With jokes, quips, sound effects and a quick-fire quiz, Homeschool History is a show closely related to the colossally successful, highly informative and hilariously funny Horrible Histories. Inspired by the humour of Monty Python and Blackadder, sometimes dark and gruesome and sometimes incredibly silly, the books by Terry Deary transformed into five much adored, award-winning TV series. Much repeated, these first aired between 2009 and 2013, whizzing us back and forth through events, civilisations and all sorts of barminess from Stone Age to Second World War. Stage and movie spin-offs quickly found their way into theatres and cinema, and now Radio Four’s version has hit the airwaves.
For lockdown kids, lockdown parents, lockdown grandparents or anyone else, locked down, locked up or otherwise, Homeschool History comes in entertaining fifteen-minute bursts, designed as fun for all the family. Greg Jenner, author, public historian and chief nerd, who was closely involved with all the horribleness of the previous Histories, presents this new radio show. He’s keen to fascinate those who like history and equally to charm those who think they don’t by mixing fun and entertainment with the facts and truths. These are so cleverly expressed that they stand out clearly and slot firmly into the memory files of the mind. Bingo! Job done!
Episode One involves a couple of Charlies (Charles I and II), an Oliver and a Richard Cromwell (who was more useless than a hammer made of jelly), a Nell Gwyn, some kidnapped spaniels, scrofula, coffee houses, crown jewels and mermaid-skins. Oh, and a Civil War. Pepys gets a brief look in, too, of course, as do Wren, Hooke and Newton. It is, indeed, a jam-packed, fast-paced ride through the Restoration with a quick-fire quiz at the end. But, don’t panic. If you miss some of the whistle-stop namedropping, you can listen again as many times as you like.
Episode Two fast-forwards through time and space to The Space Race to tell us just how icy the cold war was and reveal who won that racy Space Race. Was it the Russian dog, the pooh-hurling chimp, or the American guy who urinated in his boots? (By accident! Honest!) Next up is Mary Queen of Scots with Charles Dickens hot on her heels.
The shorter radio episodes obviously lack the exciting graphics, animations and elaborate dressings-up (we assume) of the TV shows, but they still deliver lively entertainment as they bring periods of history to life, some linked to school curricula.
For adults, podcasts of Jenner’s You’re Dead To Me are also available on BBC Sounds. Longer, chattier and more rambling, each features the combined input of Jenner, an expert historian and a comedian. Topics, too numerous to mention, are as diverse as Blackbeard, Stonehenge, Lord Byron, Joan of Arc, The Aztecs and The History of Chocolate. If you want to know about Henry VIII’s football boots, try The History of Football, or to hear about the dire lack of sanitation and a prevalence of flies, try The Ancient Olympics. No need to be bored in Lockdownland!
Eileen Caiger Gray
Homeschool History is broadcast on Radio 4 on Mondays at 9.30am and available on BBC Sounds. You’re dead to Me is also available on BBC Sounds.