HISTORY is leaping off the page and into Watford Colosseum this weekend with 3D Bogglevision. Horrible Histories books and television programmes are loved by children and adults alike, but was the author Terry Deary expecting his work to become so popular when he created the first of what is now a series of more than 60 titles?
“I never imagined I’d have a series which would become first of all iconic and secondly that would still be selling 20 years later,” he says.
“Books, especially children’s books, don’t tend to do that. I mean, there’s Roald Dahl, but I can’t think of anyone else who is still selling so well.”
Terry says he believes Horrible Histories were popular because there was nothing else comparable.
“They filled a desperate need,” he says. “There were fact books for children but they tended to be written by experts on the subject. They knew their history but they didn’t have a clue how to write about it for children. So with Horrible Histories, instead of an expert who couldn’t write, they approached a children’s author who knew nothing about history.”
Terry found out all his facts by doing the necessary research, but did he ever discover anything that was too horrible to include?
“Well, the publishers have said so,” Terry explains. “For example when the Vikings invaded, they became settlers and had families here. But these settlers were as vicious as the Vikings and when they invaded a Viking village they would find a Viking child, swing it by its legs and bash its brains out.
“When I told the publishers they said ‘we can't have that’, which is strange as I can’t see it is any worse than some of the other parts which have been included.”
Terry also discovered facts about things some people feel you cannot talk about.
“When we came to the television series, we were sitting round the table and we talked all about the bombings and the blackout [in the Second World War] and got that sorted. Then we got to the Holocaust and there were six or seven pages. They read them in silence and then said ‘of course we can’t do that’.
“I’m actually quite proud of the fact that television can’t do the Holocaust but I can.”
This weekend, you have a choice of watching either Terrible Tudors (one of the original book titles published in 1993) or Vile Victorians – or both, perhaps, for the very keen.
“Part of the reason the Tudors are so popular is that children study them in school,” Terry explains. “Some numpty in Whitehall said ‘I think children should learn about the Tudors’. So it is all about the Tudors, the Victorians, the Vikings and World War Two.
“There are thousands of children growing up who aren’t learning anything about the Saxons, or the Normans, the Middle Ages or the Georgians – all because someone somewhere said children can’t learn so much.”
Although much of the country is still buzzing from the Queen’s diamond jubilee, Terry was not waving his Union Flag to celebrate Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne.
“One of the points I try to make is that somebody, through an accident of birth, happens to end up on the throne and they’re cruel or stupid,” he says.
“Henry VIII was a psychopath. He’s remembered because he did outrageous things. Children in school are told he was cruel but he was a strong leader and therefore he was good. But he wasn’t. You know he emptied the treasury of England to go to war with France because that was some kind of fetish for him.
“The man was an idiot. He ruled over a country which was so inhumane but because he was king he got away with it.
“There’s a story that the Bishop of Rochester’s cook was upset and so he cooked a dinner and added some herbs to give the guests diarrhoea. It worked, but two of the guests died. When Henry VIII found out about this he said ‘hanging is too good for this man, I want him boiled in his own pot’. When he was told the law did not allow him to boil someone alive, he said ‘change the law’ and they did.
“He was utterly barbaric and was able to be so just because he was born who he was. Monarchs are an utter waste of time.”
It sounds like Terry knows his stuff when it comes to history, so does he now consider himself an accidental expert on history?
“I’m not encyclopaedic because I can’t retain it all in my brain,” Terry explained. “I’ve only got about three brain cells. I often forget what I’ve written because I can’t hold all those facts. I pick up a Horrible Histories book, maybe to revise it, and I read something and think ‘I never knew that’!
“But I can be an anorak with facts. I was watching Horrible Histories on television and up came the Vile Victorians and along came Burke and Hare, the body snatchers, and I was jumping up and down and shouting at the television ‘no, they were 1827 – 12 years before Victoria came to the throne. They weren’t Vile Victorians!’
“Now that’s anorak.”
● You can watch Terrible Tudors tomorrow (June 15) at 7pm, on Saturday at 2.30pm and on Sunday at 3pm. Vile Victorians is on stage on Saturday at 7pm and on Sunday at 11am.
Tickets are priced from £7 to £17 and a family ticket (maximum two adults) is £44.
Book online at www.watfordcolosseum.com or call 0845 075 3993.