The secret of Horrible Histories books is they don’t patronise or lecture kids. It’s history with the gory bits left in, the darker side of it, the poo and wee. It’s quite anti-authority. Terry’s politics are pretty strong and pretty clear in the books. He doesn’t like that tradition where kings and queens are important, everyone else is just peasants covered in muck. He likes to do history about ordinary people, ordinary lives – food, fashion and health. He’s got quite strong opinions.
The tradition of old-fashioned history teaching Terry was railing against in the 1990s is long gone now, the Horrible Histories style is a key part of how we teach today. Loads of history teachers love the books and the TV show, and use them in their classes.
Obviously Terry’s books were hugely successful before we ever made the TV show, selling in crazy numbers. That’s because they are really good, because the history’s good, they are funny, distinctive, allow children to think for themselves and challenge history. And they are beautifully illustrated by Martin Brown, he’s got a very funny sense of humour, gives real personality visually.
When we started the TV show in 2009 we wanted to distil that ethos into a comedy show. Obviously sketch comedy is a different format, different jokes. They are quite different, but they share the same DNA. We are trying to be really funny, really silly, but also factually accurate – which is why I’m there, to tell [the writers] which bits are true. And Rattus Rattus helps kids see which bits are silly and which are accurate.
Horrible Histories really changed how children relate to history
We make sure we are not patronising and condescending, we are giving kids all the information but in a really funny, uptempo way and taking the mickey out of popular culture – pop songs,Masterchef, Great British Bake Off or Match of the Day.