TV review

Published Monday 27 April 2009 at 15:25 by Harry Venning by Harry Venning

The four King Georges performing as a boy band, Henry VIII’s murderous reign as an episode of This is Your Life, a medieval washing powder commercial advocating the cleansing properties of wee, a Stone Age arts magazine informing viewers how to preserve a beloved relative’s skull in plaster.

Welcome to the world of Horrible Histories.

Based upon the best-selling series by Terry Deary, Horrible Histories scours the past for interesting, bizarre, unpleasant and unpalatable facts and uses them as the basis for some seriously funny, beautifully performed and endlessly inventive sketches.

Unsurprisingly, sewage, savagery and bloodshed feature prominently and there are plenty of crowd-pleasing fart and poo gags. There is even a talking rat. All guaranteed to keep a CBBC audience entertained, amused, appalled and disgusted. Who knows, the little buggers might even learn something. For example, Vikings used to take Saturdays off from murder and pillaging to attend to their personal grooming. Didn’t know that, did you?

I have one criticism of the show. The poo used to shower the medieval town councillors was totally unconvincing. Wrong colour, wrong consistency, wrong texture.

If the BBC special effects department aren’t up to the job, there is only one way to ensure authenticity. When it comes to our children’s education there should be no half measures.

I am not sure what to make of John Barrowman. He is personable enough and talented, but the excess of cheese that accompanies his every appearance must be bad for the nation’s cholesterol levels.

However, there is no doubting his work ethic. The energy Barrowman invested into hosting Tonight’s the Night would have powered an entire series of Summertime Specials back in the seventies.

The remit of the show is to “help ordinary people live out their performing fantasy”, prompting a camera to swoop over the studio audience like a prison yard spotlight, relentlessly searching out unsuspecting dreamers and wannabes to live the dream for a night.

Kelli from Lancashire sings with the cast of Hairspray, Rob from Birmingham airport is serenaded by Katherine Jenkins and Russell from Tamworth joins some Cossacks in a Russian dance, although I don’t recall Russell ever expressing a wish to do anything of the sort. Clearly a fantasy he didn’t even know he had. Best of all were the teenage brothers forced to witness their mother flown down on wires to play with their favourite band, McFly. The look on the boys’ faces was a combination of disbelief mixed with pure, unadulterated disdain.

There are special guests, competitions, song and dance numbers, heart-wrenching personal stories and no few tears. All held together by the adrenalin-wired Barrowman and his Herculean efforts. Whether the show merited it is another matter.

The nation can breathe a collective sigh of relief. The new Reggie Perrin is not an insult to the memory of a much-beloved original, in fact, it’s a rather good sitcom in its own right.

Simon Nye and David Nobbs’ remake cranks up the misanthropy and the joke count, with Martin Clunes bringing his own brand of caustic charm to the role of the executive suffering existential angst.


Horrible Histories BBC1, Thursday, April 23, 4.35pm

Tonight’s the Night BBC1, Saturday, April 18, 7pm

Reggie Perrin BBC1, Friday, April 24, 9.30pm


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