When it comes to having a laugh, Charlie Higson is a master of his trade. For those of a certain age, they will remember him as part of “The Fast Show” where Higson played some of British comedy's favourite characters including the hapless Ralph Mayhew as part of the Ted & Ralph sketches. Higson has since switched his attention to the writing of his highly successful Young James Bond series and has become a favourite at the Chalke Valley History Festival as the host of Histrionics where seats are at a premium at the festival.
Now Higson embarks on something new and it comes in the shape of a podcast. Whilst it is fair to say that practically everyone has a podcast nowadays, Higson has decided to focus his on history and in particular, the history of the British Monarchy.
Willy Willy Harry Stee is of course the rhythmic method as to how we can help to remember the chronology of British Monarchs from William the Conqueror onwards and Higson will be going through all the British Monarchs in the same order. To make sure that he doesn’t stray too far away from his chosen monarch, Higson has enlisted the help of popular historians including Dan Jones, Helen Caster, and many more are expected as Higson romps through the ages.
At the Chalke Valley History Festival, Higson has opted for a different approach for his live special that was also recorded live on the IPGL Stage. For this, he gathered some big guns from the historical world to give their opinions on monarchs throughout time. Historian Tom Holland was the voice representing the early ages of the Monarchy including the Middle Ages, Private eye’s Ian Hislop was on hand for his opinions on the Georgian era whilst Leanda De Lisle was on Tudor and Stuart duties.
With these kinds of names on one stage, it was fair to say that it was a good thing that the performance took place on an outdoor stage of the festival as the crowd descended en masse to hear this live special.
There is of course an issue with recording a live podcast outside during a rather busy festival. That being, that nothing going on around the festival is suddenly going to stop just because you are recording. The loud bangs from one attraction offering a trench experience were still reverberating around the grounds as the recording was taking place. For those listening later on…this is what Higson and company hear and are commenting on. Yet in true Higson style, he worked around it and made light of the situation.
He asked his esteemed panel who they believed were the best and worst monarchs of their periods. Tom Holland was quick to pick his favourite, Alfred the Great. Well, it had to be Tom pondered to himself…after all he has “The Great” in his title now doesn’t he? When it came to the worst well that would be King John.
Ian Hislop opted for George III as his preferred choice with George IV being his worst. In doing so he was quick to highlight his vast frame, his blonde wig, and his uselessness. This left the audience to put two and two together with Hislop’s previous “Have I Got News For You” performances to think to themselves whether he was indeed talking about the former Prince Regent, or perhaps a certain former Prime Minister.
Leanda De Lisle at first opted for Mary I declaring her to be a “Badass”. Needless to say, Higson was quick to interject suggesting that the crowd probably was not expecting that answer. In the spirit of diplomacy, Elizabeth I was then preferred after a short debate. (However, De Lisle made some excellent points about Mary and I’m inclined to see her point of view on that one). For her worst…Charles I. For him, De Lisle opted for the nice guy, crap monarch argument which is of course a valid one.
Que laughs along the way as the live performance continued. What was much appreciated by the panel was their ability to be themselves which is exactly what is needed during a showcase like this. Off-the-cuff remarks including Holland describing King John as “a bit of a shit” and of course the previously mentioned remarks of Hislop and De Lisle, helped to bring the audience in with the laughs.
If this is what we can expect from Higson’s new podcast then we can safely say that he is on to something really good. It brings not only more personality to the monarchs who he is highlighting but also from those on his new show as well.
One thing was for sure, the Chalke Valley crowd loved it and I’m sure you will too.
Willy, Willy, Harry and Stee…is available wherever you listen to your podcasts. The live recording from the Chalke Valley History Festival will be on soon.