Horrible histories hurrah

It's a history lesson, but probably not as you remember it from school. Terry Deary's Horrible Histories has gone from being an alliterative phenomenon on page to stage to screen.

The books, which tell the stories of the Vile Victorians, Slimy Stuarts and Terrible Tudors, with all the gory bits left in, have sold squillions of copies.

And the TV version, which debuted on CBBC in 2009, recently won the rather grown-up best sketch show gong at the British Comedy Awards, putting Armstrong and Miller in their place.

Boasting a top-notch team of writers and performers, and whip-smart, the show has also become a secret guilty pleasure for adults.

From side-splittingly funny songs, such as Born 2 Rule by the Four (King) Georges re-invented as a boyband, to spot-on pastiches of television shows including Victorian Dragons's Den, Historical Wife Swap and Roman Come Dine With Me (complete with narration by Dave Lamb), the team behind it reads like a who's who of British comedy.

The writers include Steve Punt and there have been cameo appearances by David Baddiel, Alexei Sayle and Meera Syal alongside cast regulars Mathew Baynton and Jim Howick (also known as hapless Gerard in Peep Show).

Quick to capitalise on that the show will be making its prime time debut later this year in a six-part series on BBC1 comprising a compilation of some of the best sketches and hosted by history buff and all-round national treasure Stephen Fry.

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And there will be plenty more foul facts about rotten rulers to be learned when Horrible Histories returns to Norwich Theatre Royal with the Awful Egyptians and Rotten Romans later this month.

With a shopping list including a mummified corpse, assorted internal organs and a disembodied arm, creating the props for the Horrible Histories tour is a job with a difference for 3D Creations at Gorleston.

But Ian Westbrook has been creating props for the stage for many years and, for him, Horrible Histories is the latest in a long line of challenges.

The show features 3D Bogglevision effects so his first task is to make sure that any props fit the look of what the audience will see in the specially created animation which forms part of the production.

When faced with a project such as this, Ian's first port of call is medical books.

He explains: 'We get research photographs and then create props from there. For the intestines, we used a sort of soft foam rubber, latex, cotton, muslin and some silicon to make the string of intestines.

'The ripped arm was a little bit more complicated. We chose somebody with the right size of forearm and made a cast of that arm. We then produced it in silicon. It had that soft feel to it. If you made it out of fibreglass, it would look just like a shop-window mannequin so we wanted something that had a little more life.

'It needs to appear as though it is rotting and has been around several years. All the other details are made out of cotton bits of foam, cotton and bits of string. We did have a lot of fun with this especially throwing a rotten dead arm made of rubber around the workshop and socking someone over the head with it.'

The one important thing is to make things as authentic as possible. The writers of the show have very high standards – and so do the younger members of the audience.

Ian explains: 'When we were developing this show, the writers were adamant we had to produce the right length of intestines, the right shape and size of heart etc. They also didn't want to get letters from teachers saying this heart was the wrong shape etc so we did an awful lot of research for the show.'

The Awful Egyptians is on stage on Monday, March 28, at 7pm, Tuesday, March 29, at 10.30am, Wednesday, March 30, at 1.30pm and Thursday, March 31, at 10.30am. The Ruthless Romans take their turn in the spotlight on Tuesday, March 29, at 1.30pm, Thursday, March 31, at 7pm and Friday, April 1, at 10.30am. Tickets �5.50-�15. Discounts for schools and families.