Tag Archives: historical hospital


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


Tags: , , , , , , ,


Colchester, London, St Albans!
Everybody talk about — dead Romans!

One of the truly classic episodes, a marvelous marriage of inspiration and experience that — probably not coincidentally — debuted right around the time everyone started insisting they’d been intending to make a ‘family show’ all along…

In this episode:

Song: Boudicca — Martha as the legendary warrior Queen of the Iceni, Ben, Mat & Jim as her chorus-slash-stooges, Larry as a Roman centurion

Recurring sketches:

Victorian EastEnders — A Name for Seventh Child (“How’re we going to top this for his next birthday?” “Well, he’s going to be cleaning out the cogs in the new machine at the factory, so I don’t actually think we need to worry about his next birthday…”)

Shouty Man — New! Victorian Maid (“Make someone else do it, and the job is done! …And if your Victorian Maid should become ill, old, pregnant, lazy or otherwise problematic, we’ll replace it with a younger model! For the same low, low price!”)

Scary Stories — The Freaks (“I turned down a film premiere to do this, y’know…”)

Historical Fashion Fix — Celtic Farmer Readies for Battle (“I’m working my way into a Celtic warrior battle frenzy! I go absolutely bananas and then kill everything in my path!!” “Not. On my show. Sister.“)

HHTV Sport — Georgian Pinching Match (“I’m sure, long after people have gone off football, they’ll still be into pinching matches and greased goose grabbing.”)

Historical Hospital — Dr. Isis, Egyptian not-quite-mad-scientist (ie., they got to him before he hauled out the fresh mouse halves.)


Measly Middle Ages

News at 1066 — As told via Bayeux Tapestry… *insert still-a-more-reliable-source-than ___ gag here* (“I must apologise for the time delay, but these scenes have taken awhile to embroider.”)

Bertran de Born: Now That’s What I Call Miserable! Vol.3 — Y’know, “I’ll turn their heads into a mush of brains mixed with links of mail…” isn’t really all that bad a lyric. Although I prefer his later work: Simon Cowell, Simon Cowell/Your trousers are too high, and everybody prefers Cheryl…

Slimy Stuarts

Royal Wedding by Proxy — “I now pronounce you… friend of the husband, and somebody else’s wife.” Just be grateful they left out the bit where the stand-in groom put a ceremonial leg in the bride’s bed.

Pistol-Packing Reformation — How simultaneously tough and incomprehensible are the Scots? Let’s have a minister try to introduce new C of E prayer books, and find out! (“Yer nae guid yoo! I’m no’ happy!”)

Gorgeous Georgians

Georgian Army Life — In which we learn they switched to picking up drunks from tavern floors after the failure of their previous campaign: ‘Be All That You Never Wanted to Be!’

Awful Egyptians

Cleopatra’s Beauty Regime — Which pointedly doesn’t include either wax cones or KISS-groupie wigs. Result! (“Because beauty is skin-deep… and has a beard.”)

Field Notes:

  • The familiarity-fest continues, and so, concurrently, does the inability to snarkily critique grow. Honestly, if I could somehow sum up this episode with a great big hug of affection and appreciation, I would…
  • …but that would make for a short article, not to mention those animated emoticon thingies are really annoying. Besides, it’s still interesting. Series Two can feel at times rather like watching an eager novice juggler; the shiny new ideas and sophisticated ambitions were there from the outset, but it took awhile for everyone — the writers especially — to get it all balanced right and clicking smoothly along.
  • This episode, basically, commemorates the moment at which that light bulb went off, and what we now consider the characteristic HH house style kicked in… and in case you doubt it, five little words: Larry the Historical Hospital doctor. Yep, they really had come a long way — all the way through to Series Four, when it’ll be time to make another leap forward.
  • For now, we begin — as all great epochs in HH creative history tend to — with the song, which has the distinction of being what tipped my interest in the show from casual to full-bore PVR series record. Not coincidentally, it works in much the same way as the ‘King of Bling’ does: inspiration flows into understanding flows into parody, all interlocking so neatly that the resulting brilliant cleverness comes across as essentially just a splendidly satisfying bit of entertainment.
  • Anchored by a debut lead vocal from Martha that can only be described as triumphant. All the more so, because very honestly, I had no idea she had it in her… although in hindsight, I bet that Historical Hairdresser does wield a mean curling iron. Still, up till now the really brassy stuff had all been handled by Sarah. But we’ve got Alice round to make capable work of the dainty feminine stuff since then — as demonstrated later on in this same ep, as it happens.
  • Having once got her way clear, Martha proves admirably deft in the handling — the accent hovers dangerously on the verge, but hey, details. Together with the songwriters, she injects real human credibility into the grrl-power cliches, and thus creates a character through whom viewers of all ages get a reminder that such basic aspects of badassery as the desire for freedom, fair play, courage and leadership… not to mention wielding a cool battle-axe… are entirely gender-neutral.
  • Interestingly enough, this ep is also — as per Tumblr — THE ONE WITH (theoretically) NAKED WILLBOND. Complete with “the flower [tattoos] were my idea” followed by strategic pastel watering can. The whole sketch is a sweetly naughty hoot like that. While never quite enough to overcome my initial amazement at the implications of such a scene in a kiddy show, the view’s certainly nothing a man pushing forty need apologise for. Especially once he loses what in North American would be defined as ‘the ultimate ’70’s pornstache’.
  • What I find even more fascinating now is that, while Ben’s proven previously to be entirely OK with sniffing and spanking, the getting (almost) naked is clearly terrifying the tattoos right off him. Then again, given that here it’s Mat who first sniffs the shoe, then sniffs Ben… the latter might merely be reacting to offstage discussion of ‘how best to shoot the scene’, featuring odd silences whenever he approached.
  • And this also happens to be the ep in which Shouty Man — whom, as you’ll recall, has already been inspired to the heights of creative shamelessness by this particular era — tosses his New! Victorian Maid onscreen. Blithely offering to replace ‘it’, should ‘it’ become inconvenient in any way. At which point I am a) reminded that the producer of this show is female and thus b) pretty damn sure the entire sketch selection is intentional. This is a (completely wonderful) adult satire concept that somebody noticed could be (barely) decently layered under kiddy knockabout comedy.
  • There’s something of the same flavour in the second EastEnders sketch, which carries on the unusual thoughtfulness from the first. Clearly somebody on the writing staff either did Dickens for their English degree (with a minor in Swift), or maybe just spends a lot of time in front of classic Doctor Who. Either way, it’s just nice to see the focus deepened a bit past the standard for once; rather the same pleasing effect Series Three will get by delving into Viking home life.
  • It doesn’t hurt here that Mat has a natural knack with kids that shines through even when he’s supposed to be being harsh with them, which here is made extra-engaging by another decent turn from the young actor in question — Bertie may be blonder, but this little guy has him soundly beat for sheer talent. It all sets up an effective backdrop of familial affection for the savage satire.
  • And speaking of effective… love, love love all around for Ben the pistol-packing Reverend, which can still make me laugh aloud lo these many viewings later. I’m never quite sure whether I should add or deduct points for this new trend of picking up an isolated incident and implying it’s characteristic of the larger picture… but damn, I’m so not willing to lose either Rev. Benjamin turning the page with his teeth or Mat’s Scottish accent. (Could probably dump Martha’s without tears, though.)
  • Pinching matches: Owwww! And also sort of… weirdly compelling. (Ooh, speaking of which, Jim’s got a blazer now! Very nice.) Did the contestants really wear the all-white ensembles? ‘Cos that’s kind of distractingly creepy, actually. Like, great, there’s still schoolyard bullying in the afterlife. Of course, they couldn’t show an actually authentic match, given where the real-life pinchers would’ve homed in on first go… still, I’m with Blazer-Wearing Jim; in a modern world where pro arm-wrestling is a thing, I’ve no idea why there aren’t entire pinching leagues.
  • Hee! Knew adding the BBC News package to the cable would pay off in parody content!… well, maybe not, but having the reference really does enhance the funny on the Bayeux Tapestry bit, which almost justifies the fee hike this month. Seriously, it’s just such a fun sketch, an unusually imaginative parody idea that effectively lightens the mood actually does work surprisingly well as a modern newscast… when I’m not being distracted by the hair.
  • Or Simon Cowell. So what, the gag is he somehow hung around medieval France scoping out the local talent? Would explain a lot about Il Divo, I guess, but still, kind of gratuitously weird. Otherwise, the minstrel sketch is all kinds of hilarious both on its own and as the unexpected-but-entirely natural payoff of all Mat’s performance experience to date. He really brings what could’ve been a stupidly goofy disaster to perfect, elegant life.
  • On the subject of subtle: Lawry is surprisingly not-annoying, not to say convincingly French, as Charles I’s stand-in… or maybe that’s just my relief at his sanity’s return talking. The concept of royal proxy marriage is not, actually, as Horrible as they clearly seem to be convinced it must be, but via generous helpings of modern logic — and of course Larry — they manage to turn it into a really funny, nimble festival of surreality.
  • The ability to skew historical normality through current perspective is one of the most powerful comic weapons the show has at its disposal… they just need to remember to use it wisely, perhaps.
  • “You horrible little man!” — yep, they’ve also learned how to milk Jim’s woobie-ness for maximum watchability. At least, I find this whole Georgian Army sketch adorable out of all proportion to what it deserves, esp. given the suspiciously clean, bright uniforms as compared to the icky food. At any rate, take heart, our Jim! At least your therapist will be able to make that yacht payment this month.
  • As a nifty adjunct to the gender-based interestingness… also, if you ever want to seriously compare sophistication levels between this series and last… just compare the two Egyptian beauty sketches. Martha looks genuinely great in the exotic makeup… but why are they suddenly making like they’ve never shown the false beard before? Not actually the kind of thing you need to hammer home over and over for fear it’ll be missed…

95% Accu-rat:

  • So, Queen Boudicca — or Boadicea, which frankly I always thought was the much cooler spelling, but from my researches appear to have been soundly outvoted. The song does an excellent job of summarising the main facts of the case, although it’s actually not clear whether the lady really did poison herself in captivity.
  • Also, in keeping with the general policy of bowdlerizing most Horribleness associated with sexual violence and/or perversion, it tactfully doesn’t go into detail re: the ‘answer’ the Romans are thought to have made to her request to retain her kingdom: stripping and flogging Boudicca herself, and raping her daughters. Yeah, ‘turned this sister into one angry chick’ works pretty damn well.
  • General awkwardnesses aside, this particular Scary Story is working awfully hard for not much. Although the legend of the ‘pig-faced woman’, while almost forgotten now, was remarkably persistent back in the day — to the extent that it inspired one of my very favourite Wiki articles — the reality of existence for most ‘freaks’ was pretty mundane.
  • They weren’t necessarily, or even usually ‘made’ to exhibit themselves — most embraced it wholeheartedly, as a way to maintain their independent dignity and earn enough to keep themselves in comfort. (See Sarah Biffen for an excellent example.) Yes, this correctly strikes our modern ideals re: the disabled as horrifically misguided, but then it’s only very recently that their choice was something other than exploitation or starvation.
  • Which leads nicely into Bertran de Born. Actually a minor nobleman of the Limousin province of what would eventually be France, circa around 1178… which may explain why he wasn’t all that sanguine about existence generally; a nihilistic streak was pretty much de rigueur for the Dark Ages. Compared to Grimm’s tales, for instance, the Baron de Born sounds positively high on sunshine. At any rate, he developed his uniquely, uh, personal interest in battle poetry thanks to the shenanigans of Henry II Plantagenet in and around the region.
  • What makes all of this even remotely remarkable is Dante’s decision to immortalise him in the Inferno: According to his later vida (a romanticised short biography attached to his songs), Henry II believed Bertran had fomented the rebellion of his son Henry the Young King. As a result, Dante Alighieri portrayed him… as a sower of schism, punished in the eighth circle of Hell (Canto XXVIII), carrying his severed head like a lantern. So, uh, take that, Cowell!
  • Not that I’m condoning firing on your parishioners, but it’s indisputable that the medieval Scots — here seen being inspired to become ‘Covenanters’, ie. formally opposed to any head of the church but the Christ — handled religion within the same unique interpretation of ‘love thy neighbor’ that they brought to anything else. Apparently, a more famous incident in the prayer-book rebellion involved one Jenny Geddes flat-out hurling her folding-stool at the pulpit: “Daur ye say mass in my lug!” (Dare you say mass in my ear!).
  • So yeah, this whole thing with Charles I’s wedding is simply proxy marriage — a very routine part of aristocratic life at a time in which royal marriage contracts were extremely formal alliance-sealing things that also involved the transaction of huge dowries, and travel between countries was concurrently a huge honking peril-filled deal.
  • As noted, the big showpiece ceremony could always be held when the bride arrived; and of course the proxy ceremony would be held with all possible dignity, including the pretty dresses and whatnot. But the really important business was the fulfillment of that contract, leading to some extremely obvious indications that this was all purely realpolitik. At Marie Antoinette’s quasi-marriage, for instance, her older brother Ferdinand played the part of the groom.
  • It’s not exactly a secret either that being a Victorian-era maidservant wasn’t a bed of roses. There did exist a sort of hierarchy in which it was possible to gain some status; a personal ladies’-maid, for instance, was expected to be well-bred enough to know how things were done among the aristocracy, and perhaps to engage her mistress in conversation on same (similar to a male valet). Parlourmaids, being the first aspect of the home visitors saw, were routinely chosen for their beauty.
  • But if you were just another random house skivvy… yeah, your day began with ironing the family newspapers at 5:30 am and went downhill from there. Your whole life depended on the whim of your employers, because dismissal without a ‘character’ (in this case meaning ‘able to keep her mouth shut, up to and including that time my son got drunk and decided it would be fun to rape something’) meant you were effectively unemployable.
  • Finally… I regret exceedingly that I was unable to find anything further on either pinching competitions or greased goose grabbing. The closest I came was this rather more disturbing article on ‘goose pulling’ — basically the same thing, except with the goose alive ‘n’ honking. At least, erm, initially. Which actually makes a lot more sense when you consider it from a sporting perspective… and did indeed survive to the present day.
  • Albeit not, I hasten to add, in England, where it appears to have been in the process of dying out even as our sport-jacketed pals poked each other. Either that, of course, or those involved simply rechanneled their homicidal urges into inventing rugby.
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Series Two


Tags: , , , , , , , ,


So one Incan generation would tell it to the next, who would tell it to the next, who would tell it to the next. Just like I’m telling it to you right now — but without the rather fetching tie.

That point in all the best HH series when you realise you now recognise nearly every scene in the opening credits… and are made melancholy at the implications.

In this episode:

Song: Real Live Cowboys — Ben, Larry and Nathaniel Martello-White, ridin’ the range

Recurring sketches:

Historical Hospital — Stuart physician (“Now, let’s get those pigeons in here — come on, let’s encourage them! coo! coo! … they’ll be here soon!”)

HHTV Sport: Viking Family Feud — Which turns out to have been conducted along the standard Hatfields -vs- McCoys model, except with fewer star-crossed lovers and way more berserkers. ie., exactly as it should be.

Stupid Deaths — WWII Businessman (On the train home in a blackout, got off at the wrong stop… over a railway trestle! “Ohhhh, I see! … or rather I don’t! Hah! Keep up guys, keep up!”)

Bob Hale — The Incan Report

Victorian EastEnders — The Cost of Penny School (“Right! Chastity! We’d like to talk to you about your school attendance!” “Yes, Dad?” “It seems you’ve been going!”)


Slimy Stuarts

Tea for New — Well, somebody’s clearly seen Bob Newhart’s ‘Raleigh introduces tobacco‘ routine…

Vicious Vikings

Savage Sendoff — “And the ceremony would not be complete without a moving Viking poem: Ragnar the Brave/Has lost his head/We Vikings aren’t sad/We party instead!”

Woeful Second World War

Anderson Home Bomb Shelter — Getting weirdly cozy with infomercial pitchmen: only one of the many perils to be guarded against during the Blitz…

The Farm — … Like being evacuated to the country, for instance. “There’s nothing to be scared of, Charley. They’re just farm animals.” “AAAAAAHHHHHH…!!!”

Incredible Incas

Incan Telephone Messaging — Which was even more confusing prior to the invention of the actual telephone.

Vile Victorians

The Welsh Not — OK, so sure, you’ve been forcibly deprived of your native language and humiliated in front of your peers. But at least they’re not telling the sheep jokes yet!… I don’t think.

Awesome USA

New! Multi-Purpose Bandanna — Probably the least Horrible excuse for a sketch in the entire canon… unless they’re thinking ahead to it being co-opted by hefty bikers for sweat shields, in which case, carry right on!

Field Notes:

  • You know how, when you go to watch a rerun of a series, it’s always one or two particular episodes? Well, these next two episodes of HH are what I saw every time… and for a year or so there S1-S2 was running on an infinite loop, several times a week, so I saw them a lot. Familiarity, as it turns out, is not quite the helpful spur to commentary that you’d think: every time I try to start having deep meaningful insights, my critical faculty just goes “It’s Horrible Histories! Duh!”
  • ..And then it gets to the cowboy stuff, and it shorts right out. Seriously, I feel like there’s no way for me to comment thoughtfully on this, ‘cos I’ve no way of knowing just how far tongue is supposed to be into cheek in the first place. The media cliches being referenced here were on this side of the pond last unconditionally bought into — even by children — in about the ’60’s at the latest. By now our deconstruction process has become so routine it’s spawning things like Cowboys and Aliens, which frankly didn’t do all that well.
  • Given that the song expects kidlets to get a reference to John Wayne, I will assume the mythbusting is meant to be at least partially serious, even if they are trying to position Ben (and Martello-White, come to that) as the explicitly scrawny, nondescript ‘real live cowboys’ in question. Unless that idea is supposed to be conveyed through Ben’s singing and dancing, in which case, definite result. Yes, they’ve simplified the choreography as far as possible, but even so this is a man clearly concentrating hard on not looking at his feet.
  • At any rate, silly little throwback to S1 or no, the song is mostly accurate (albeit somehow leaves out most of the really interesting details) and the Wild Western fantasy is one of those things that it’s impossible not to smile when grown men indulge… albeit here, again, it really would’ve been helpful if they hadn’t actually attempted the accent. I would much rather have been asked to buy British riders on the range than drawls that have all the hallmarks of someone having taken not only The Duke but The Dukes of Hazzard seriously.
  • At least, most of the drawls. Where Larry’s coming from I as usual can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure it’s something unhealthy involving Pat Buttram. Mat, meanwhile, is working off… maybe the Toy Story movies? Seriously, while he’s physically the most convincing of the lot, this bandanna-wearing business could not be more clearly missing from his childhood-fantasy repertoire. (Oh, and guys? ‘Oven glove’ = ‘oven mitt’ in American.)
  • Ben, on the other hand, is just totally living all the dreams. Besides Wayne — with possibly a touch of Rhett Butler mixed in — he gets to be a Viking warrior and spank Alice Lowe…what? Oh, sure, they’re just handing the fanfic scenarios up as a hobby by now. Do not wish to smirk unduly re: who was responsible for this one, but Willbond (and Baynton) do still appear in the writing credits for this series.
  • Ben also gets to play his usual briskly hysterical Historical Hospital doctor, which prospect always seems to cheer the performer involved up no end, as an unlimited license to camp. Meantime, it sets me to wondering why nobody ever asks before tasting things in this universe. Seriously, it’s really starting to interfere with my enjoyment of the joke. There’s no way that by now it wouldn’t be a reflex.
  • The Viking bit, by contrast, is played with puzzling comedic sedateness — yep, we’ve reached the point in HH history where a funeral involving immolating a slave girl, followed by poetry and then a free-for-all-brawl, can be considered ho-hum. The ‘Sigurd the Bitter’ touch only confirms that the rest was written on autopilot… which in this case likely means “If we don’t give Willbond a chance to cosplay an unironic warrior on a regular basis we’ll never get him into that sweater-vest again.”
  • In other linguistics-related news, the voices for the little cartoon intro characters (which are mostly done by the cast) have suddenly been messed with, for whatever not-very-compelling reason — sheer boredom comes to mind. The major difference is a weirdly downwardly-mobile accent for Cartoon WWII Officer Guy, who now sounds like one of his own cartoon grunts. Somehow I keep picturing MP’s Colonel writing a stern letter to the BBC about this.
  • The Bob Hale reports have officially entered their iconic heyday — you can tell, because the animations are little mini-treats all on their own. Also because, besides debuting an admirably succinct yet child-friendly approach to incest (“Ew”), Bobsy totally throws up the rock’n’roll devil horns. Confirmation of my previous theories re: what Bob had to do to get his historical expertise, and Larry his hair-metal ditto, all aside… I feel like this might be a good time to mention that ‘Rickards’ brand beer is a thing in Canada.
  • And speaking of ‘ew’, I think Jim in the sport sketch may have accidentally invented Bieber hair. Thanks a lot, Howick. Also, as noted, someone — quite possibly someone cleaning out the closet after their knitting auntie left after Christmas — felt the need to revisit the Ben-in-dorky-sweater-vest gag (and even provide a mini-me version in the farm sketch!), which proves, erm, much less plausible when the character isn’t supposed to be fully socially inept.
  • Oh, and that reminds me, Mat as the salesman in the same bomb-shelter bit… so I’m really hoping the vaguely creepy is just me having been thinking about this stuff way too long. Because it’s a bit hard to concentrate on historical funny when all you’re really anxious to learn is whether that poor couple asked for his ID.
  • On the other hand, Mat doing a Cockney accent is made of pure awwwww. Homaging his forebears no doubt (and even sneaking a bit of mime in there). No wonder that for the first time Death seems sincerely pleased with the corpse —  a curiously touching, and realistic, bit of bonding over the black humour of it all. It isn’t a turn I’d ever like to see these sketches take permanently, and indeed it’s never repeated to the extent it is here, but as a one-off it works.
  • While the pastel shirts in the sport sketch continue to be hilariously appropriate, I do wish they’d ramp it up a bit — add proper HHTV Sport blazers with the logo on the lapel, and maybe a few Olympic pins. Otherwise, this sketch is all that comedy-loving heart could wish, a perfect marriage of subject and parody. They can even get away with the uber-goofy ‘watching a monitor as the action plays out two feet behind them’, just because the dichotomy between actual and imagined media importance continues to be so expertly played.
  • Unnerving shared taste in knitwear aside, that no-one ever thought (that I can recall) of casting Ben and young Bertie Gilbert as father and son seems like a definite missed opportunity… oh right, sorry, let me start again: OMIGAWD IT’S BERTIE!!! Or something. I’m just going by Twitter here, I haven’t actually seen his podcast thingy yet. But he’s a cute kid, and has been at least sensible enough to realise that his acting career probably wouldn’t have outgrown his cuteness. Excellent set of lungs he has, too.
  • Meantime, the casting in the tea sketch is… interestingly atypical. I’m not sure who it should be exactly; only that it probably shouldn’t be Simon and/or Jim. Or at least it probably shouldn’t be Jim sounding like the chance to impress his friends with leaves is the only thing standing between him and leaping off Tower Bridge.
  • The whole sketch has that sort of un-thought-through air — like they just listened to the Newhart bit, went ‘We can so use that!’ and then never got around to an actual script. This apparently results in Simon deciding to ad-lib, which I have a feeling could’ve led to a much better — if less historically conscientious — sketch.
  • I really enjoy the ‘Victorian EastEnders’ bits. An unusually fine, and plausible, mix of fact and funny — and, in keeping with the theme, entirely convincingly-accented turns from both Jim and Martha. If it weren’t for the geography, I’d swear they were parodying Catharine Cookson, which is quite the ambitious goal for a single-joke throwaway bit to pull off. While, it must be noted, pulling off a niftier-than-usual little parental bonus… at least for parents that are secretly twelve-year-old-boys (hee hee! The sixteenth daughter is named ‘Chastity’!).
  • We haven’t seen the Incas in awhile, so let’s head over to the local quarry… um, South American mountain plain, right. The sketch itself isn’t helping any, although I’ll admit the ‘telephone’ game was never my favourite to begin with. Your average grade-school kidlet probably chortled happily throughout. Still, glad Rattus mentioned the really intriguing knotted rope communications system… he’s being unusually helpful and interesting generally this ep, come to think of it.

95% Accu-rat:

  • So again, I have no idea of knowing how serious you lot are about the cowboy cliches, or for that matter how invested you are in them — and this frankly kind of goofily highbrow dissection of the ‘international mythology’ isn’t really helping me much. (Except to give me a queasy glimpse of what I might sound like when I start dissecting your cultural concepts…)
  • Anyway, yeah, cowboys. Of course, the basic ‘guy who works with cattle’ thing has been with us since someone first looked at said enormous hunk of tasty on hooves and decided they could put up with it being really stupid. The specific cow-icon being dissected here (the one with the hat, boots and inexplicably embroidered shirts) was brought to North America by the Spanish, who introduced the vaquero into Mexico apparently mostly to care for the herds kept at various missions. Which explains the shirts, sort of. Also the stringed instruments.
  • Like much of the real American West — of the real America, come to that — the guiding power principle wasn’t freedom, but politics and commerce. As the West was won, and subsequently linked to major commercial centres back East via railroads, it was swiftly realised that the combination was perfect for providing the red meat needs of a nation. The product would even walk itself to the processing plants — the only thing was to keep them all walking in the same direction at more-or-less the same time.
  • Thus from about 1860-1880 (after which the ‘open range’ was finally too fenced in to move through profitably), the great cattle drives pulled in… well, basically, whoever they could find that could ride a horse. The romantically lawless cliches were limited to Arizona Territory, specifically in and around  (surprise!) Tombstone. Everywhere else the roster was much more practically- than criminally-minded about the job, as witness it including Indians, newly-freed slaves, and just generally everybody but the Marlboro Man.
  • See — as the show points out lyrically, if not visually — being on a horse literally all day, days at a time, spang in the middle of several thousand mooing slabs of total unconcern for your welfare, hurts. Both you and the horse. You needed to be small, light and dextrous to have any chance of making it a career — think Mat, only a lot shorter, on account of probably being a malnourished orphan. And generally way too busy dealing with acres of moronic manure-spouts to stare flinty-eyed off into the distance.
  • The Stuart writing-on-the-thumbs cure sounded intriguingly reminiscent of those Stone Age medicinal tattoos from S1, and thus I am kind of crushed that I couldn’t find more info. Historians — at least online ones — seem to be totally obsessed instead with this ‘Black Death’ or something, I dunno. Also, Google kept insisting I must mean ‘BlackBerry Thumb’ (which, FYI, apparently you treat with ice and rest).
  • Mind you, this doesn’t mean that Stuart medicine generally wasn’t a prime source of hilarity. Until the Historical Paramedics return to demonstrate, have this interesting general overview of the subject. Also, this genuinely disgusting overview of how leeches and maggots are making a spectacular comeback in the modern world of medical care.
  • Similarly, about all I could find on the subject of bananas and tea was that they were first introduced in Stuart times. No record of how they were received (or whether they actually pronounced it ‘ba-NA-na’), except that the whole thing was part of the general Age of Exploration, so yeah, exciting culinary times, at least if you were wealthy enough to enjoy them. In fact, tea particularly was popularised by Queen Catherine of Braganza, possibly as a way to salvage her self-worth while husband Charles II was off banging everything else in skirts.
  • Incidentally, turns out Charlie himself wouldn’t be anywhere near as at home in a Starbucks: By 1675, there were over 3,000 coffee houses in England. Merchants and professional men met in the new coffee houses, to read newspapers, talk politics, do business and gossip… Charles II later tried to suppress the London coffee houses as “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”, but people flocked to them.
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Series Two


Tags: , , , , , , ,


“Stay calmer when you want to harm a llama — call a llama farmer!”

Poking about in the more diverse corners of their mandate, the show turns up a wealth of good fun… also, seriously, more than you ever wanted to hear about llamas.

In this episode:

Song: We’re the WWII Girls (Original Girl Power) — Alice as a factory worker, Martha as an ‘Air Force miss’ and Katy as a Land Girl.

Recurring sketches:

Historical Hospital — Islamic healer vs. European ‘doctor’: who’s the dangerous alien now? (Hint: probably the one calling the other “You crazy Arabian hippie!”)

Stupid Deaths — Humphrey de Bohun (took a pike up the bum while fighting his way through the Battle of Boroughbridge)

Scary Stories — The Cabinet of Mystery (“I don’t want to do a show called ‘Boring Stories’. I did that last year for the other channel, and frankly it sank like a stone.”)

Historical Shopping Channel: Inca Hour (“And remember, these drums are made from real human skin — so you can go on beating your enemy all day long!”)

HHTV News — Jack Sheppard, Escapologist Extraordinaire: Will He Cheat the Gallows Again? Spoiler: No.

HHTV Sport — Trojan War Special: Hector vs. Achilles, literally for all the marbles. (“And who’d’ve thought that Achilles’ Achilles’ heel would be his Achilles’ heel?”)

Dodgy War Machines (animated) — No.14: Greek War Elephants


Gorgeous Georgians

The Legendary Lord Nelson — Luckily, when you have big honking cannons, being personally imposing is optional… and no, that’s not a euphemism. (“How did you lose your legs, sir? They seem to be cut off at the knee…?” “Psst, no he really is that short…”)

Incredible Incas

Llama Sacrifice-a-rama-lama-ding-dong – Of the livestock, the viewer’s sanity, whichever.

Vile Victorians

Tapeworm Trap — “I once caught a tapeworm this long!”

New! Victorian Beer — Tastes better than the water! Less likely to fill you with loathsome diseases! There’s just one itty-bitty problem…

Woeful Second World War

Churchill Plans D-Day – All you really need to know about this take on the Great Bulldog’s workaholic tendencies: “…So we can continue this meeting in our jim-jams!”

Field Notes:

  • Great rejoicing in camp: The show has finally come flat out and acknowledged the existence of Horrible Herstories — well, the process really started last episode, with Pearl Hart, but it reaches full flower here. And speaking as a fully representative female, let me tell you, it is about damn time. Just a marvellously catchy, upbeat, accurate song, neither too strident nor too apologetic, beautifully performed in honour of entirely deserving subjects.
  • Now, I ordinarily don’t like to get too excited about deep cultural significance in goofy comedy. Esp since there is maybe a fraction too much emphasis here on how icky hard and uncomfortable it all was — “manual labour hurts!” is uneasily reminiscent of that ‘Math is hard!’ Barbie of the ’90’s. But I still can’t help it, it’s just that amazing to think of little girls being taught to consider these women as cool – as their role models even – as opposed to… right, yes, that’s another blog entirely.
  • Interestingly, this same episode also hauls in British comedy’s incomparable Vaguely Ethnic Middle-Aged Guy, Alexi Sayle, to play the, well, middle-aged ethnic guy. This is a vast improvement on the usual, and not only because you just know option B was Mat in a turban. As the Arab healer in a sketch whose strident — if fully justified — political correctness is the point, Sayle gracefully transcends same to create a character I’m genuinely sorry to leave. It’s a wonderfully innovative use of the Big Name, and I find myself desperately wishing they’d explored the possibilities further. Surely Lenny Henry, say, would be open to persuasion?
  • As a side note, Lawry as a helplessly cranky patient has finally found a role I can totally believe him in. One who even has the good sense to object to amputation — not to the extent of getting up off the bed and running for his life, or anything, but then Mat’s French accent is hypnotic like that.
  • Meanwhile, David Baddiel is still gamely making it work. This is probably the definitive Scary Story, both in terms of actual content and auxiliary hissy-fits (bonus: now with 75% more awkward f/x!). Did it end right here I’d be complimenting the writers on another fun and effective use of the Big Name and moving on. As it stands, however… I’ll probably just be moving on. Except in re: chronicling the various snipes at his ‘producers’, as per above, that will never not be mildly amusing. (‘Other channel’ — wonder who that’s directed at?)
  • Elsewhere in the Great Ethnographic Adventure: the Incan sketches, maybe a bit too blandly authentic, and cliched, for their own good. Albeit again, probably much less so to a European audience which hasn’t also assimilated, say, Handy Manny. To me it just all comes across a trifle… unimpressive, let’s say, alongside the fierce and nuanced celebrations of diversity going on elsewhere. Ben especially could not be less convincingly Hispanic if he’d actually attended Oxford and played cricket and — oh, wait. Yeah, this is clearly another cultural discrepancy I need to get used to.
  • Mind you, where the makeup’s concerned bland represents a massive step forward for international goodwill all by itself (stupid and unfortunately permanent Lego-block hairdo on Martha notwithstanding). All the bonus points besides for bunging real live llamas in there — that’s appreciated more than I can say, given my near-total certainty that none of the cast or crew has experience as a South American camelid wrangler. (I have learned to assume nothing where Simon is concerned.)
  • I can also acknowledge that, once having come up with the ‘stay calmer if you want to harm a llama’ slogan, the only way short of exorcism to remove it from the writer’s head would’ve been this sketch. And even then, the poor man, having to write it…! (I picture him eventually grabbing producer lapels and whispering, Alien-style, “Help me… oh God get it oooout…”) More seriously, it’s a nice offbeat note in what’s increasingly becoming the homogenous in-house comedy style. Especially the lovingly detailed bouncy cartoon llama, which is just begging for accessory status in an HH toyline.
  • Oh, and speaking of which… OK, I guess the idiot-chav thing has a continuity excuse this time (albeit if so, what happened to all the blonde curls? Was the pinnacle of Greco-Roman civilization really the discovery of L’Oreal?) Everybody appears to be enjoying themselves so much in the latest Illiad takeoff, in fact, that the viewer can’t help but do the same. It works really well as a sports segment, too; with Larry around, the offbeat always has context.
  • Also: extensive bonus material for non-UK viewers, who get to envision street toughs calling each other “You flannel!” with apparent deep sincerity; in fact entirely as though they have, sometime in the recent past, been totally disrespected by plaid pyjamas. Trust me, this is appreciated even more than the llamas.
  • And oh, speaking of animal adventures, also my general policy of saying something nice about the animations whenever I can, even if I’m not totally proud of myself for admitting it: the image of flaming charging pigs is about 1000x funnier than it has any right to be. Come to that, why pigs, specifically? First time I’ve ever heard of elephants being particularly spooked by pork. I suppose mice wouldn’t last nearly as – oh God, I’ve been spending far too much time with these people, so sorry, really…
  • Larry generally continues to solidify his position as star player in the Non-Sequitur Theatre that clearly is his imagination (seriously, if you’ve not subscribed to his Twitter feed yet, now’s the time.) In this latest installment, he unveils a note-perfect drunk act, which is never quite as easy to make funny as you’d think… although [insert joke about it likely being easier for British comedians here]. Fully three of the six-member HH troupe have now demonstrated remarkable proficiency at it, is all I’m gonna say. Meanwhile, Ben plays a perfect counterpoint: a veritable masterclass in how desperately trying to keep a straight face can usefully pass on-camera as real discomfort.
  • Elsewhere, Mat’s boyish cute and Ben’s unctuous streak both get a good workout in the otherwise rather disappointingly pointless Nelson sketch (see below). And Jim… doesn’t  look or sound like Winston Churchill at all, really, but is somehow still so utterly convincing that the equally dubious ‘workaholic’ sketch — seriously, the toothpick business is lifted straight from 1940’s cartoons — is raised to positively classic heights. (Apropos of which, have I also mentioned how much I love Ben in WWII uniform? “That’s not funny, sir. There is a war on!”)
  • Oh, and yay! brief glimpse of classic crazy Simon! (“You sir [Mat]! You look like you have a tapeworm!” — oh, hardy-har-har). Come to that, pretty sure there’s a brief glimpse of Sarah as well. Possibly to make up for the tapeworm crack, Mat also gets a lovely gurgly death scene that’s sure to delight the kiddies no end… although the brighter of them may wonder along with their parents why nobody — up to and most definitely including Death Scene Guy — doesn’t just pull the trap out via the damn string still dangling from his mouth.
  • Still, it’s amusing to see how comfily the show’s settling into the groove where Mat is concerned. The Jack Sheppard bit is a nice parody matchup once again, effectively recreating the seventeenth-century equivalent of tween Twitter accounts even without access to emoticons. On the other hand: “Thousands of people have turned out for [his execution]”?! Jessica, love, there aren’t enough trick camera angles in this life or next to make that happen.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Wow, turns out there were actually a lot of Humphrey de Bohuns running around out there in the Middle Ages, just generally being all heroic and knightly and stuff. Only one seems to have got it up the bum, though. Our Humphrey is actually the IV on the list, and so should probably be pronouncing it ‘Boon’ (although Ben’s version here is an acceptable later variant). At any rate, yeah, on the scale of Romantic Knighthood, if not actually seated at the Round Table, still fairly well up there. His Wiki article, which includes a graphic description of the fatal ambush, is worth scanning in full — including the usual notation that said Stupid Death may-or-may-not have actually happened. Medieval historians: sucking the fun out of grade-school history since basically forever.
  • Medieval Islamic medical practices: like most of their scholarly knowledge a firm corrective to stereotype both then and now. Although the full story inevitably involves a lot more intercultural exchange and subsequent advancements in learning on both sides, Arab physicians seem to have been much more effectively able to sort the spiritual out of of the physical than their Western contemporaries. Thus they not only were free to apply basic common sense, but were able to experiment in directions that the latter held as taboo. (‘Anatomizing’ corpses, for instance, which up to the nineteenth century the Western world saw largely as horrific desecration, to the extent that it helped spawn Burke & Hare.) The resulting classic Muslim medical texts thus read as strikingly modern to our ears.
  • What’s specifically retold here — albeit with a much more upbeat ending than the original — is a famous anecdote from an Arabic healer describing his visit to a Christian European hospital. Which after much searching I regret I’m unable to find online, but check your appropriate HH book, I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. Meantime, have this similarly charming scoff from one of Dr Ossmer’s contemporaries: It is a foolish custom to have blood let out of the body when it is not needed… The expert physician has no need to choose times for blood-letting. To test this with horoscopes is a vain idea.
  • HH’s ability to highlight amazing achievements that would otherwise remain obscure is one of the most endearing aspects of the concept. Exhibit A: Dr. John Snow — and even more so when you realise he jammed all that pioneering work in hygiene and epidemiology into only a couple short decades, dying a true sciencey-type hero at the tender age of 45. Not from cholera; he pointedly boiled and drank the local water to the end of his life. Although he did eventually relax his temperance stance after some years to the extent of taking meat and wine for his health.
  • Meanwhile, as Wiki points out, the wholesale consumption of ale didn’t actually result in an entire nation of dipsomaniacs, albeit… [insert joke about possible ancestry of English football fans here]. Although the hard stuff certainly existed, what’s described here was basically the forerunner of Bud Light, brewed with other considerations in mind entirely: Ale, along with bread, was an important source of nutrition… particularly small beer, also known as table beer or mild beer, which was highly nutritious, contained just enough alcohol to act as a preservative, and provided hydration without intoxicating effects.
  • Small side addendum: The favourite tipple of your average slum drunk, which Ms. Guttersnipe’s clearly supposed to be representing here, would be gin, not Guinness. Much less expensive to produce and hence to purchase; important considerations because, y’know, Victorian slums. The denizens therein weren’t picky about how they escaped from it, just as long as it was fast and cheap.
  • Besides the Nelson sketch’s highly questionable premise, especially for this particular ep (wow, a legendary naval hero’s taken some damage from all the important battles he’s fought, how whacky! /sarcasm) I’ve never been quite sure where Mat is supposed to fit into the naval scheme of things as it existed at the time. He’s a bit old to be a rookie midshipman (the standard entry-level position), and even if he is, if he’s meeting the great Nelson on his first day he should definitely have a much posher accent.
  • On the other hand, there’s no question Jack Sheppard was as real, and as entertaining, a phenomenon as you like — well, the entertainment value might vary a bit depending on your stance re: the human tendency to idolize unworthy celebrities, but at the very least he gave more value for glitter than, say, your average Kardashian. This lovely page has lots of pictures testifying to the enormous hold he had on the popular imagination. (Oh, and it also mentions the 200,000 people that turned out for his final execution attempt. I’m thinking HH might just want to leave actual figures out of their execution-scene scripts from now on.)

Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Series Two


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


*phew-ee!* Who’re you?
Heraclitus… ancient Greek philosopher?!
Oh, what, “I stink, therefore I am?”

In which the show carries on romping happily through all their new possibilities… and in the process offhandedly spits out a fully-faceted diamond.

In this episode:

Song: Charles II: King of Bling — Mat as the King who brought back partying! With Jim, Ben, Larry and Lawry as courtiers and Martha as current mistress Hortense Mancini. (Parody of: Eminem, Real Slim Shady)

Recurring sketches:

Historical Hospital — One-Eyed Ned: Pirate carpenter extraordinaire (the real doctor having died at sea…)

Stupid Deaths — Heraclitus of Ephesus (Overheated while trying to cure his dropsy… by burying himself neck-deep in a dungpile)

HHTV Sport — Georgian Boxing Revolution (“Nobody’s ever tried to get out of the way before~!”)


Putrid Pirates

Captain Hood and the Puking Cow Heist — Not really a fabulous children’s adventure book title, is it?

Woeful Second World War

WWII Art Show — Jasper Maskelyne psyches out the Nazis with the sheer kickassedness of his name… OK, also some balsawood planes, rubber blow-up tanks and cardboard gun emplacements. But mostly the name thing.

Rationing Goes Postal — Keeping the kiddies warm leads to one too many brown paper packages tied up with string… “At least I marked him ‘Fragile!”

Groovy Greeks

Evil-Spirit-Preventing-Door-Frame-Tar — “It does exactly what it says on the jar!”

The Oracle of Delphi — So apparently the ancient Greeks also invented the psychic hotline scam. And prior to the invention of late-night Lifetime movies, they had to keep their customers mesmerised somehow…

Slimy Stuarts

Cromwell Bans Everything — Seriously. If Charles Dickens had been around in the seventeenth century, A Christmas Carol would’ve been about this guy.

Awful Egyptians (imagine spot) — If Mark Antony were the type to hang out on dating sites… which, y’know, not out of the realm of plausibility. “You are literally the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had!”

Gorgeous Georgians

Boarding School Daze — “Oh, discipline is very important to this school — we really wish we had some!”

Field Notes:

  • Well, he always did like to be fashionably late. Introducing Charles II, last of the iconic HH characters to not only take the stage but walk away with it, whistling. It’s an interesting contrast with Ben’s equally brilliant Henry VIII; while he connects via uncanny faithfulness to the reality, Charlie’s synthesized from the real man’s legend.
  • There’s a lot of legend to work with: thanks to his spectacularly unstable upbringing (including a stint at the French court, wherein he clearly learned to appreciate the finer distractions in life) the Merry Monarch has been idealised as basically the dashing romance-novel version of British royalty — but was in reality quite a lot smarter than he ever let on. In other words, Mat’s performance skillset distilled, then not incidentally all dolled up in silver satin and magnificently rolling eyes.
  • And wow, what a stage he’s been given to show all this off. The ‘match the historical legend to the musical pretensions’ formula reaches apotheosis on only its third try. Most HH song videos have tens of thousands of YouTube views at most; this one has over 1.8 million. Granted that approximately .8 million are solely Mat’s tween fanbase refreshing madly, this is all still entirely deserved.
  • It all fits together so perfectly that you can’t even find the seams to analyze it. Just a gloriously apt parody, which means a genuinely witty song, which in turn mandates an exquisite production (turns out the keepers of Hampton Court palace have a sense of humour, who knew?). All bound up in an astonishingly faithful performance on all the comic, historical and musical levels. (My most cherished HH critique, from a random American tweeter: “Y’know, Mat Baynton is actually a quality rapper.”) Not excluding the supporting cast, either; check out Ben’s mad juggling skillz!
  • All that said, though… Mat, seriously, man, the Northern accent thing — or whatever that was — we need to talk. Or rather you need to not talk. I mean, you can do this not-so-swashbuckling pirate thing all day long (and twice on Talk Like a Pirate Day) as far as I’m concerned — the delightfully random puking-cows bit is a must-see for me despite a violent aversion to the sight/smell of vomit — just pick another accent to do it in, kthx.
  • Come to that, yes, we get it already, you can mimic Saturday night at your local teenage hangout really really well. Not to say that the idiot-chav thing isn’t an impressive spoof (because how would I know otherwise?), more that it’s dangerously close to being considered funny just for existing, which… no. That’s the problem with a too-accurate impression of stupid; without context, after awhile it just starts sounding, well, stupid.
  • Elsewhere, Larry is rewarded for all his magnificent carpe diem-ing last ep by… being stuck back in the Historical Hospital, and this time not even at the mercy of a theoretical doctor. He does look rather fetching in the football getup, if it’s any consolation. (As does Jim, borrowing Mat’s coat from the Rulebook sketch).
  • There’s another bit of good news for HHospital reality: with Sarah H. gone the sketch brings Dominique Moore onboard as the new young nurse, whose chores as the current major source of cast diversity will still leave plenty of time to react as a normal 21st century human (ie “The hell?!”) to the ongoing past-time medical mess. She will largely fail of course, but as a running gag it’s a definite addition for the better.
  • In other new casting news, Lawry continues to, y’know, not be Simon. Mind you, as himself he manages to score a very plausible recurring character in only his second episode, so good on him. Like I said, sometimes that goofy-neurotic thing works. Here it perfectly captures the ‘glum, proud’ and just generally proto-Republican-presidential-candidate moral pettiness Cromwell’s become famous for (even if it did sometimes have a point; see below). We may have a ‘crusty reviewer has her heart slowly melted story’ here after all…
  • …or possibly not. His first obviously-a-fill-in role also happens in this ep, as the stuffy General in the ‘WWII Art Show’ sketch — another one of those clever little mini-sitcom eps, wherein the funny adds up via giving each character their own particular logic. Lawry’s involves being a straight version of MPython’s ‘Colonel’ character — or at least that’s how he plays it — and as a debut, it’s… a bit weird, inasmuch as I can’t nohow imagine Lawry either as leading troops or as Graham Chapman.
  • On the other hand, when I go to suggest that he and Ben should’ve switched parts, I find myself strangely reluctant to be deprived of Willbond going full nerd. This is a character concept that could’ve gone places, honestly. Preferably in a different hideous sweater-vest each time — seriously, I know it’s the point, but that sucker is mesmerizing.
  • So is Martha’s look as Parcel Kid’s mom. I know the popular between-wars suburban stereotype involves tea sets and cardigans in roughly that order, but did people really base the latter directly off the former? Because this one looks a lot like a cross between ‘French Perle’ and that one ‘cheerful florale’ Sears bedding set I wanted as a kid.
  • Along the same lines, Aeschylus has clearly discovered eyebrow pencil between seasons… not to mention rouge, and what looks like bizarrely mismatched foundation, if not actual bronzer. If all this was meant as some sort of subtle homage to his profession, it’s not working, especially not the ‘subtle’ part.
  • Still, despite some clunky comedy mechanics, you do have to appreciate that sketch just for Martha being willing to sacrifice her vocal chords like that. I mean, I seriously have to appreciate it, because I’m now terrified of what she’ll do to me otherwise. Not that I have any reason to think being cast in the Wizard of Oz a lifelong dream of hers or anything, but lemme tell you, Margaret Hamilton would be so proud.
  • So I think would Jasper Maskelyne, played by Jim here as a sort of extra-fabulous Shouty Man with all the irresistible giggle-inducing that implies. It’s clear that the writing staff has been inspired by his demo-duo chemistry with Ben, a development also reflected — along with an equally fun twist on the Mike Peabody template — in their HHTV Sport play-by-play team. Aka a hilariously unexpected opportunity for international bonding. If we can’t agree on how football should be played, we certainly can on the commentators’ pastel sport shirts.
  • Speaking of small tweaks, besides whatever spare cares he still had left to give, Death has also abruptly lost the skeleton sidekicks. The new format evidently took some on-the-spot adjustment (since the SD sketches are traditionally filmed all at once). Just as a suggestion, the creative process that culminated in ‘Gee, what could we possibly do for other judges… Hey, gimme that wig~!” would be ideal DVD-bonus material.
  • There’s also a new and wonderful format for the imagine spots. Honestly, the rate generally at which this outfit continues to churn out clever, durable, workable-for-all-demographics satirical concepts would astonish most grown-up comedy series producers. The online parodies will become some of the best-beloved sketches in all of HH, and while this one is missing some of the finer funny details, it’s already clear that the format will exponentially keep on giving. The hell with ‘awww lookit the children’s show winning the grown-up award’; they earned it. End of story.

95% Accu-rat:

  • Yes, kids, Heraclitus really did bury himself in dung — albeit some sources claim it was more of a ‘slather it on’ thing. rather than a full-on frolic in the manure pile. In his further defense, dropsy (the accumulation of fluid in the tissues, causing if unchecked by treatment — so, until comparatively recently, always — painful full-body bloating) is a genuinely awful thing. Also, usually a symptom of either kidney or congestive heart failure, so by that time the poor guy had not much left to lose anyhow.
  • Yes, that was actually how the Oracle at Delphi worked, and yes, even discounting the probability of discreet post-event tweaking by her ‘translators’, she had a rather creepy reputation for accuracy. This most excellently detailed history suggests that it all might have been the result of really good ‘shrooms: Analysis of the hydrocarbon gases in the spring water near the temple are shown to contain ethylene which is sweet smelling and if rising into an enclosed chamber would have been potent enough to cause a trance state (Roach).
  • Introducing the real Oliver Cromwell: an annoyingly smug killjoy yes, but also one who rather engagingly insisted that history remember him ‘warts and all’. The song is still remarkably accurate; just — understandably — biased.
  • Like most idealists, Ollie did to put it mildly lack the common touch. On the other hand, dealing with the equally dour, stubborn Charles I was reason enough for any man to assume the high ground was his, if not actually God’s blessing. And given the acknowledged level of debauchery then surrounding Christmas and other public pleasures — and that public morality, in this era, was still well within the political wheelhouse — his subsequent career as a one-man banhammer wasn’t entirely unjustified
  • At any rate what finally spurred the Restoration wasn’t so much dance deprivation as the fact that Son and Heir Richard Cromwell, aka ‘Tumbledown Dick’, was so entirely useless. Once freed of Dad’s cult of personality the revolution had a huge gaping hole where the point should be, and the office of Protectorate had entirely imploded within a year of his death. Meanwhile the proposed Charles II was not only more than available, but representative of the comparatively stable monarchy.
  • He was also, as the song suggests, a personally charming, down-to-earth and witty figure, whose popularity-to-actual-accomplishment ratio is regarded by historians with something approaching awe. His major importance to the English, at that point, was as a breath of fresh air after the previous two repressive regimes — although he had enough native shrewdness to largely avoid his father’s mistakes re: Parliament, and to become a positive hero over the Great Fire.
  • Also, nobody can dispute that he had excellent taste in women, presumably honed during his French exile. Of course, he tended to pick them more for beauty than mental stability; the ensuing soap opera kept the country entertained for years. Meet Hortense Mancini, duchesse de Mazarin. and fully renowned (if bisexual) beauty. Also, Barbara (Villiers) Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland; Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwynn; and Mary ‘Moll’ Davis.
  • The invention of ‘getting out of the way’ must’ve been a catnip-laden concept for the HH writers, and I can’t blame them for milking it for all it was worth (except the announcer’s stupid joke at the end, that’s indefensible — hence probably Larry’s, come to think of it). Really now, though. The ‘sweet science’ had been around since ancient times; I don’t have to patiently explain that boxers would’ve seen and employed the advantages of ducking long since, do I?
  • What Bill Richmond (wonderfully, if not for a children’s show, dubbed ‘The Black Terror’) actually did was develop a distinctive style of ducking in response to the distinctive pile-driving style of Georgian boxing. Despite which, in the match that inspired the one shown here, his opponent’s superior weight and power inevitably wore Richmond down. Because it was the 60th round. Because the Marquess of Queensbury, who really did invent modern boxing, wouldn’t do so for another seventy-five years or so.
  • Note how often the Cleopatra sketch carefully emphasises that she’s ‘dating’ Caesar — in fact, the entire sketch concept seems like it might well have originated as a way to correct their erroneous implication that she actually married him from last series. Which, hey, only adds to the general awesomeness. Except that ‘Smiley hieroglyphic’ should really be ‘hieroglyph’… but then, that’ll be corrected later too.
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Series Two


Tags: , , , , ,


We hunt for deer and rabbits too — so long as they are slow!
…’cos otherwise, we can’t catch them…

In which writers and performers alike nail their ultimate Horrible ambitions to the mast, and thus the viewer is given a delicious glimpse of goodies both now and to come…

In this episode:

Song: I’m a Knight (Mat, Jim and writer Steve ‘Eric Idle’ Punt)

Recurring sketches:

Oh Yea! Magazine — Elizabeth I Exposed

Historical Hospital — Tudor physician

Fractured Fairy Tales — Cinderella, the WWII version (Even fairy godmothers got hit by clothes rationing. Also, the Blitz.)


Groovy Greeks

Helen of Troy – If Classics Illustrated were about x100 more honest. (“Listen up, yeah! I want all us Greek soldiers to march on Troy, you get me? We’re gonna tear that city UP! Kill dem all, izzit? Yeah, it is!”)

The Trojan Horse (imagine spot) – Even without badgers, still really a very silly idea. (“Either we assume this giant wooden horse is a trap, and burn it where it stands; or we say “Look, this is just a nice — if completely weird — present”, and drag it inside the city walls, leave it unguarded and go to bed.”)

Measly Middle Ages

That Was Entertainment!: Jousting on Ice – Bored British peasants take advantage of winter ice to invent a fast-paced, violent, stick-intensive sport… or as I like to think of it, ‘Canada: The Hockey-ening.’

Woeful Second World War

Gravy Stockings — “Look good enough to eat!”

Awful Egyptians

Resurrection Realtor (imagine spot) – …and that parody pyramid either could’ve used some granite countertops, or I’ve been watching way too much House Hunters lately.

Egyptian Gods (animated) — Aka Dogface, Birdbrain and Hippo-Bum the Devourer. Because some things HH will never change. (“Sorry. The wicked give me terrible wind.”)

Vile Victorians

There’s Something in the Water – As you may have guessed, it ain’t attar of roses.

Parliament and the Thames Problem – Solving the “Great Stink” of 1858: So many “which one smells worse” gags, so little time…

Field Notes:

  • Hmmmm. It all begins to fit together, the method in the producers’ seeming madness: “So, cleverly subversive satire, you OK with that, CBBC mums? Fine, now how about we layer on the relentless violence…? Right — but what happens if someone gets bored and decides to throw in overt homeroticism? Really? And jokes about religion to boot? Great! *calls offscreen* “Steve! Ready for the brazenly obvious Monty Python influence!”
  • Or maybe not. Given everything I’ve been told about UK broadcast standards I will concede that they may just’ve thought the Spamalot Jr. vibe would avert a mid-series lull. However it happened, this ep showcases the outer limits of the HH creative team’s ambition, and it is glorious. Not quite the definitive gearshift from kiddy edutainment with parental bonus, to all-ages historical sketch show with an educational hook – ie. it’s still the first series — but for awhile here, it’s Ghost of HH Future all the way. Even the fairy tale segment is kinda nifty.
  • Clearly, all this had a rather intoxicating effect on the editing team. Much as I’ve been complaining about a lack of musical excitement… when interim sketches, animated scene wipes and sign-bearing rats are suddenly all bunged into the singalong at once, I feel the need to register a mild protest. And when in the same ep we also get an entire elaborate medley of cartoonage schlepped in-and-around the live-action (in the ‘Vile Victorians’ segments), I am forced to unkind conclusions re: desperation to justify film-school loans to the parental units.
  • Especially since even without all the ‘help’ this lot are rather overselling the knowing silliness. The sudden, vividly daring rebuttal to generic-ness is hugely appreciated, guys, don’t get me wrong — thing is, we have the Internet now, and riffing on the Holy Grail just doesn’t make you clever enough to kiss anymore. Although it does neatly transform the over-earnest onscreen lyrics into authentically Pythonesque overkill… OK, maybe a little cheek peck.
  • Really, the song overall has the same effect on the critical psyche as trying to punish a kitten, you just cannot stop smiling long enough to protest. Besides which, that the historical comedy sketch show even has Eric Idle’s body double writing for them is clearly a sign from the entertainment gods that they were on the right and good track… yeah, including the Camelot-esque can-can. It’s a very Reform theology.
  • Speaking of adorable… ‘Bradley Huxtable’ is so going to be what I am calling the fuzzy Jim plushie that I have been designing since roughly the Shouty Man’s first appearance. Plushie Jim will be cuddly-soft just like one of those Hallmark teddy bears, except that instead of singing he will make snarky remarks when you press his paw, also occasionally giggle. Seriously, it’s rare he turns up thus in ‘normal’ mode — neither hopeless loser nor over-the-top huckster — and every time he does it’s a reminder for me to be amazed that he’s not starring in his own sitcom by now. He’s not that short, producers, get over it.
  • Whether more a sign of increasing commitment in the moment or a desire to still have viable grown-up careers afterward — my personal guess is a lot of a) tinged noticeably with b) — the whole cast effortlessly handle whatever level-up the writers throw at them, showing off precision skills and timing that haven’t had a whole lot of chance to shine until now. Especially where Mat and Larry are concerned (Ben and Simon having arrived with their comic cred already more-or-less fully developed, and Jim nearly there); the Trojan Horse sketch flat-out belongs to the fledgling clown & the unknown writer, helping make it one more thing I totally cherish.
  • Sarah also contributes a very capable comic turn — which is probably why she was cast as Helen; not saying she’s not qualified otherwise, exactly, only that whether Martha’s face might launch more ships is at least debatable (this same ep, after all, does find MHD convincingly playing Cinderella). While I’m at it, here’s a spare laurel for Terry Deary, who’s developing a really nice, original line in wise old patriarchs. Honestly, if he’d just skip the pontificating and stick to acting while he’s in the public eye, I’d like him a whole lot better.
  • Ooh hey, and Larry the Historical Hospital patient finally gets to talk back! Turns out it really ups the funny-making ante when you give the daffy doc something to bounce off. Here he and Ben use that dynamic to build a wonderfully classic screwball comedy scene. (That is, once you get past that unnervingly dull modern deference to the historical crazy characteristic of the ‘timeslip’ sketches. Personally, I figure that in this world the Time Sewers malfunction so often the modern folk have just given up and gone with it. Can never decide if that`s charming or disturbing.)
  • So we’re hip-deep in Ancient Greek goofiness again — albeit in keeping with the current mood they’ve abandoned the genital mutilation for something much lighter. The Helen of Troy sketch is deservedly a classic, and I really do try to get into it, because the concept — an early version of the ‘match the modern genre to the equally pretentious history’ formula so simple-yet-cool it was later adopted for the songs — is just that brilliant… but I keep getting distracted by the accents. Specifically, this ‘chav’ thing, does it really sound like that? I do understand they’re channeling the same vibe as Sasha Baron Cohen’s Ali G; I have the same credibility flakeout while listening to both. (I imagine it’s much the same thing you lot go through when dealing with depictions of the American inner city.)
  • Incidentally, on the subject of distracting uncertainty — never let it be said I don’t know how to segue — who is that playing the Pharoah in the ‘pyramid realty’ sketch? It’s not Ben, right? I mean, I’d recognise Ben, and that isn’t him. I don’t think. It just seems weird that they’d bring in Random Unknown Lead Actor just for this one sketch. What I am sure of is that they paid good money for that sheepskin KISS wig (from the Pharoah Phashion sketch), because by god they’re going to use it!
  • Seriously, the Jousting on Ice… I see no reason why Canucks’ primal instinct for ice hockey couldn’t have originated in idiot English peasant DNA; it took decades just to convince ice hockey goalies it wasn’t sissified to wear face masks. The sketch itself has some nice details — it actually doesn’t seem like a bad idea for a real-world TV series — but the jousting itself starts and suddenly I’m thinking: nobody tell Don Cherry about this, OK? Just trust me, don’t.
  • Right, so I don’t usually make this sort of recommendation… family show, family-friendly blog, is the way I look at it… but if you’re into hair porn at all, boy howdy do you want to cue up the ‘Parliament’ sketch behind closed doors. I’m picturing somebody on the makeup team, probably after one too many Red Bulls, deciding that by God she was gonna fulfill her dream romance novel cover image now or never. Otherwise the sketch is funny but a bit too noticeably lazy, to the point of repeating almost verbatim the ‘does it bother us? No? OK then!” punchline from a few eps ago. Simon does have a wonderful take on urbanely clueless authority, though.

95% Accu-rat:

  • The Oh Yea! bit about Elizabeth’s supposedly poor hygiene… sigh. Here, have this accurate and well-reasoned rebuttal. Short version: i) Elizabeth was actually unusually finicky for the time, which certainly did involve regular bathing (also, not mentioned in the link, daily changes of linen undergarments) and ii) Everybody had smallpox scars and (among the nobility) bad teeth, because hello, it was frelling 16th-century Europe, anything above ‘not actually being dead’ was considered a bonus! Seriously, guys, all this is one rather shaky step up from laughing at victims of malnutrition for being short.
  • On the other hand, the gravy stockings I do have to give you. I went into researching this one extremely skeptical about the smell being anything close to socially acceptable in human company let alone canine, but instead learned a(nother) valuable lesson in never, ever, underestimating British resourcefulness under fire, and a new definition of ‘suffering to be beautiful’ besides. This vintage fashion blogger gives an entertaining in-depth overview of the Great Stocking Crisis.
  • OK, so, the whole ‘chivalry’ concept… um, in theory at least a wonderful, noble expression of man’s higher ideals (neutral-to-a-fault Wikipedia waxes positively ethereal on the subject). Also, a pretty good early attempt at maintaining order in the chaos of war. In practice, however — well, we’ve all encountered actual humans at some point, yes? Particularly the ones that are young, male, and  bored out of their tiny little minds? I’m not going to link it directly here (again, family blog), but if you’re over 16 and have a minute, check out’s recent article on Ridiculous Middle Ages Myths Everyone Believes — including one more satisfying whack at the hygiene thing.

Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Series One


Tags: , , , ,


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


Tags: , , , , , ,