Terry Deary reckons the most interesting fact about the guillotine is how it was tested.
“Do you know?” challenges the man whose Horrible Histories have conquered the world.
“How would you test it? They got corpses and tested it on them.”
And that is Terry’s idea of history.
“Nobody told me that, but for me it’s the most important thing. It’s the most interesting history. You think of the people that went and got the corpses, put them through the guillotine, reassembled them and then buried them.”
For Terry that’s far more important than the political ramifications of the French Revolution: “You think of the people bringing the corpses... There is only one purpose to education, and that’s to learn how people behave towards each other. Historical fact doesn’t allow you to see that.
“Historians would dismiss that fact as trivia. They would say it is not as important as all the political complexities, but for me, that’s what it is about. I don’t write history. I write the history of the horrible. I write about human beings, about human nature, about how humans react towards each other.
“I write about human behaviour,” says Terry, whose latest stage show Horrible Histories – Groovy Greeks & Incredible Invaders plays The Capitol, Horsham, from Thursday to Sunday, April 2-5.
Terry really hasn’t got any time for the people who usually pass as historians: “They are an alien race. I detest them as much as they detest me. I was asked a question by The Times, what I thought about historians, so I gave them a sound bite. I said they were as seedy and devious as politicians. (Historian) David Starkey then said some nasty things about me.”
All of which served to confirm Terry’s view. His belief is that historians write from their own slant. They have all got their own angle from which they write.
There is no point to any of them, Terry believes. “There is no point endlessly regurgitating the same sources.”
The problem is that as soon as people see something written down, they think it is the truth – and so slants and distortions get accepted.
“There is absolutely no point to historians unless they are doing original research. It’s not the same with archaeologists. They are at the cutting edge, if that’s not a pun. They are doing something worthwhile.”
Terry’s Horrible Histories first started being staged ten years ago – though Terry had been working on his own adaptations since 1999: “I had been doing that before the Birmingham Stage Company become involved.”
It doesn’t surprise him they have done so well on stage.
“Like anything else, you can get it right or you can get it wrong. The Americans adapted Horrible Histories as a cartoon series, and it didn’t work. The British did a live action which worked. Like all things, it is easier to get it wrong than right. Getting it right would involve working in collaboration with the writer, but I would say that, wouldn’t I!”
The Americans, for instance, went all trembly at the horrible bits, Terry laments – which was exactly to miss the point. Not that Terry would have gone and told them.
He insists the stage show being performed in Sydney Opera House meant nothing to him: “I write the books. I am not a professional actor. It was surreal, I suppose. But it is beyond my experience. I have never left the UK. I don’t even have a passport. I am far too busy to be bothered with travelling.”
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