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Gory, ghastly, mean and cruelHope you enjoyed Horrible Histories!
Stuff they don't teach you at school
The past is no longer a mystery
—Extract from Closing Theme
Horrible Histories (2009-) is the hit live-action Sketch Comedy adaptation of Terry Deary's eponymous books. Now on its fourth series, the half-hour show airs on CBBC in the UK and the BBC Kids cable channel overseas.
Lifting its premise, content and general Black Comedy sensibilities directly from the books, HH the series is hosted by a puppet sewer rat and romps irreverently (but always with conscious accuracy) through all the strangest, silliest and most bodily-fluid-intensive moments on the road to Western Civilization. Live-action sketches -- which frequently parody current UK TV programs and personalities -- are intercut with quizzes, short animations, and at least one music video per episode, likewise usually a parody of a classic pop/rock genre or song.
Despite all the goofiness, the show has picked up a sizeable Periphery Demographic, thanks both to increasingly sophisticated writing -- riffing largely off adult comedy classics like Monty Python and Blackadder -- and a core troupe of talented character comedians who also happen to be some of the most attractive Parental Bonuses on television today: Mathew Baynton, Jim Howick, Ben Willbond, Simon Farnaby, Laurence Rickard & Martha Howe-Douglas.
According to Word of God it has in fact been deliberately designed from the outset as a 'family show'. In 2010, this became more obvious when the second series won three children's BAFTAs for writing, performing and Best Comedy, plus a surprise British Comedy Award for Best Sketch Comedy. Followed in 2011 by a successful BBC Prom concert, another Best Comedy BAFTA and a (less surprising) Best Sketch Comedy BCA.
As a result a six-part version was made for main adult channel BBC 1, which featured the best sketches as introduced by Stephen Fry. More recently, Chris Addison, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss have made special guest appearances.
Not to be confused with the 2001-2002 animated series also based on the books; please see the main article.
The series contains examples of the following tropes:
- Action Girl: You do not want to mess with Boudicca. (S2 E10) Or for that matter several of the other female characters. The show actually makes something of a point of celebrating this trope, as a way of compensating for the fact that most of their subject matter is male-oriented.
- Adaptation Distillation: Of the show itself, as per above.
- Affably Evil: A favourite satirical approach, used with among others Blackbeard, Emperor Elagabalus and Henry VIII.
- Incan warlord Pachacuti takes it to the extreme in a chipper pop video celebrating exactly how viciously he mutilated his enemies' bodies... complete with little bouncy skulls following the lyrics. (S2 E12)
- Afterlife Antechamber: The setting of the Stupid Deaths sketch; whilst the format changes over the seasons, the basic idea of Death letting people "through to the afterlife" is the same. This implies that where Death works is some kind of Afterlife Antechamber, where the dead are processed.
- And Starring: Series One had two lead actresses, Martha Howe-Douglas and Sarah Hadland. Hadland left after the first series and Series' Two and Three had Howe-Douglas as the sole female lead with three or four supporting actresses. When Hadland returned for Series Four, she was given the 'And' position in the closing credits.
- Anachronism Stew: Much of the humour comes from the mesh of historical characters/situations with modern attitudes.
- Antiquated Linguistics: Usually averted; no sense trying to educate the kiddies if they can't understand what you're saying, and besides which it's funnier that way.
- Antidisestablishmentarianism: In a segment on Victorian school punishments, one boy is punished for misspelling it. (S1 E09)
- Ascended Extra: Laurence Rickard, to a certain extent. Originally brought on as a writer, he was summarily promoted from back of the camera to front after creating Bob Hale, 'News at When' special correspondent, and his extended monologues. Rickard then took on other small supporting roles in the first series, proved versatile and popular, and by the second was established as both a senior writer and part of the starring troupe.
- Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny: Bob Hale goes off-topic very quickly.
- The Victorian-era Historical Paramedics tend to get distracted from their patient whenever their "fabulous!" top hats are mentioned. (S3 E10)
- Bad News, Irrelevant News: In response to a Greek athlete's disappointment that his prize for winning the Isthmian Games is a crown of celery. (S3 E12)
- Beware the Nice Ones: Played with in a sketch in which a softspoken monk manages to bring the Viking assault on his monastery to a dead halt simply by asking what on earth they're doing there, which completely baffles them -- for about a minute. "Oh yeah, 'cos violence is fun!". Cue the monk's running for his life. (S2 E08)
- Black Comedy: Cheerfully dialed Up to Eleven, although careful to stop short of Dead Baby Comedy.
- Blood Knight: William Wallace. (S3 E03, S5 E07)
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Used with Rattus (the rat puppet who hosts the series) between segments.
- British Stuffiness: Played for laughs in the 'WWII Codebreakers' sketch, among others. (S2 E12)
- Bumbling Sidekick: Several, notably over-sharing Pedro in 'Francisco Pizarro's Very Rough Guide to Mexico': "...and then we steal all their gold!"
- Burn the Witch: The point of an advert for 'Witchfinders Direct'. "Had something bad happen to you? Wasn't your fault? We'll find an old woman and blame her for it!" (S1 E03)
- Call Back: In his second-series debut, Charles II raps "Is today my birthday, I can't recall/Let's have a party anyway, because I love a masked ball!" Cut to the final episode of the third season, in which his hungover majesty opens a sketch with "Easy, Southerby, I had a rather major un-birthday party last night..." (S3 E12)
- In one early Bob Hale Report, he uses "except NOT helicopters" in his Mad Libs Catchphrase (see entry below). It became one of the character's most-quoted lines, leading to this in a fourth-series Report involving Leonardo da Vinci: "Except, of course, NOT... oh, yes, he did invent a helicopter. Huh. (beat) ...Always knew that one'd come back to bite me someday."
- Camp Gay: The host of the 'Fashion Fix' skits, a broad parody of popular UK fashion guru Gok Wan.
- Careful with That Axe: During the Vikings' metal power ballad celebrating their invasion of England, one of them actually uses an axe as a guitar. (S2 E01)
- Used again in the William Wallace song (S3 E03) and the Luddites song.
- Catch Phrase: "HELLO, I'M A SHOUTY MAN!"
- "Good day!"
- Rattus: "That's 100% accu-rat" and "The rat knows all!" To a lesser extent, "Ooh I'm imagining it, I'm imagining it..."
- Bob Hale has several (and yes, all delivered in capslock): "BUT NOT FOR LONG!" "WRONG!" "OR SO WE THOUGHT!"
- Death (at least in the first season): "You're dead funny!" Later, "You're through to the afterlife!"
- Mr. Whitely: "Whallop!"
- Cats Are Mean: Rattus, naturally, isn't a fan. Especially not in one segue when a loud and angry meow is heard, chasing him offscreen. (Rattus: "I'm no scaredy-cat, I'm petrified-y of them!", then a cat meows, S2 E06)
- Characterization Marches On: Occasionally, when a character goes from being a one-off sketch to a more recurring or at least, notable figure. For instance, in Richard III's first appearance (in a sketch where his ghost comes to edit Shakespeare's Richard III) he is quite a bit angrier and more northern than his later, more Woobie-ish portrayal (although both focus on correcting misconceptions spread by the Shakespeare play so it can be considered a Downplayed Trope)
- Consulting Mister Puppet: The show's version of Caligula makes this a trademark. Usually using his own hand with a face drawn on, but he's also chatted happily with a worm attached to the dead man's armour he was wearing and with a wooden mallet-cum-murder-weapon that he named Whackus Bonkus. (S3 E04)
- Death's relationship with his two skeleton sidekicks -- joined by a mummy in the fourth series -- has definite overtones of this; they're supposed to be an X-Factor-esque judging panel, but Death's apparently the only one that can hear the others' opinions (and berates them loudly when he disagrees). He also occasionally holds staring contests with them. (S3 E08)
- Continuity Nod: In the four Georges' song, (S1 E01) George III claims that he was as ' as batty as a bonkers Kangaroo'. In a later song (where George IV goes solo), a dead George III introduces himself as a kangaroo. (S2 E05)
- Not to mention George III's first word in the second song is the same as his last word in the first - 'banana'. (S2 E05)
- This example is actually also an aversion -- the show usually maintains strict continuity in re: who performs what historical character, but in this case George III from the first song (Simon Farnaby) wasn't available for the second so a replacement was brought on, Lawry Lewin. The same situation led to another subversion in which Mathew Baynton took over from Farnaby as Caligula. (S2 E11)
- In one sketch, Jim Howick plays a Georgian army recruit whose CO berates him as "You horrible little man!" Cut to a sketch a few episodes later featuring Howick as a Roman army recruit whose similarly cranky CO uses the same epithet. (S2 E11)
- Cowboy: A musical number describes what the life of a working cowboy was really like. (S2 E09)
- Crazy Prepared: Parodied in the 'Race to the South Pole' sketch, in which the proudly under-equipped British explorers believe the Norwegian team to be sissies for bringing along such luxuries as sled dogs and warm clothing. (S1 E03)
- Creator Cameo: Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books, quite often turns up in sketches, such as playing the Bishop in The Monks' Song. (S2 E11)
- Deadpan Snarker: Apparently, history was full of 'em. The talking rat has his moments too: "It's true! William the Conqueror really did explode at his own funeral... try finding that on the Bayeux Tapestry." (S1 E05)
- Death as Comedy: More or less constantly, although Bloody Hilarious is largely averted.
- Did Not Do the Research: Mostly (and impressively) averted -- there's apparently a production assistant on-set at all times whose sole charge is to ensure historical accuracy. They do slip up sometimes, though, usually by over-simplifying or falling for generally-accepted but erroneous legends. Sometimes they catch themselves and correct things in later programs, but... Look, rule of thumb when you're searching for historical facts: every historian has a different take on them.
- Rattus claims that the Hundred Years' War lasted a hundred years; it did not, it lasted 116 years (S1 E11). There are other slips as well. But you generally do have to be a historian to notice them.
- Didn't Think This Through: The sheepish conclusion of a Scots raiding party, after their attempt to take advantage of the plague-weakened English leads to... wait for it... the introduction of plague into Scotland. (S2 E11)
- Also, the main reason why the French lost the battle of Agincourt. (S4 E09)
1st French soldier: Okay... heavy armour, too many knights, too little room, lots of arrows and lots of mud.
2nd French soldier: We probably should have thought this through a little better...
- Disguised in Drag: Used in a 'Putrid Pirates' sketch about tricks they used to entice ships close enough to attack (since a shipful of women wouldn't be perceived as a threat, S2 E07).
- Don't Try This At Home: Sometimes appended to sketches, apparently more because the writers thought it'd be funny than out of any actual desire to avoid lawsuits. Still, yes: drilling holes in your family's skulls, definitely a bad idea. (S1 E02, S2 E06 and S7 E10, Horrid Health Special)
- Used with a surprising amount of seriousness in one sketch. Being that that sketch involves the Viking Historical Paramedics determining the seriousness of a wound by tasting the injured person's blood, it's fair enough that this has something to the effect of "do not do this, EVER, WE ARE SERIOUS, NEVER" plastered underneath it. (S3 E01)
- Dumb Muscle: A gladiator in one sketch, who keeps misunderstanding his trainer's motivational metaphors until they're reduced to "Go - out - there - and - kill - him!" (S2 E12)
- Early Installment Weirdness: Comparatively subtle, but noticeable. The first series is trying harder to be an educational programme, on a much lower budget; by the second they've made the comedic potential the priority, and they've clearly got much more to spend on it. This trend intensifies with each season -- perhaps not coincidentally as they also move further away from using the books as their only source material.
- Most noticeably, Death's makeup and set dressing get a major upgrade between series -- though, strangely, they went from giving him an actual scythe to using what are obviously tinfoil-wrapped cardboard ones as decorations in series two. See the Characterisation Marches On entry for more details.
- Also, compare the simple song-and-dance routines with cardboard props of Series One to the green-screen and dry-ice filled music videos that came later.
- Educational Song: Yes, they are technically supposed to be this. At least one an episode.
- Everything's Better with Llamas: Literally in an Incan Home Shopping Channel sketch... (S2 E04) and played with shortly after in a sketch that basically just repeats the jingle "Stay calmer when you want to harm a llama, call a llama farmer!" over and over and over until someone finally yells "OH, SHUT UP!" from offscreen. (Also S2 E04)
- Eviler Than Thou: The theme of the 'Evil Emperors Song' (a pastiche of Michael Jackson's "Bad") featuring Caligula, Elagabalus, Commodus and Nero. Nero handily proves himself the most evil of them all. (S3 E07)
- Expository Theme Tune: Presumably to ensure viewers know exactly what they're getting into.
- Fainting: A staple, used to especial comic effect in the segments on the Black Death.
- Fake Nationality: All the very English cast are also fairly adept at sounding Scottish, French, etc. Baynton even gamely tackles a Californian accent -- as a Steve Jobs Expy -- for the 'aBook' sketch.(S3 E01) (That said, their ideas re: American 'cowboy' drawls are a bit less impressive. (S2 E03 and E09))
- One World War One skit (S3 E05) calls for French Canadian, Australian and South African accents. It doesn't really work, but major points for effort.
- Fat Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit: Turns up as the foil in a (not-particularly-subtle) sketch about the disguises Harriet Tubman used to lead slaves to freedom. (S2 E05)
- Fiery Redhead: Boudicca, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: Both played straight and parodied, as per the bouncing skulls in the Pachacuti song referenced above Also, the Llama farmer sketch with jumping llamas following the chorus lyrics.
- The Fun in Funeral: Several sketches on ancient burial rites turn out to involve this, especially one in which it's revealed Romans sometimes had their favourite slaves -- male and female -- fight to the death over their graves. (S1 E01, the first ever sketch)
- Gasshole: In the aforementioned 'Real Live Cowboys' number, Mike (played by Laurence Rickard) farts a solo because of all the beans they eat.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Oh, lots -- that is, besides the gallons of actual crap (and urine, and blood, and vomit, and stomach bile...) routinely featured. Really, the whole show is a textbook example.
- In classic British style, much of the verbal humour especially is likely to sail right over the kiddies' heads. The most audacious example is probably in the Christmas Special, wherein a sadistic, whip-wielding prison guard tells Baynton, "I think I can speak for all the lads when I say, 'You're our favourite prisoner'." Yes, they actually went there.
- Also a recent sketch (S3 E12) where Charles II cries "You've destroyed my crown jewels!". Although it was literally true...
- There's a song set in a monastery (S2 E11) featuring errant monks partying with a "funky nun" while the bishop isn't looking. Her closing thoughts? "Ah, men!" A cleverly PG presentation of what were basically orgies behind monastery walls between nuns and monks.
- Bob Hale gets off a lulu in the Pharaoh Report (S3 E05) : "Tutankhamen's daddy became a mummy, which is a very complex operation."
- There's also the wink and lip-bite George II gives the camera (and repeats in the the Prom special) while singing the line "I was the bad one..." Not to mention George I singing about how ladies "would do anything for me, or I'd have their husbands killed..." with a big eyebrow raise on "anything". (S1 E01)
- Also from the Prom special, the inset sketch involving a royal lineup to use the public loo features this little experiment in just how much you can get away with by claiming historical accuracy:
Charles II: Henry VIII's in there with his personal bottom-wiper. Calls him the Groom of the Stool. Very popular job in his day, apparently... [aside, to George III] Not my kind of party, but to each his own...
- Apparently, the Cash My Sin (S4 E06) number (a riff on the medieval Church requirement that you pay to keep out of purgatory) is 0800-I've Been Naughty. Dang.
- Also the Snakes on a Ship/Elephants on a Plain sketches (S4 E05) , in which the word "Carthaginian" is substituted for... another word.
- The visual for this moment in the 'Burke & Hare' song (S1 E13) is kept tastefully vague, but:
Dr. Knox: Well it's always a palaver
Getting hold of a cadaver
So I said yes, I'd have her --
[peeks under sheet] Ooh! It's a he!
- The 'Victorian Eastenders' sketch involves a father berating his 'sixteenth daughter'. Her name? Chastity. (S2 E09)
- The Viking song: "We're gonna get you in the end... literally!" (S2 E01)
- Gladiator Games: Multiple sketches about them, including a memorable one in which they run out of animals. (S1 E12)
- The Grim Reaper: He loves his job. He really does. Except during that one humongous backlog in afterlife applications caused by the 'Measly Middle Ages' ((S1 E11)plague, Hundred Years' War, etc. etc...).
- Hard Head: Turns up with surprising abandon in a supposed children's educational programme. Most notably in the 'Caveman Art Show' sketches, wherein Grunt takes multiple club bashings from his co-host without apparent injury -- of course, when he finally turns the tables, his co-host isn't so lucky. (S1 E02 and S2 E12)
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Gerard (Jim Howick) from Peep Show, now the proud owner of a children's BAFTA for Best Performer.
- The Highwayman: The dashing legend, and specifically the romanticisation of Dick Turpin, is deconstructed in song (S3 E01) ... how well is debateable, given it's being performed by an eyeliner-wearing Baynton, but still.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Lampshaded and played straight in one sketch about Richard III, in which his ghost gripes about how his Shakespearean portrayal is pure fiction. There's a continuation in a third series song, in which Richard III lists all the ways in which he's remembered and complains that he's a nice guy, really, and that Shakespeare made up the phrase "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" out of whole cloth. (S1 E13)
- Hollywood History: George IV gets a solo song complaining about how all anyone ever remembers about his reign is that he was really fat (S2 E05) .
- Home Guard: Several sketches reference the British version in WWII, notably one based on how they frequently contrived to injure themselves with their makeshift weapons. (S2 E01)
- Hook Hand: In the pirate sketches. Lampshaded exasperatedly when one such character is offered a high-five: "Seriously, why would you do that?" (S2 E07)
- Humans Are Bastards: Occasionally invoked from Rattus' POV. According to him, rats think of Florence Nightingale (S1 E13) as "The Lady with the Broom, 'cos that's what she used to hit us with!"
- Hurricane of Puns: Not nearly as punny as the books overall, but used in some sketches, notably one involving Henry VIII's jester. Rattus sometimes indulges as well.
- Death also gets in on it during the "Stupid Deaths" sketches, and complains when his skeleton lackeys -- who, it should be noted again, are actual skeletons -- don't laugh.
- It Will Never Catch On:
- In one sketch (S3 E02) , a monk is called a crackpot for believing that the Earth is round and the Moon causes tides.
- In another, a Georgian sports presenter claims football is just a fad, and that long after people have gotten over football they'll still be into greased goose grabbing competitions. (S2 E10)
- On scientific exploration into the causes of illness: "A microscope? What do you expect to find, tiny little creatures making people sick?" (S1 E09)
- I Want My Mommy: Invoked by a young student warrior in the "Spartan High School Musical" song, (S2 E03) and by a fully-grown Spartan warrior in a sketch involving preparation for the battle of Thermopylae (S1 E10). Made even funnier when you realise that, as per what the show has already established, 'mommy' would most likely have just clocked them upside the ear and thrown them right back out into the battle.
- At the end of the Celtic Boast Battle Rap (S3 E12) the Celt who was stabbed runs out of the tent yelling "MUM!"
- The general cry of "Mummy!" is used again in a Historical Hospital episode. Only this one makes total sense, considering that the speaker is from Ancient Egypt, is being chased out the door, and has just nearly run into a patient covered head to toe in bandages. (S2 E10)
- I Was Beaten by a Girl: Used nearly word-for-word by a Roman soldier in the Boudicca song. (S2 E10)
- Imagine Spot: What if gladiator school was run like a modern secondary? (S1 E01) Or if Henry VIII had access to the internet? Usually courtesy Rattus -- complete with 'imagine if...' and wavy dissolve cut ("Ooh, I'm imaginin' it, I'm imaginin' it...!"). (S2 E07)
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Mr Whitely's secretary inevitably announces him as "Cliff Whitelie!" "It's White-lee!" "Sorry!"
- Just a Stupid Accent: Most sketches set somewhere other than England use this. The usual exceptions to this rule are Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, the Aztecs and Incas.
- Kent Brockman News: What inevitably happens when a sleek modern news crew (on the 'News at When' broadcast) tries to report on messy historical events. And that's not even mentioning poor Bob Hale. "Our forecast is for lots of Vikings heading down from the north -- but look! The Saxons are fighting back! Wait, here come the Vikings again..." (S1 E13)
- Kick the Dog: Shows up a lot, historical class divisions being what they were among other things. A high point of sorts is reached during the Georgian Wife Swap sketch, in which wealthy Lord Posh (S1 E06) , deeply moved by Mrs. Peasant's complaining over her lot at dinner, summons his personal orchestra to play sad music while she tells him all about it... then informs the whole Peasant family that he's razing their cottage... then summons the orchestra again when they get upset about it.
- Earlier in that particular skit, Lady Posh, annoyed that Mr and Mrs Peasant's starving little girl has possibly stolen an apple out of her ridiculously elaborate hairstyle, concludes with a sigh that she'll just have to have the child hanged.
- Large Ham: Several of the historical figures, of whom Henry VIII, Charles II and Caligula are unsurprisingly foremost. The SHOUTY MAN has his moments as well.
- Death also qualifies.
- Really, watch any sketch with members of the core troupe in the background and you'll see some fairly shameless scene-stealing going on.
- Literal Metaphor: The core concept of "Literally", the Viking invasion anthem. (S2 E01) "We're gonna set this sleepy town alight/Literally!"
- Mad Libs Catchphrase: Bob Hale has a tendency to give lists in the form of "X, and Y, and Z, except not Y," where X and Z are historical facts and Y is a humorous anachronism. Usually helicopters. Or mutant sea monsters...
- Also, HHTV's war correspondent invariably signs off with "This is Mike Peabody, reporting for HHTV News live from [historical event], really wishing he were somewhere else...!"
- Anchorwoman Sam does her own version of this to introduce Bob's reports: "Hello, and welcome to the News at When. When? [Time period], when [description of important event]. To tell us more, here's Bob Hale, with the [Subject] Report."
- Meaningful Name: Oh yeah. Notables include Abigail Tight-Corset (S3 E10) and Matilda Never-Wash (S3 E02). There are a couple of names that are meaningful but more likely to sail over kid's heads; one character, a Victorian drunk, is named Florence Guttersnipe.
- Medium Awareness: Frequent. At one point, Mr. Whitely asks one PR client if she'd like to appear on a 'historical sketch show for the BBC'. When she sceptically asks him "It any good?" he turns and grins into the camera: "It ain't bad!"
- Milking the Giant Cow: Used as a dance move and referred to by name in a behind-the-scenes vid.
- Mood Whiplash: After sketches, Rattus will sometimes become a bit sombre when describing the reality behind the funny, especially in re: the First & Second World Wars. ("Well, what do you expect? It is 'Horrible' Histories, after all.") (S1 E03 ("Well, what do you want? This is Horrible Histories!"), S1 E12, S2 E09)
- "Do you know, if I'm honest, I'd rather just do the funnies. Couldn't we get a badger or something in for the sad bits?" (S3 E11)
- Moral Guardians: A feature of the 'Slimy Stuarts' sketches especially, thanks to the Cavalier/Roundhead conflict. The show is characteristically unsubtle about which side it's on, as per a sketch in which Oliver Cromwell has his relatives arrested for simply showing up at his door to wish him Happy Christmas.
Charles II: (rapping) Old Ollie wasn't jolly, he was glum and he was proud
Would be miserable as sin, only sinning's not allowed!
- Mr. Fanservice: Go on, just try to find one clip on YouTube with Mathew Baynton in it that doesn't have comments gushing over how 'fit' ( chav British for 'gorgeous') Mat is. Laurence Rickard, one of the writers/performers, has also referred to costar Ben Willbond as 'mum candy' in one of his tweets -- and of course, Rickard himself and Jim Howick get their share of this as well. It's all become something of a behind-the-scenes Running Gag.
- The Nicknamer: There's a sketch about Elizabeth I being this, including her most well-known nickname of "Pygmy" for one of her ministers.
- No Indoor Voice: Most obviously with the "I'M A SHOUTY MAN!" mock-adverts. Other notable sketches include one with Caligula: "THINK YOU'RE BIGGER THAN ME?!" (S1 E05).
- Jim as the host on the Historical Masterchef segments. After Mat, as an Aztec chef (S3 E01) , tells him what a Howler Monkey is, this ensues:
Host: That must be the LOUDEST CREATURE ON EARTH!
Aztec: It's one of them.
- No Kill Like Overkill: Again, the SHOUTY MAN. Also, the conclusion to a song about Victorian inventions... did you know they invented dynamite during that era? (S2 E07)
- Not Making This Up Disclaimer: Signs pop up during sketches, to the effect that they're not making up certain historical details... or that they are (The sign that they are usually says "Silly" or, at least once, "Very Very Silly.")
- The "Victorian Names" sketch (S1 E12) includes a pop up after every single name just to reassure us that they're real, and given that they include names like "Never" and "Baboon" this is entirely justified.
- One Steve Limit: Deliberately -- not to say enthusiastically -- averted by writer Rickard, who has admitted to shoehorning 'Geoff's into his sketches wherever possible.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Played with to heighten the absurdity of historical cliches -- most notably during the 'Savage Stone Age' segments, in which the performers routinely switch from subliterate grunts to perfect English without missing a beat.
- Also used to great effect during a 'Putrid Pirates' sketch featuring the notorious Captain Black Bart listing off his rules to the new recruits (S1 E01) . He starts off in bog-standard 'Arrr, me mateys!' mode... right up until "Rule One: Fighting!":
Black Bart (abruptly switching to modern 'posh' accent):"No fighting. It's antisocial, and it's a good way to lose an eye, isn't it Mulligan?"
- During the Dick Turpin song (S3 E01) , sung otherwise with an assumed accent, the words "that's lame" are in the actor's normal voice.
- Parental Bonus: Basically the entire thing, although see of course Parent Service.
- Parent Service: See Oestrogen Brigade Bait.
- Poirot Speak: Sometimes. For example, the sketch at a German supply store during the Battle of Stalingrad - the whole thing is in English, except for the words Herr and Auf Wiedersehn. (S2 E08)
- Politically-Correct History: Averting this is pretty much the entire point.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: For the Victorian Dragons' Den segment, all of the new labour saving inventions being presented consist of a street child (S2 E07). Something of a running theme in the 'Vile Victorians' segments generally; see also the "Work, Terrible Work!" song (S3 E04), an advertisement for New! Victorian Child (ie. chimney sweeps, S1 E09) and a sketch in which among a kid's fifth birthday presents is a job in the factory alongside his dad -- who then implies that they thus won't have to worry about a sixth birthday present. (S2 E10)
- Punctuated for Emphasis: In one of the Fashion Fix segments, a Celtic warrior reacts badly to his makeover and starts to work himself into a berserker frenzy. The Gok Wan Expy presenter cuts him off with "Not. On. My. Show. Sister." (S2 E10)
- Real Men Wear Pink: Vercingetorix (S1 E08) - "a man so deadly, he can wear pigtails and still look hard."
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Inherent in the premise.
- Royally Screwed-Up: Lots of fun had with this one.
- Sadist Teacher: A carryover from the books, and even less subtle. One sketch on Stone Age burial rituals fades out to Rattus and a single tiny pea on a plate: "Here's a brain I've prepared myself. As you can see, from a PE teacher! Hah!" (S2 E12)
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections: Cesare Borgia gleefully invokes this in "The Borgia Family Song": it's no problem being a violent, power-hungry sociopath when your dad's the Pope! (S4 E09)
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them: As per history, King Charles I tries this tactic on Parliament in the "English Civil War Song". (S3 E11) Also as per history, it doesn't go over at all well.
- Shirtless Scene: Quite a few for a supposed kids' show, to the point where it may overall be second only to Twilight for shirtless Fan Service. One sketch about the Greek Olympics, where most games were played naked, had a sports presenter cover up the Greek athlete with his clipboard (S3 E10), followed by a report on the Greek wrestling, featuring a Greek athlete in a loincloth.
- Often Lampshaded by said shirtless men covering up their chests rather obviously. Most obviously of all in the aforementioned 'preparation for Thermopylae' sketch, in which the warrior complains outright that the shield he's been given "won't even cover my nipples!" (S1 E10)
- Shout-Out: So many. The songs in particular, featuring references to artists such as The Bee Gees, (S3 E09) Michael Jackson, (S3 E07) The Monkees (S4 E03), Lady Gaga (S3 E05) and Adam and the Ants. (S3 E01) Recognisable personalities include Gordon Ramsay ("Hello, I'm an angry shouty Roman chef!", S1 E13) and UK game show presenter Peter Snow (as sent up by Bob Hale). Entire segments are based off various types of reality shows, eg. Masterchef, Wife Swap, Come Dine With Me, etc.
- Bonus points in actually getting Dave Lamb to narrate the Come Dine With Me sketches, and to host the game show.
- The song "I'm a Knight" (S1 E07) is a deliberate Monty Python pastiche (complete with uncanny Eric Idle lookalike aka show writer Steve Punt). See also the Historical Paramedics' (Series 2 and 3) retreating cry as the modern-day EMS approach: "Run away! Run away!"
- The 'Prisoner of War' sketch is another fairly obvious parody, of the American show Hogan's Heroes. The musical motif, the characters of incompetent Commandant Klinzman (for Colonel Klink) and cheeky Squadron Leader Higgins (for Colonel Hogan), and the latter's constant escape attempts are all very familiar. (S1 E02)
- Maybe coincidence, maybe not: Death is depicted as a "Travel agent" (although he acts more like a border guard) in the Recurring Stupid Deaths sketch (in the first series). This is possibly a reference to Grim Fandango, which also depicted the Grim Reaper/Death as a travel agent. The (relative) obscurity of the reference may be (part of) the reason why the Sketch shifted into a Britain's Got Talent parody from the second series onwards.
- The Dick Turpin song mentioned above is a direct homage to the Adam Ant song (and music video) "Stand and Deliver".
- While the song where Charles Darwin sings about the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection is a homage to the David Bowie song Changes. Including a direct reference to "Ch-ch-changes". (S4 E02)
- There's also a nod to the drumming gorilla from the Cadbury's Dairy Milk ad. (Also from the Charles Darwin song)
- Signature Laugh: Rattus punctuates his stories with a distinctive "Hahahah!" and excited little paws.
- Elagabalus' delightfully obnoxious laugh. (S2 E01 and E06)
- So Unfunny It's Funny: Used in the aforementioned 'stay calmer when you want to harm a llama' sketch. (S2 E04)
- Spin-Off: Horrible Histories: Gory Games.
- Summers Family Tree: The poor "This is Your Reign" presenter gets very confused (and squicked) by Cleopatra's family tree (including her marrying two of her brothers and her father) when she appears on his show. (S1 E13)
- Talking Animal: Rattus Rattus (named for his species) -- a puppet Expy of a similar rat character from the books -- hosts the original series, explaining and clarifying the historical information presented in each sketch... in his own inimitable fashion (describing the cause of The Black Death: "So that's Rats 1, Humans 0."(S1 E09)) Despite the occasional tiny sword or top hat, he appears to be quite content merely to snigger at the horrible humans from beneath their floorboards... at least until the behind-the-scenes vid that reveals he's moved to Hollywood to become a Star, or barring that become a historical consultant to Steven Spielberg.
- Take That (possibly more Take That, Critics!): Simon Cowell... for some reason, the only person this show has it in for more than teachers. They're not too fond of Gregg Wallace, either.
- Toilet Humour: Up to and including a couple sketches actually set in the Roman communal toilets. (S1 Episodes 10 and 13)
- Totally Radical: In-universe, as used by the title character in the "You've Been Artois'd!" sketch. "I know these words, you see? I am 'street', yes?" (S3 E01)
- Tsundere: Elizabeth I was one of the originals.
- Universal Adaptor Cast: The core troupe tend to fit into this, playing the same basic types across all historical eras.
- Upperclass Twit: A staple, as exemplified by Blenkinsop & Maltravers in the 'Causes of WWI' sketch. (S1 E08)
- Villain Song: Henry VIII's is deliberately styled as this. "I'm Henry the Eighth, I had six sorry wives/You could say I ruined their lives..." (S1 E02)
- Dick Turpin, Blackbeard, and Pachacuti also have their own villain songs, albeit much less traditional versions.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Standard... and odd, considering they then have no problem showing the actual vomit afterwards. (S2 E04)
- Warrior Poet: Invoked by, of all people, Erik the Viking. Who speaks only in rhyme. (S1 E11)
- Who Writes This Crap?: Combined with Medium Awareness: (S1 E11)
Tudor Executioner (walking down a row of gibbets): Now, this is your seven o'clock noose... this is the nine o'clock noose... this is the noose at ten...
(stops at a body sprawled out on a nearbly chopping block)
...and this is the man who wrote that joke.
- Who's on First?: Deployed shamelessly in a sketch about rebel leader Wat Tyler. "So, what's our leader's name?" "Yes." (S1 E08)
- Also in the Victorian names sketch. (S1 E12)
Mrs. Farting Clack: Toilet and Baboon? Your parents must be evil.
Toilet: No, that's Evil over there.
- The Wonka: Motor Mouth Bob Hale seems like your typical Cloudcuckoolander if it wasn't for the fact that everything he says is true.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: "But at night, they navigated by the stars. Take a left at Britney Spears and a right at Angelina Jolie! Hahaha!" (S2 E01)
- Worst Aid: As administered by various past-time physicians in the recurring 'Historical Hospital' sketch. As you might imagine, it's not uncommon for a patient to come in with a blister and be dead ten minutes later.
- Similarly, the "Historical Paramedics" sketches, although their patients rarely die -- presumably because the HPs are forced to flee the scene too quickly to avoid the present-day EMS.
- Yet Another Stupid Death: As it's sung by Death:
"Stupid deaths, stupid deaths, they're funny 'cos they're true. Stupid deaths, stupid deaths, hope next time it's not you!"