Serious Question Time With Greg Jenner

You may know him as the self confessed ‘pun-loving twitter obsessive’  slash history nerd, but don’t go writing him off as another history nutter, this guy is legit.  Greg Jenner is a historian and writer with 8 years’ experience of working in the TV industry, most notably as the Historical Consultant to the Bafta-winning ‘Horrible Histories’ TV franchise.

Before the internet, look it up it’s a true story, Horrible Histories is where we sourced all of our historical knowledge. So having grown up with the books and enjoying the TV show as adults, Greg is pretty solid in our books.

When we had the opportunity to interview him we thought we would break away from the norms and ask him some really SERIOUS questions; such as his thoughts on the foreign policy, the multi-faceted issues of the global economy and why This Morning considers Katie Hopkins an expert on British parenting?

Anyway, and hour before our interview a raccoon crept in through the window and stole the questions from our typewriter. Thankfully our intern, who is a sort of Baldrick-like character, had a cunning plan and produced ‘the back-up questions‘. And here is what Greg made of it all…

logo for facebook copyRichard Branson is about to put a string of celebs in space. It makes us think that time travel cant be too far off. If you could travel back in time for 2 1/2 hours, where would you go and why?

greg jennerOh blimey, that’s a toughie! I imagine most people would go and quiz Jesus Christ, but I’d be more tempted to spend a couple of hours in the pub with William Shakespeare to see what made him tick. His understanding and depiction of human psychology has never been matched, in my opinion, so it would be fun to share a drink and make up imaginary stories about the other people in the room, just to see how he got his inspiration. 

Part of me would also be tempted to watch an epic, era-defining battle – maybe Cannae or Watling Street – but the gruesome limb-hacking would probably freak me out. I’m not good with violence. Plus I wouldn’t want to get hit by a stray arrow!     

logo for facebook copyDid you know; while not clinically insane, Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria displayed OCD tendencies and thought she swallowed a glass piano (to be fair it was probably the crinoline under her dress that caused her hips to look big). Can you top this historical fact?

greg jennerWell, of course the Glass Delusion is a recurring theme in 15th-17th history, as Charles VI of France believed he was made entirely of glass, and would shatter if touched too heavily. This became a strangely common psychological affliction for many Europeans, but it wasn’t the only popular disorder. In 1518, several hundred people in Strasbourg developed a bizarre condition in which they couldn’t stop dancing for days on end, resulting in many of them dying of exhaustion. But, seeing as I’m writing this on the anniversary of Walter Raleigh’s execution in 1618, I’ll leave you with a really macabre fact to enjoy – his wife kept Walter’s severed, embalmed head in a velvet bag for 29 years.

logo for facebook copySome people say King Stephen was corrupt, Mary Tudor was bigoted, and Henry VIII was psychotic. But who do YOU think was truly the worst English monarch?

greg jennerIt depends how you measure ‘worst’ – are we using political ineffectiveness, or moral evil as barometers? Henry VIII was certainly something of a brute, but I subscribe to the theory that he had suffered a traumatic brain injury (caused by a jousting accident) that affected his mood and decision-making, so it seems harsh to blame him entirely. King John has a terrible reputation, not all of which is deserved, but many of the problems he struggled with were caused by the Anarchy of the 12th century, one which only erupted because a woman, Matilda, was refused her rightful inheritance of the throne, so perhaps King Stephen – the back-stabbing misogynist – is the guy we should be booing most?   

logo for facebook copyI remember reading The Angry Aztecs and Martin Brown’s illustrations on human sacrifice. I always thought that MUST be up there as one of the most horribly gruesome parts of history. What is your ultimate horrible history?

greg jennerHistory has an almost limitless supply of barbarity, much of which is simply revolting to consider. For example, the Viking execution technique known as the ‘Blood Eagle’ in which the ribs were prised open, the lungs yanked out and flopped over the shoulders, like wings, and salt rubbed into the wounds. But so much cruelty and horror was an everyday thing. I’m writing a book at the moment, and one chapter is on the history of pets – the way our ancestors abused animals for fun (burning cats, bear-baiting, fox-tossing, greased-goose beheading…) is just horrifying. 

But, of course, the success of Horrible Histories has, in part, been due to comedy of the macabre. We found plenty of dark laughs in the careers of both Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler, two psychotic tyrants whose inventiveness when it came to murder was worryingly impressive. Dressing an archbishop up in a bear-suit and then having him ripped to pieces by wild dogs is the kind of demented thing a villain on BBC1’s Luther might do. And the less we say about Vlad’s human fence, the better!   

logo for facebook copySo what’s next in the pipeline for you? Are you producing a TV show called ‘History Gets Even More Horrible’ for grown ups?

greg jennerI’m taking a big hiatus from TV to write the first of two (vaguely) humorous history books for adults. The first is about the history of daily life since the Stone Age, and is called ‘One Million Years In a Day’. It’ll probably be out in 2015. I have no idea what book 2 is, yet, but I also have plans for a historical novel. Mostly my future plans involve tweeting endless puns on Twitter, and eating chocolate, as that seem to be what I spend about 75% of my days doing!

LINE BREAK LIGHTWe would like to take this opportunity to point out that prior to the interview Greg said we could take any images off Google to use for the write up. What quickly became apparent was there isn’t one sensible picture of Greg on the internet. If you don’t believe us…greg jenner

Just kidding, he takes a lovely photo.

Greg Jenner is a historian and writer with 8 years’ experience of working in the TV industry, most notably as the Historical Consultant to the ‘Horrible Histories’ TV franchise, which also includes HH Gory Games, ‘HH with Stephen Fry’ and CBBC’s online interactive games. Greg has also worked on scripted dramas, documentaries and digital projects. He is now writing history books for adult audiences.
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