The final episode of the hit CBBC show Horrible Histories aired seven years ago this month. While the show itself is no longer in production, it left a lasting impression on a generation of (now) young adults, and on children’s television as a whole.
Why was Horrible Histories so popular?
Horrible Histories was based on a series of books by Terry Deary with the same name, which told a funny and gruesome – yet for the most part accurate – account of different historical periods. These books were developed into a sketch show that recounted history through spoof scenes and song parodies. It entertained and engaged children, managing to be educational without feeling like school.
Looking back, the show’s creativity and writing were incredible. Many of the scenes were made to parody other familiar and popular shows on British TV, but with a historical twist. There were many recurrent segments like Weather Forecasts, Historical Wife Swap, Come Dine with Me, or Stupid Deaths, all of which had 9-year-old me in fits of laughter.
Part of its success can be attributed to its ability to entertain all ages. The familiarity of the sketches and the targeting of jokes towards parents as well as children meant it was entertaining for a wide range of ages. Above all, Horrible Histories was hilarious and enjoyable to watch, with the bonus of being educational in a non-condescending way. As a show about history, it hasn’t aged in the same way other children’s shows do, and is still regularly aired on CBBC.
The Lasting Success of the Show
The legacy of Horrible Histories has continued far beyond the end of the show’s production. Although the original series ended in 2014, it was rebooted only a year later. The subsequent show followed the same core concepts but focused more on specific historical figures rather than the random array of sketches seen in the 2009-2014 series. Although the rebooted show was still well-received, as it was broadcast later and didn’t feature the same core cast, it has been somewhat separated from the legacy of the original Horrible Histories show.
Additionally, the legacy has expanded far beyond the original sketch show. There have been spin-offs, such as Horrible Histories Gory Games, live theatre adaptations, and an array of different merchandise. The history consultant, or “chief nerd” of Horrible Histories, Greg Jenner, has also created a number of his own podcasts. In particular, You’re Dead To Me is aimed at adults and holds similar values to Horrible Histories: educating in a non-condescending way. The age group that Horrible Histories was initially aimed at in its initial release is now old enough to listen to more sophisticated media – the success of Jenner’s podcasts is a testament to how Horrible Histories has shaped educational media, showing that everyone can enjoy learning in a casual way.
Horrible Histories’ Legacy in the Media Today
Reminiscing over childhood shows and hobbies has become common on apps like TikTok, and Horrible Histories is no exception. Clips and songs from the show have either been made into popular sounds on the app or incorporated into completely new mashups. For example, it was realised that the song ‘good 4 u’ by Olivia Rodrigo has a similar backing beat to the Horrible Histories theme tune, and thus a very unusual remix was born.
One of the most recognisable faces in the original cast is Matthew Baynton. Baynton acted with the rest of the HH ensemble throughout the entire original series and played iconic characters such as King Charles II or Dick Turpin, the Highway Man. The show’s songs have accumulated millions of views on YouTube. Baynton’s performance as Dick Turpin, in a parody of Adam and the Ants’ ‘Stand and Deliver’, has reached over 3.75 million views.
Baynton is often considered a standout ‘childhood crush’ for many which, combined with his incredible performances, likely contributes to his popularity. He and many of his co-stars were nominated for awards for their performances in Horrible Histories. For many, the chemistry between the original cast members is what brought the sketches to life and contributed to their love of the show. Indeed after the end of the 2009-2014 series, many of the recurring cast went on to continue working together, producing series’ such as Ghosts and Yonderland.
My Own Experience with the Show
Horrible Histories was a favourite show of mine as a child. A history nerd from a young age, needless to say, it was pretty much my dream television show. It certainly fuelled my passion for History, so much so that ten years later I’m currently studying for a History degree – if the BBC would like to reimburse me for the cost of my degree, it would be much appreciated!
Whilst Horrible Histories didn’t necessarily spark my love for history, it was unique in being something that nurtured my passion rather than ruining it – something that unfortunately happens with many educational shows. Horrible Histories was engaging, educational, and entertaining, and stands out as a prominent feature of my childhood. Horrible Histories provided a refreshingly different approach to educational TV. It was written and executed in a way that gave a whole generation lasting historical knowledge. A generation of young adults exists who can tell you all about Rattus Rattus, and could probably sing you the entire list of England’s monarchs.
Seven years after the original series ended, episodes still played daily on CBBC. The show’s success shows no signs of wavering anytime soon and I can only hope that by the time my children are around, they too have a show similar to Horrible Histories.
Words by Ella Gilbert
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