollywood went with the rotoscoping; it was clearly that much easier than reproducing this effect in real life.
  • Big week altogether for rough drafts of more elaborate later-series redos. And having now also seen the original fun-but-raggedy Guy Fawkes sketch here, I am fully on board with this. (At least old Guy gets to keep the same rather dashing look, although I think the accent refines a bit.) While we’re on, can we also revisit the Stupid Death where [SPOILER ALERT] the Viking gets bitten by the severed head of his enemy?  Pretty please with cherry atop?
  • Speaking of which, this ep also gives us the first last and only appearance of the ‘Stupid Deaths’ milieu sans actual SD, and it cannot be a coincidence that it shows a Reaper so ready for exactly the changes he’s about to make. It certainly doesn’t have much point as a sketch otherwise — except to stress that HH purgatory can involve entire decades spent suffering in Death’s anteroom, without even so much as a towel for the drowned. Y’know, we make jokes about waiting in line at government offices here too, but you lot… I can only bow before your desperation.
  • So let’s cheer things up a bit and remind ourselves that the same show created the gentle symphony of Seussian charm that is “Viking Poetry”. Totally unlike anything else HH before or since, but fully and entirely brilliant, performance and writing both. Basically, I love how it all just works. Two grown men, one speaking in rhyme and the other playing his foil in pigtails, sitting there so gravely respecting the fragility of what they’re doing (unlike, say, the people who bunged Mike Myers into a Cat in the Hat costume). Ben peering round involuntarily, looking for the audience, is especially precious.
  • By contrast, the Axe Factor’s much more characteristically a Series One sketch: overwrought and sloppy around the edges, but still an ingeniously fun parody idea. The takeoff on your typical hopeful reality-TV contestants hits all the right notes, so to speak. Besides, I do enjoy comedy wherein just as you start preening yourself for noticing the illogic (“Um, why are they letting the clearly psychotic contestant hold the axe?”), it swings back around and smacks you upside the ear.
  • Also: extensive bonus material in the form of my imagination riffing on what might happen if they really did give, say, American Idol contestants axes. There would be sparkly pony decals involved, of that I am very sure.
  • Elsewhere in the annals of clever ideas, Larry gets his own back on Mat for that corsned business… and thus, not incidentally, becomes the bane of reality-challenged Baynton fangirls everywhere. If you’re ever in a particularly snarky mood, go look this one up on YouTube and the pink sparkly wailing will cheer you up no end… uh, so I’ve heard. Revelations from my evil twin aside, Mat does always tend to come across as a bit too authentically vulnerable (with those eyes, it was either that or become Enrique Iglesias), but Larry does cheerfully weird equally well — especially with the help of those ridiculous little visual aids — so here at least, it all evens out.
  • Right, so at one point during the Siege of Orleans bit — and we will not get me started on the sheer disgustingness of that — however, one of the items hauled out is half a rat, as played by what looks unnervingly like the bottom of the Rattus puppet. With the implication that the top was chomped raw on the way to the studio… all this, and not a squeak of protest from Our Host. It is of course possible he fainted from the sheer gross; were it not for deadlines here, I would be joining him.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, erm, yeah, I do hate to go all History Math Nazi here, but the Hundred Years’ War. Technically yes, it did last for 100 years — thing is, by the calculations of the Historians That Calculate These Things it lasted another 16 years past that. Given a choice between a puppet rat or people whose self-respect depends on an in-depth knowledge of fourteenth-century politics, I know who I’m not gonna challenge. (And am kind of surprised the HH writers passed up the much better joke inherent in the accurate figure.)
  • It’s mentioned in passing (and illustrated by the brief excerpt Simon recites) but just to reiterate, on account of it’s also once again clear from the YouTube comments that people really care about this — seriously, don’t you people have Doctor Who fanfic to read or something? — at any rate no, Viking poetry didn’t really rhyme, per se. At least, I don’t think. Did you ever want to expand your knowledge of technical literary terms (and/or have bad flashbacks to HS English) now’s the time to head over there.
  • [TUDOR RANT ALERT] Geez, though, show, are we not done with this yet? Anne Boleyn’s ‘extra finger’ / ‘humongous wart’ was actually described in the most reliable contemporary accounts as ‘some little show of nail’ on one side of her legitimate right pinky, ie, a vestigial blemish easily covered by the hanging sleeves she wore for just that reason. A more glaring deformity (other versions also feature multiple huge moles and a third breast) is extremely unlikely to have kept His Serially Married Majesty on the string for six long years. Especially in those hyper-superstitious times, when the ‘witch’s mark’ was a legitimate thing — but never mentioned re: Anne, not even when Henry was insisting later that he’d been seduced by her (literal, not Sinatra) black magic.
  • Fun facteage to save for parties: next time some bore calls the latest government proposal ‘draconian’, you can reply “Yes, but really, they don’t bear much resemblance to Athenian statesman Draco, from whence the word derives. After all, it’s not like they want to have us all executed for stealing apples!” Then smile brightly. Within approximately ten seconds you’ll be left all alone with their helping of that delicious quiche.
  • In real life, as you might imagine, being an executioner — in a world teeming with vengeful and often well-connected relatives — wasn’t exactly the most sought-after job in medieval Europe, although it could be very well-compensated for those same reasons. (In France, it was simply hereditary.) That said, talent did make a difference. Just ask Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, Henry’s sainted elderly cousin and victim of one of his periodic waves of dynastic paranoia. Her execution for treason was made even more horrifically shameful when: The frail and ill lady was dragged to the block and, as she refused to lay her head on it, was forced down. As she struggled, the inexperienced executioner’s first blow made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. Ten additional blows were required to complete the execution. A less reputable account states that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner.
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Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Series One


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It’s true! William the Conqueror really did explode at his own funeral… see if you can find that on the Bayeux Tapestry.

Having full-on stormed the boundaries of children’s media and come out the other side still on the air, the show takes a moment to relax and enjoy the view…

In this episode:

Song: Sorry, true believers, it’ll be awhile yet before the music becomes mandatory. In the meantime, have some gratuitous shots at Simon Cowell.

Recurring sketches:

Bob Hale — The Stone Age Report

Court of Historical Law — Anglo-Saxon Britain (Ethelred the Unready vs. a horse thief)

Fractured Fairy Tales — Goldilocks, the Saxon version (Wherein stealing gets you branded on the forehead & ears/hands cut off.)

Historical Hospital — Dr. Montague Fuzzlepeck: Master of Georgian medicaments


Awful Egyptians

Pharaoh Phashion Magazine — Playing it cool in the desert, from your hair down to your… erm… let’s just say the depilatories must’ve been really impressive.

Mouse Fresh Max Toothpaste —  No, of course they didn’t just stuff the mice in live! They cut them in half first! … Doesn’t really help, does it?

Ruthless Rulers

Louis XI and the Pig Piano (animated) — A bored French king demands a nifty new musical instrument, which turns out to be auto-squealing pork, which turns into the aforementioned Cowell riff.  (…”Though even I’m not that old.” *oink!* “I’m not!”)

Measly Middle Ages

HHTV News: The Domesday Book — The conquering Normans survey their new holdings… and if this sample is anything to go by, were severely disappointed.(“How many chickens do you have?” “Fifteen.” *squawk! thud!* “Fourteen.”)

William I: Hurry Up and Bury Him — Royal funerals were a bit… different before TV. But arguably a lot more entertaining.

Rotten Romans

Caligula vs. Poseidon — The definition of a big problem: being the Emperor of Rome’s generals the day he decides to go to war with a god. (“BIGGER THAN MEEEE?!!”)

Savage Stone Age

Modern Stone Age Family (imagine spot) — Why Emily Post suggests your dinner guests should always be at the same evolutionary stage. (“Please, take a seat…wait, what are you doing?” “Ugg take seat!”)

Gorgeous Georgians

Join the Georgian Navy — “Bravely defending Britain’s empire with some people we picked up off the floor in the local tavern.”

Field Notes:

  • Nope, no song — in case you were still wondering just how far they’d come in four series. At this point in the show’s evolution that particular lavish care was being expended instead on the animated bits. Not incomprehensible if you’ve ever seen the books — but clearly a decision made prior to (independently of?) taking a good look at the live cast, or for that matter, most of the live-action scripts.
  • Because otherwise this is such a lovely romp of an episode — well, the (unusual) insistence on the realistically bloody maiming of cute li’l Goldilocks is a bit much, but other than that, just pure good times. None of the sketches are exactly insta-classics, but they’re all frankly hilarious, suggesting that the writers were rapidly becoming very comfortable indeed not only with the material, but in adapting it from the source to fit their own notions of *ahem* family entertainment. Besides all of which I’m so very grateful for an episode that isn’t actively trying to give me or my inner history nerd nightmares.
  • Besides that… lots of Mat, and specifically, lots of Mat having a whole lot of fun, in a way that vividly illustrates why these people signed up for HH in the first place and have stayed all these years. Y’know, biases re: beauty aside, Mat’s not the best actor of the troupe per se — that would be Ben or Jim, depending on the requirements of the sketch — but as a clown he has something that were I a genre expert I suspect I’d be dubbing genius, and am certainly able to call intensely watchable.
  • Rattus’ crack — the first of many similar — about Neanderthals being ‘your PE teacher’s relatives…’ I dunno. I mean, ragging on boring ol’school, integral part of the HH/Terry Deary/small children everywhere experience, I get it. That PE teachers are obviously far less respected and feared over there than here, a little odd (do you people not play dodgeball?), but OK. The thing is, though, as it turns out some of the cast actually are PE teacher relatives, or at least have relatives that are PE teachers. Do they have Thanksgiving in the UK? ‘Cos I’d imagine this is the sort of thing that’d make it weird.
  • Trivia time: if you guessed that the first HH actor to get a full-frontal scene (with the relevant bits tastefully obscured of course!) would be Javone… well, hey, you’re in luck. He’s got nothing to be ashamed of — unlike the rest of the sketch, which is doing that thing the show always does to demonstrate historical beauty choices, ie. applying them like a toddler raiding Mummy’s makeup bag. This has always struck me as vaguely unfair, besides leading to things like Return of Museum Matron Sarah and [actress name to be inserted here on receipt] making like a low-rent KISS groupie. Something else I thought they didn’t have in the UK.
  • Elsewhere, this episode features the debut of one Terry Deary, apparently just for a lark. I’m not the man’s biggest fan — there’s a point at which ‘loveable old curmudgeon’ becomes just plain ‘self-absorbed old crank’, and to my mind, if he hasn’t crossed it, he’s hovering dangerously on the verge — but hey, without him none of us would be here. And he gets all the respect besides for making himself actually useful and funny onscreen, not just standing around waiting for a medal.
  • Also debuting here: Cartoon Simon Cowell (complete with lovingly delineated moobs — nice one, animators!) and the show’s inexplicable need to get all up in his grill wherever possible. Not exactly complaining, you understand; just a trifle bemused by the specific importance of it all, especially since his relevance over here is long since done. Does one of the writers have an embarrassing Pop Idol audition buried in his past somewhere? Does this mean that with suitable stimulus — financial or otherwise — we could displace that rage onto, say, Chris Brown getting whomped by a megabear?
  • What a wonderful sketch Caligula vs. Poseidon is. Everything that inspires me to blog about HH, in one neat package. Whenever my warm fuzzy levels are off I watch it again, once for the pure funny — how did they all keep a straight face? — once to appreciate Simon’s advanced masterclass in comic crazy, and once to… well.. Mat. Um. Even if I’m pretty sure the Romans didn’t actually invent hairspray, and even if in terms of convincing armour-wearing he is still the charter founder of Skinnymandria. Shut up and watch he and Jim adorkably high-five each other, inner history nerd.
  • The Domesday Book is another guaranteed gigglefest. Not so much in and of itself — although the gags are solid and expertly played — as for the implications in odd corners. I love that Martha gets a rare non-gender-specific role (and/or one in which she’s not stuck wearing hideous blouses — sorry, Sam). Then there’s Jim cutting up in the background — not saying he’s trying to mess with Mat, but it’s the perfect opportunity, and another fuzzy-inducing indication of how much fun they were having putting this thing together, even at that early date. (Is there a blooper reel attached to Series One? My *ahem* online copy doesn’t include one.)
  • They’re also starting to get a more nuanced understanding of their leads’ strengths, as demonstrated by the Stone Age Family sketch — or, more accurately, by an expertly-cast Ben, Mat and Sarah fully rescuing same from what could’ve been a dreadful morass of overplayed cliches. And while I’m handing out individual laurels, let’s hear it for Larry the perpetual — and perpetually anonymous — patient in the Historical Hospital sketches, demonstrating his willingness to put up with anything for an onscreen laugh. Nice knowing now that he’ll be rewarded for it.
  • You can tell this is very early days for the Bob Hale Report, as not only is ol’Bobsy still blond — incidentally, this side of the pond, that floppy ‘do is mostly associated with aging surfers in particular and males who’ve been refusing to grow up since 1995 in general, leading to delightful speculations on B.Hale: the College Years — but his catchphrases go by with barely a pause. Also, the fadeout isn’t to Sam but to Rattus, in what I think is the only direct interaction to date between he and the HHTV crew. When someone decides to work out the timey-wimey stuff of the HH universe — and yes, it’s the internet, of course someone will — I fully expect this to be a major plot point.
  • In a similar vein, the actor ‘playing’ William I’s corpse doesn’t bear much resemblance to Simon’s later live-action take. Still, all hail Whatshisname and his amazing ability to remain dead throughout what’s essentially the Worst Extra Job Ever, including highly convincing-looking flames (and while I’m at it, huzzah to whomever convinced the owners of that gorgeous Great Hall to let it be set it on fire). Must make for quite the memorable resume in both cases.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Not really a historical note per se, but I do love the mental image of baffled parents attempting to explain the ‘hair of the hound that first bit him’ to their wide-eyed darlings. Good one, show.
  • OK, so, Egyptian hairdressing turns out to be a bit too ridiculous to be true. The provenance for those wax cones is limited to paintings — contemporary wigs don’t show a lot of residue — but it’s thought the idea if any was to melt perfume over your ‘do (picture a cross between hot oil treatments and aromatherapy), not just prance round with the cone stuck up there. In a desert-dwelling aristocracy, where, as the sketch does accurately indicate, the higher you climbed the more clothes you required, not smelling like old socks was a valued sign of status.
  • The mouse-paste, however… sorry, animal lovers, that one’s golden: The mouse, which was considered to be protected by the sun and capable of fending off death, was often used by individuals with a toothache…applying half of the body of a dead mouse to the aching tooth while the body was still warm. (So why, I’d like to know, does Rattus not throw a tantrum as he will over later sketches featuring rats being threatened? Evidence of teeny little rodent apartheid?)
  • Ordeal by cake, meanwhile, also totally a thing. In Anglo-Saxon, corsned: literally (and even more delightfully), the ‘bread and cheese’ ordeal. In real life, of course, since God was doing the judging they had to make sure this lump of dough was untainted by yeasty evil, so an exorcism was conducted… ie. totally featured a priest going all William Peter Blatty over, basically, kindergarten snack time. You may now close your eyes and appreciate that scene to the fullest.
  • Back? Great. Just in time for a long and involved discussion in the YouTube comments on the genealogical controversies inherent in… WAIT NO STOP PUT DOWN THAT EYE-GOUGER. Seriously, no, even I’m not going back in there. Non-mouth-foam-intensive version: ‘Unready’ really refers not to poor old Aethelred, but to his advisers, pace Wiki: (“Unready” is a mistranslation of Old English unræd (meaning bad-counsel) —a twist on his name “Æthelred” (meaning noble-counsel). A better translation would be “ill-advised”. Also, there seems to be some problem with calling his uncle ‘Earl Harold Godwin’, whether he even was his uncle in the first place, and even more with his actually having taken the corsned. Horrible Histories: proudly reminding me that people really do care deeply about this stuff since 2009.
  • Animal instruments along the lines shown here have a long and storied history, albeit mostly as novelty items — you ever spare a thought for the poor servant forced to clean that piggy piano, five minutes later? My personal favourite is the Katzenklavier (‘cat organ’), which if it existed would’ve been much the same thing, but it didn’t exist, because, hello, cats having their tails pulled, nobody wanted to get in front of that. Still: The instrument was recreated using squeaky toys… for a garden party held… in 2010 by Prince Charles [for charity].The tune Over the Rainbow was played and caused great amusement. To paraphrase Death: I love the British so much, sometimes. I do. I really do.
  • Guess what: Caligula really did take on Poseidon, the Greek god, not Neptune, the Roman one. If he actually did take one a god at all, of course. Like all things Little Bootikins (check back to S01E04 for details), sources naturally differ widely on whether he fully believed in his divine war, or if it was merely a legend grown up around the symbolic gesture of marching to the sea (the details of the ‘battle’ will be covered in another sketch). But whatever it was, it was apparently happening against the Hellenic deity.
  • Finally (boy this episode just keeps on giving, doesn’t it?)… Neanderthals: As it turns out, not really all that stupid. Not Rhodes Scholars or anything, but pretty darn good at being cavepeople, ie. able to independently evolve tools. It’s currently suspected that they may actually be an obsolete subspecies of Homo Sapiens… meaning Bored Yuppie Ben is probably sitting there chatting to his embarrassing cousins that nobody in the family really likes to talk about. Makes the sketch that much better, doesn’t it?

Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Series One


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