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
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?