The Horrible Histories team originally wanted to subvert the sometimes staid version of events on to the school curriculum – now they find themselves as part of the new educational establishment.
As a core part of the BBC’s curriculum-based learning programme announced after the latest lockdown began in England, the show that started out in 2009 being billed as “the history they don’t teach you in school” will be beamed into millions of homes around the UK.
Richard Bradley, Horrible Histories’ executive producer, said the show had long been an educational tool for teachers looking to inject some fun into learning, and now would help parents faced with home schooling their children with scant resources.
“Parents have been having a complete nightmare trying to coordinate education at home and teachers trying to have some semblance of normality,” he said. “The fact Horrible Histories can hopefully have a double role of both bringing some education but also some uplifting comedy into their lives is great.”
As part of the education programming, shows that were recorded in April – including Our School, Celebrity Supply Teacher, Art Ninja and Operation Ouch – will be aired on BBC Two for the first time in an attempt to fill the gap left by school closures.
The daily three-hour package of programming that includes BBC Live Lessons and BBC Bitesize Daily will air across CBBC and BBC Two has been described as a “lifeline” for parents who, after a government U-turn, face months of home schooling.
The fact the educational shows are being broadcast terrestrially has highlighted the so-called “digital divide” that has emerged among those who have reliable broadband connections and the thousands of homes that do not and so cannot access online learning.
Helen Foulkes, the BBC’s head of education, said online learning would continue to be the dominant trend, but that terrestrial TV was filling the gap for the more than 850,000 children without access to reliable broadband. She said: “It’s completely right for now, it’s what we need to do now, and let’s see where it takes us.”
Foulkes believes web-based learning needs to be complimented by offline activity, saying an “important balance” needed to be struck, with BBC programmes often encouraging children to do something that is not screen-based.
Bradley, whose show has been attacked for being “anti-British” by rightwing commentators, said Horrible Histories was planning a black British history special in the future. “We’re starting to look at areas of history that we know our young audience is going to be interested in, and want some material about,” he said.
“I think people are realising the importance of history, whether it’s the pandemic or whether it’s Black Lives Matter – history and our understanding of how we got to where we are has become really important and urgent.”
He said one fear about being brought into the more mainstream education sphere was that a show first and foremost about entertainment “starts to feel like homework”.
“It’s on us to keep it funny,” he said.