Horrible Histories was one of the defining shows of my childhood, and even at twenty-one, I find myself more than happy to watch an episode or two to revise, or simply just to unwind. Plus, many of the songs are outstanding (Charles II and Dick Turpin I am looking at you). And since their final musical number several years ago, the gory stories and historical humour hasn’t ended there.
In 2019, the main cast’s latest adventure was unveiled on the BBC. Ghosts follows couple Allison and Mike after she inherits a rather dilapidated stately home from a recently deceased relative, and the trials they go through in an attempt to renovate the building. Button House (their new inherited home) comes with an array of problems, from woodworm to weak floorboards and where do those pigeons keep coming from?
Oh, and did I mention that it’s haunted? The ghosts from centuries-long gone are all vividly against Allison’s plan to turn the building into a hotel.
At first, they’re only slightly petty, making the lights flicker or having an engagement ring go missing. And then the ghost of 90s MP Jullian Fawcett (Simon Farnaby) manages to push Allison out of a window. Due to her near-death experience, she then gains the ability to see and interact with the ghosts roaming around the house – and in the surrounding village too, as she so abruptly discovers.
And as is natural with the chops of the historically hysterical: hilarity ensues.
Whether it’s being a nuisance during the filming of a period drama set during the life of Lord Byron (who Regency-era ghost Thomas Thorne knows all too well) or the local stately lord who owns the nearby village coming over for tea, there is no shortage in the manner which it can all go wrong.
While some of the ghosts may have more of an influence on some of the overall plot, each has their moment to shine in additional narratives. One episode opens with the slightly comedic way in which scoutmaster Pat (Jim Howick) died in 1984 (and I’ll save you the lecture on archery range safety as this should be enough of a warning!) and the rather heartwarming annual toast led by caveman Robin to long-lost friends.
But over time, the living and the dead come to some kind of understanding. Georgian noblewoman Kitty even comes to see Allison as something akin to a friend, and the rest are sure to follow. True, they may but heads sometimes, but there comes an understanding, and each teaches the other about a variety of topics: Allison introduces them to Friends, but Lady Button teaches about etiquette, and Julian reveals a piece of scandal-worthy information that saves them from losing nearly £40,000.
Some of the humour is slightly more adult than with the CBBC series, but now that I have grown up with the troupe, I can truly appreciate the sort of jokes that would have flown right over my head as a kid. And Ghosts has its own fair share of emotional moments in between the elements of black comedy, not limited to the discussion about Edwardian Lady Fanny Button’s (Martha Howe-Douglas) death at the hands of her husband or that Humprey who has spent nearly the entire show trying to reacquaint his head with his body gaining and losing his head all over again from the dastardly pigeon in the closing moments.
And I found that everyone can get into the show: my dad who notoriously dislikes Horrible Histories (and yes, I am as confused as you are) was rather disappointed that the series is so short. Its ending leaves the door open for another series, which I hope we get; this show is captivating and humourous and I need to know what happens next!
All episodes of Ghosts are available now to watch on BBC Player now.