Geek squad assemble!
So it’s Christmas Eve, (in the front room, not the drunk tank… not this year) and we’re gathered to watch a festive treat on BBC 2 The Great History Quiz. “We’re so old” moans Mr H. Nope, not me. I’ve always been like this – a total geek for history, ever since Mrs Green dressed us up in togas for our Romans project when we were 12. And any show about the Tudor dynasty is bound to appeal to kids. I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like grizzly tales of ancient plagues and beheadings. The continuing success of the wonderful Horrible Histories should make that abundantly clear. More on that later.
Two teams of history experts – fairly recognisable from presenting gigs on the Beeb – faced off over various challenges. The sofas looked quite uncomfortable but they didn’t sit on them for very long. For the first round they had to stand centre stage and do Unlikely Things for a Tudor Monarch to say… sadly this isn’t true but it did look a lot like Mock (Tudor) the Week.
The rounds were varied and interesting, and gave the experts time to show off without waffling or going too far off-track in an attempt to be funny. We were here for the facts. And the facts were remarkable. Identifying artefacts from the warship Mary Rose was great (turns out even the experts aren’t allowed to touch). Greg Jenner from Horrible Histories was a highlight – verbally dancing around what “downstairs illnesses” the urethra syringe would have been used for. Don’t worry Greg – it’s past the watershed. And your usual audience aren’t at all shy when it comes to revolting diseases.
I was concerned that an hour was too long for a quiz show (any quiz show really) but the involved and inventive rounds kept things fresh, like QI with activities. Again with a round on Tudor medicine you knew that gross thing specialist Greg Jenner was going to be hot stuff on ancient bum diseases. Shout out too for the team captains Dr Lucy Worsley and Dan Snow, both trying hard to mask their competitive natures with British politeness and civility.
The round on Tudor food was excellent – the stuff of a history geek’s cheese dreams. Sadly my answers were largely informed by fiction; words that have been borrowed by Game of Thrones. I flinched at them drinking the hippocras expecting it to have been poisoned by a Lannister.
We worried that the last quick-fire round wouldn’t work – scholarly experts are a lot of things, but never brief. Kirsty Young kept them in line and retained control. This was a fine example of expert wrangling and Griff Rhys Jones on The Quizeum (BBC4) needs to take note.
Sadly no word on whether this will be picked up as a series, or if it was just a festive one-off. Despite promising a Tudor timeline but only focussing on Henry VIII and Elizabeth I it was an excellent watch. The Beeb would be foolish not to commission a whole series. If you missed it by being young and cool and being out on Christmas Eve, never fear – it’s still available to watch on iPlayer. Better still if you’re not in the UK it’s also on YouTube.
Pour a drink and enjoy!