How would you test a guillotine?

Horrible Histories will be rampaging into Worthing's Connaught Theatre.

Best of Barmy Britain Horrible Histories
Best of Barmy Britain Horrible Histories

The West End production of Horrible Histories – The Best of Barmy Britain is coming to the venue on Saturday, May 13, a quick gallop through several thousand years of British history with actors Laura Dalgleish and Neal Foster. Can you beat battling Boudica? Will King John be a martyr for the Magna Carta? What if you caught the putrid plague? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Will Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin?

Just some of the questions audiences will find answers for in this 70-minute show where they’ll meet characters and discover lots of incredible facts. It’s history with the nasty bits left in.

Barmy Britain is written by Terry Deary and Neal Foster from Deary’s best-selling Horrible Histories books. Terry is the world’s best-selling non-fiction author for children and one of the most popular children’s authors in the country. He has written 200 books which have been translated into 40 different languages. His 50 Horrible Histories titles have sold over 25 million copies worldwide from China to Brazil.

Terry 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.

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.”

It doesn’t surprise him his Horrible Histories have done so well on stage. “Like anything else, you can get it right or you can get it wrong.”

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