History as read in tooth and claw but with added laughs

Horrible Histories: Incredible Invaders and Groovy Greeks
Horrible Histories: Incredible Invaders and Groovy Greeks
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“I’m just a hack and write what I’m asked to write, a bit like some newspaper journalists,” said Terry Deary, of his Horrible Histories’ success.

Ten years since the official stage version launched, the books and show are as popular as ever, offering an alternative tale on classic history.

In case you’ve not heard of them, Horrible Histories tell bitesize versions of history’s most gruesome happenings.

Terry has written a whole series of books, with them adapted to stage by writer Neal Foster and Birmingham Stage Company.

The two shows at the Grand Theatre this summer, Incredible Invaders and Groovy Greeks, are new productions, with live action as well as 3D ‘Bogglevision’ effects.

They started when he’d written a Christmas joke book and was then asked to do a history joke book.

“But they said it was pretty awful and asked for a fact book instead,” Terry explained. “Instead of a joke book with facts, we ended up with a fact book with jokes.

“People ask what inspired me, and the truth is I was paid. It was more or less accidental.

“The lucky accident is that I’m not a historian and all the previous books have been written by experts and I guess that’s the secret of the success – that I’m an expert in children’s writing.”

That combined with the fact the ‘anti-establishment’ stories are all true, he said.

“You’re left wondering ‘did people really behave like that?’

“You watch fiction and think, ‘Yeah, that’s just a story... The Big Bad Wolf didn’t really eat Grandma’. But Henry VIII really did have two of his wives beheaded and that truth really adds another level.

“These characters would be controlling the tabloid press today. The spin would be making these people out to be gods which when I went to school was often the way of it.

“Henry VIII was artful and therefore was good; that’s nonsense. He was strong, but that’s not ‘good’.

“It’s the same with Elizabeth I, she was a monster. Her main aim wasn’t protecting England, it was protecting herself.”

While the stories are known for the big and bold treatment of historic moments, Terry – an actor by trade – said many of his favourite moments come when the action is stripped back.

“In the stage versions, some of the best bits are when it goes quiet and when it’s occasionally played down,” he said.

“One of the most memorable moments is in the World War One part of Barmy Britain. We have a Spitfire flying over the audience in 3D, and very slowly, underneath, poppies start to rain down and it’s silent.

“There’s a lot of clowning and shouting, but every now and then you need this contrast.

“It’s funny, exciting, but yes, it’s real, and a chance to reflect – and that’s what the books have.”

The Sunderland-born author has the traditional memories of Blackpool visits as a child, as well as more recent trips for work.

“I’ve been to Blackpool as a kid – I have photos of me on the sea front and I have been as a writer to a book festival,” he explained.

“I was story telling at Blackpool Zoo, with the sound of elephants trumpeting as they walked past.

“Have you ever tried to compete with that? It’s not easy.”

n Horrible Histories: Incredible Invaders and Groovy Greeks, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, Tuesday to Saturday, July 7 to 11. Book both shows and save 25 per cent off ticket prices. Call (01253) 290190.