In style, tone and crass joke abundance, Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain is satisfyingly close to Terry Deary’s books, on which it is based. It’s a whirlwind, whistle-stop tour through the funniest of the lot, updated for the 21st century stage. In Ruthless Romans, pickled fish guts are on the menu in Masterchef; in the Slimy Stuarts, Guy Fawkes appears as a contestant in Who Wants to Blow Up Parliament?; in the Frightful First World War, Earl Haig returns from the Somme to be blown to pieces in the board room, by a vicious Alan Sugar.
The impressive enthusiasm of the two actors, Lauryn Redding and Martin, never lets up, and is enjoyably infectious. At only an hour long, there are noticeable gaps in history, and there is no mention of dates, which might confuse a younger history enthusiast. Historical accuracy or complexity is clearly not the aim of the show; hilariously, ‘Henry VIII was a very fat man,/ He liked to stuff his face from a frying pan’ is the chorus line of the most catchy song. Though we think it was right not to overload this show with dates and facts, it does well in proliferating stereotype. Nevertheless, there are one or two interesting nuggets you might not have known. You’ll find out how far the British advanced for every soldier killed in the Somme; it is a shockingly small distance, showing that even the most exaggerated, funny historical accounts can also be poignant.
Barmy Britain certainly left us with the firm impression that history is ruthless, vile, terrible, vicious, frightful, slimy and horrible, in all the best ways. It is equally patriotic and ironic and shows the fantastic ability of Britain to laugh at itself. Excellent entertainment for all the family, and (maybe) educational too.