Laurence Rickard at the Cambridge UnionFlo Tawns

It’s a rainy Tuesday evening, and Laurence Rickard — the man who shaped so many childhoods with his role in Horrible Histories — is sat casually on an armchair chatting away to those (me) trying subtly not to fangirl (and asking him to be in their BeReals). His presence is relaxed, easy and somewhat nostalgic as I ask him about all things Horrible Histories, political correctness and elitism.

“I just hoped some people would like it”

Many of my generation know and love Laurence as part of the Horrible Histories troupe — but when I ask him about the show, he’s modest. He tells me that he didn’t think that Horrible Histories would shape history and influence people into the discipline; he just hoped that “some people would like it”. When I look at the impact the show has had — including the way it’s still frequently referenced among my university friends — I think it’s safe to say that some people did, in fact, like it.

We share a moment of nostalgia when recounting the sketches Laurence did as Bob Hale, the elusive weather reporter for HHTV — a recurring sketch on the show. When I ask him about the process of filming skits he cites the French Revolution sketch as “one of his favourites to do” — but tells me that it took “so so so long”, because of how much information had to fit in so little time. Each sketch, bar one, was impressively done in one take, with Laurence describing there as being an air of tension in the room. He adds, comically, that the main stress was “whether I did it or not made the decision of what time the crew could go for lunch … they were like come on, don’t fluff it now”. He didn’t fluff it — and Bob Hale became an icon of the Horrible Histories world and Laurence’s acting stamp within the series.

Laurence’s work as an actor and writer has spanned nearly two decades and is an excellent portrayal of the power of collaboration. The so-called “Horrible Histories troupe” have now outgrown their original project, going on to work together to produce 2015 film Bill and adult series Ghosts and Yonderland. Themes of inclusivity and collaboration stand out throughout Laurence’s work. He tells me that the friendship with his Horrible Histories co-stars meant that they became “well seasoned and used to each other’s styles’, ensuring they “became each other’s audience and script editors.” “I had the best of both worlds”, he adds: “part of the joy of making comedy is being in a room with people you can laugh with.”

“[Horrible Histories] has moved over time — and I think rightly so”

Horrible Histories has been re-evaluated of late, amidst widespread concerns about political correctness in comedy and television. When I ask how he would remake the show in an age of cancel culture, Laurence answers with a sense of acceptance and accountability. He notes that, in a lot of ways, young people’s first interactions with figures such as Mary Seacol and Rosa Parks are through the show. But if they remade the show today, he says, they “wouldn’t be playing Egyptians”. The show, with its new cast, has “moved over time and I think rightly so”. Such a refreshing attitude fits perfectly into accepting the ever changing nature of the discipline of history, one which avoids scrutiny and allows for positive learning.

Cambridge University has a history of producing comedic greats through Footlights — names like Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie emerged from the Cambridge theatre scene. When I ask what Laurence thinks about this somewhat elitist system, he assures me that “there is a greater variety of talent that is coming in, which is a great thing. There is room for everyone, particularly in comedy.”


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It is so refreshing to hear that “there will always be space for good people, through tried and tested routes or from fighting their way in”. He reassures aspiring actors that, if it worked for him, his HP camera and university bedroom, it can work out for anyone.

I finish by asking him who has been his favourite character to play. Initially frozen by indecision — “Oh my god — out of all of them?” — he settles on Robin from Ghosts because “you don’t get to be that ridiculous in most things”.

It was on this perfect note where we end our chat of reminiscence, with Laurence leaving me by saying “it was a wonderful, wonderful time”. On my part, all the laughing and singing and teaching us a little something historical was wonderful, too.