Do people still read 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, Comprising all the Parts you can Remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates I wonder? And if so do they find it as funny as I do or has it become dated, as humour so often does? Anyway, the spoof history book penned by WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman was published in 1930, so it qualifies for The !930 Club being run by Simon at Stuck in a Book, and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. and I think it deserves mention.
This is a short review, because I’m cat and rabbit sitting for my Elder Daughter, in Devon (the Man of the House has stayed at home to do some decorating, so I think I have the better deal). I brought the laptop with me, but forgot the book, so I’m trying to write this from memory, which may be unreliable! And it’s a very slender book, so I wasn’t planning on quoting large chunks, because it would give too much away.
The book makes fun of the history books that were popular during the late 1920s, and was originally published in serial form in Punch magazine. It starts with Roman Britain and finishes in 1918, at the end of the First World War, when history came to a stop and America became ‘top dog’. I’ve always thought modern history was over-rated, so I’m with them all the way on this view! It’s full of puns and mixed-up facts and will colour your view of key events in English history for ever more. I first read it while studying the 17th century for A-Level history, and to my mind no-one has ever bettered their description of the Cavaliers as romantic but wrong, and the Roundheads as ‘Right but Repulsive’. And there is poor old King John who is, without doubt, thoroughly Bad, and foams at the mouth when he loses his temper. It always reminds me of AA Milne’s King John, who was not a bad man, but ‘had his little ways, And sometimes no-one spoke to him for days and days and days’.
And there’s a wonderful bit where the authors explain the creation of the Order of the Garter, telling us that the Order’s motto. ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’ means ‘honey your silk stocking is hanging down (or words to that effect). In case you are wondering I gather it actually means Evil (or shame) be to he who evil thinks’, but I’ve never quite understood the Order’s purpose.
There are also some magnificent joke exam papers – one urges candidates not to answer more than one question at time, while another warns that they should not write on both sides of the paper at once.
This probably sounds an odd choice, but I think it’s quite a clever book – you have to know your history before you can play with it like this, and it could be considered somewhat subversive since it pokes fun at what was then the established view of events and famous figures. And sometimes it’s nice to read something which is laugh-out-loud funny (and for me, this is), and where you don’t have to think too much, or too deeply.