Horrible Histories: The best laughs are on children's TV

CBBC's Horrible Histories triumphed over its adult counterparts at the British Comedy Awards – and rightly so, says Gerard Gilbert

Ah, so cute – a children's TV series wins a grown-ups' award. You could almost cut the condescension with a knife as last weekend Horrible Histories, a CBBC show that usually engages school-kids at teatime, became the first children's TV programme to win a British Comedy Award. Also nominated in the sketch-show category were Harry & Paul and The Armstrong & Miller Show. But actually Horrible Histories, a TV version of the bestselling books by Terry Deary that include such volumes as The Terrible Tudors and The Slimy Stuarts, is in a long line of children's shows that are a lot funnier than many of their mainstream counterparts.

Okay, so there are a lot of fart, wee and poo jokes – but then there are too in Little Britain – and at least the audience for Horrible Histories are of an age when a fascination with bodily functions is expected. In an episode I watched last week there were also sophisticated – and quite dark – sketches involving Henry VIII on a This Is Your Life-type show, in which a succession of corpses of his beheaded former counsellors and ex-wives were wheeled on to the stage. Meanwhile, in a regular item titled "Stupid Deaths", we learnt how Elizabethan philosopher-author Francis Bacon met his end from pneumonia while experimenting on freezing chickens.

Horrible Histories has been dubbed (inevitably) "edutainment", which is why we get people urinating in buckets before washing their clothes in it – as apparently they did in the "Measly Middle Ages". Take away the history-lesson context and there'd be moral outrage across the land, as there would be about a sketch in which a dead granny had her head hacked off. No need for a hotline for soothing bereaved grandchildren, however, because this gruesome sketch was illustrating how the cavemen honoured their dead.

Actually, there is a long history of children's TV shows providing more laughs than post-watershed comedies. Two years before Monty Python's Flying Circus changed television comedy forever, the nucleus of the Python team – Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and (later) Terry Gilliam – were delighting younger children with ITV's Do Not Adjust Your Set, a wonderfully anarchic sketch show. Adults loved it, too, including John Cleese and Graham Chapman, and the rest is history.

Every generation has its example of a series that transcends the children's TV ghetto. The BBC's Rentaghost (1976-84) had the darkly clever idea of a hapless recently deceased ghost returning to Earth to set up an agency hiring out the services of other ghosts to still-living humans. The first seasons were intelligent and entertaining, as were other such classics as Press Gang (1989-93), written by future Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat, and Jon Pertwee's lovely portrayal of scarecrow Worzel Gummidge (1979-81).

Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (1989-94), meanwhile, retelling the Robin Hood legends with Robin demoted to a support part, had a distinct feel of Blackadder about it – hardly surprising given that it was written by and starred Tony Robinson of Baldrick fame, with (uncredited) script editing from Richard Curtis.

At last year's Children's Baftas, Horrible Histories (the eventual comedy winner) faced stiff competition from CBBC stable-mate Sorry I've Got No Head, a sketch show with a stellar cast of writers including Marcus Brigstocke and Mel Giedroyc that has been dubbed "Little Britain for kids". Actually, it's a good deal wittier. Also great fun is the hugely inventive Big Babies, starring two 10-month-old babies, Brooks and Rocco, with the heads of two men in their late twenties.

Over the last few years I have watched, along with my daughter (I hasten to add), a lot of stuff on the pre-school channels CBeebies, Milk Shake (Channel 5's kid's slot), Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and am constantly impressed by the wit and verve that goes into these shows. Perhaps all commissioning editors should be made to order at least one children's show before they are let loose on adult TV.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'