Horrible Histories (2009-2013) is the hit live-action Sketch Comedy adaptation of Terry Deary's eponymous books. Now finished airing its fifth and final series, the half-hour show aired on CBBC in the UK and various affiliated cable channels overseas.Lifting its premise, (most) content and general Black Comedy sensibilities directly from the books, HH the TV series is hosted by a puppet sewer rat and romps irreverently (but always with conscious accuracy) through all the strangest, silliest and most bodily-fluid-intensive moments on the road to Western Civilization. Live-action sketches — which frequently parody current UK TV programs and personalities — are intercut with quizzes, short animations, and at least one music video per episode, likewise usually a parody of a classic pop/rock genre or song.Despite all the goofiness, the show has picked up a sizeable Periphery Demographic, thanks both to increasingly sophisticated writing — riffing largely off adult comedy classics like Monty Python and Blackadder — and a core troupe of talented character comedians who also happen to be some of the most attractive Parental Bonuses on television today: Mathew Baynton, Jim Howick, Ben Willbond, Simon Farnaby, Laurence Rickard and Martha Howe-Douglas.According to Word of God it had in fact been deliberately designed from the outset as a 'family show'; both writers and performers insisted throughout that they were 'just making a comedy series'. This became more obvious when the second series won not only three children's BAFTAs for writing, performing and Best Comedy, but a surprise British Comedy Award for Best Sketch Comedy. Followed the next year by a successful BBC Prom concert, another Best Comedy BAFTA and a (less surprising) Best Sketch Comedy BCA... and the next year by another BAFTA for Best Comedy.As a result a six-part prime-time version was made for main adult channel BBC1, which featured the best sketches as introduced by Stephen Fry. Back over in the original series, Chris Addison, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss make special guest appearances as well.While the show itself formally ended with the fifth series — save for possible one-off specials based around important historical anniversaries — the core performers plan to continue working together as a troupe for the forseeable future, writing and starring in both a new TV project (the family fantasy comedy Yonderland) and feature film (Bill, a spoof on the origins of William Shakespeare).Not to be confused with the 2001-2002 animated series also based on the books.
Thanks to its sketch-based, genre-hopping nature, the series contains examples of many, many tropes, helpfully organized below:
open/close all folders
Tropes A to H
Abnormal Ammo: A real-life example in which Hannibal of Carthage had snakes thrown onto an enemy ship was used for a Snakes on a Plane parody called Snakes on a Ship.
Action Girl: You do not want to mess with Boudicca. Or for that matter several of the other female characters. The show actually makes something of a point of celebrating this trope, as a way of compensating for the fact that most of their subject matter is male-oriented.
Adipose Rex: Henry VIII, George IV, and Victoria all have sketches highlighting their obesity.
Affably Evil: A favourite satirical approach, used with among others Blackbeard the pirate, Emperor Elagabalus and Henry VIII. Incan warlord Pachacuti takes it to the extreme in a chipper pop video celebrating exactly how viciously he mutilated his enemies' bodies... complete with little bouncy skulls following the lyrics.
Becomes a specific plot point in the "Burke & Hare" song:
Dr. Knox: They seemed such cultured gentlemen, I never did suspect
That Burke and Hare were not so nice (I really should've checked!)
Agent Peacock: The producers concede that as a general rule, their versions of historical figures tend to "somehow..." end up more camp than the reality, including badass men. Sometimes it's much more overtly played with, as in the course of recasting the greatest flying aces of the Battle of Britain as a boy band.
Also by having barbarian warriors from the Burgundian, Frankish, and Alan tribes give fashion advice in Danke magazine.
A God Am I: In Alexander's song, he upgrades his monicker from "the Great" to "the Greatest", and then decides that's too boring, and opts for "the Living God".
And Starring: Series One had two lead actresses, Martha Howe-Douglas and Sarah Hadland. Hadland left after the first series and Series' Two and Three had Howe-Douglas as the sole female lead with three or four supporting actresses. When Hadland returned for Series Four, she was given the 'And' position in the closing credits.
Anachronism Stew: Much of the humour comes from the mesh of historical characters/situations with modern attitudes.
Annoying Laugh: Elagabalus has one of these to underscore his immaturity.
Antiquated Linguistics: Usually averted; no sense trying to educate the kiddies if they can't understand what you're saying, and besides which it's funnier that way.
Artistic License - History: Mostly (and impressively) averted — there's apparently a production assistant on-set at all times whose sole charge is to ensure historical accuracy, and when they are made aware of a slip, they'll do their best to correct it in a later show (or in at least one case, the DVD release). On the other hand they're often deliberately trying to keep things simple to avoid confusing their young audience (they routinely modernise geographic references, for instance) and are always giving Rule of Funny as much priority as they can. The net result, as one academic put it, is best thought of as a slightly more conscientious Blackadder.
Rattus claims that the Hundred Years' War lasted a hundred years; it did not, it lasted 116 years. There are other factual slips as well. But you generally do have to be a historian to notice them.
Sometimes this is obviously the result of their working off the generally-accepted legend, rather than the frequently less hilarious reality — the Tudor and French Revolution segments especially do this a lot. And while Horatio Nelson did say, "Kiss me, Hardy" while in extremis, it's now generally conceded those weren't actually his Last Words.
In-Universe, Shakespeare is notorious for it. "I'm William Shakespeare! I write plays and make stuff up! I never let facts get in the way of a good story!"
Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: Used in the 'Plague Comes North' sketch, in which a raiding party from plague-free Scotland heads gleefully out to ransack the plague-weakened English, only to hastily backtrack — too late — when they realise the glaring flaw in this strategy.
Ax-Crazy: Caligula, so much. Possibly also Mandy the assistant in the "Historical Dentist" sketches, although it's not clear whether she's an active participant in the orthodontic crazy or just obliviously going for an Employee of the Month plaque.
Bad News in a Good Way: The point of a sketch in which Henry VIII's jester Will Somers desperately works the news of the Queen's infidelities into a comedy routine.
Bad News, Irrelevant News: In response to a Greek athlete's disappointment that his prize for winning the Isthmian Games is a crown of celery (not a 'salary').
Reporter: Well, the bad news is your prize is just a celery hat.
Athlete: Then what's the good news?
Reporter: The good news is that I just bought this delicious Greek dip. [Dips celery stick in said dip]Now that is rich. [Athlete Death Glares].
Bankruptcy Barrel: Diogenes. Well, he's not so much bankrupt as voluntarily eschewing material possessions, and he's not so much wearing the barrel as living in it... but still, he's definitely penniless, naked, and in a barrel.
Berserk Button: Do not play a sketch about killing rats! Rattus will be very cross.
As will Richard III over references to his alleged villainy.
Describing Elizabeth I as anything but an angelic, ravishing beauty routinely triggers tantrums.
As does any attempt to deny a Roman emperor anything. For instance, suggesting to Caligula that taking on Poseidon, god of the sea, might be just a teensy bit problematic.
Speaking of Caligula, you should also never imply that something might be more significant than him.
Mentioning her dear deceased 'Albert' will instantly cause Queen Victoria to dissolve into floods of tears.
As per above, there's an entire sketch based on how carefully courtiers were forced to tiptoe around Henry VIII re: his latest marital issues.
Beware the Nice Ones: Played with in a sketch in which a softspoken monk manages to bring the Viking assault on his monastery to a dead halt simply by asking what on earth they're doing there, which completely baffles them — for about a minute. "Oh yeah, 'cos violence is fun!". Cue the monk running for his life.
Along similar lines, another monastery raid sketch features a literate monk who calmly convinces the Vikings to spare him so he can record their badassery for all time. ("Write about my biceps!") Unfortunately for the monk, the raiders quickly start arguing over who's the bravest and most fearsome, and they're still carrying axes...
Big Ball of Violence: Animated ones frequently appear to denote major battles in the background of Bob Hale's reports.
Big Eater: As per the usual cliches, the Tudors' diet was....very rich. "Do you want to have a body like King Henry VIII's? Now you can, thanks to the Henry VIII Tudor Diet Plan! With just seven hours of dedicated feasting a day, you too can have a body to die for!"
Bigot vs. Bigot: Parodied in the "Historical Wife Swap" sketches, which tend to pit naturally antagonistic couples against one another (Cavaliers vs. Puritans, Athenians vs. Spartans, etc).
Bilingual Bonus: In the "Le Survival Guide" sketch, we get this line from Mat Baynton's young soldier: "Vive Napoléon! Super cool!" The French accent, however, makes that last word really sound like something else. Later, "not cool!" is pronounced similarly when a French soldier is shot in "mon derrière", so the whole thing was probably intentional — especially given that Baynton studied clowning in France.
Black Spot: In a sketch on the pirate tradition of the Black Spot, a pirate who expected to be marked for death kept seeing the Black Spot everywhere; going into shock when he saw a dalmatian. At the end, having been persuaded that he has not been marked for death, he leaves, only to reveal a huge black spot pinned to his back.
Boastful Rap: The "Celtic Boast Battle". Charles II's "King of Bling" rap can also be considered this, as Charles brags about his popularity in general and having done "what was right and proper" during the Great Fire of London in particular ("Proved I'm more than a bopper — I'm a fire-stopper!"). He even lists the names of several women he, ah, "broke the wedding rules" with.
More obviously, "I'm Minted" by Marcus Licinius Crassus is all about his incredible wealth... and we do mean all. ("These Romans think they're minted/But they ain't rich like me/You can't call yourself loaded/Till you can buy an army...")
Boomerang Comeback: Of the "thrower gets hit" variety, when an Egyptian hunter tries to show off his cat's ability to fetch.
Boy Band: Parodied twice, complete with angsty spotlights and precision dance moves. The '4 (King) Georges' sing "Born 2 Rule" in the first series and 'The Few' (WWII RAF pilots) specifically send up Take That in the fourth.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Used with Rattus (the rat puppet who hosts the series) between segments. More specifically, the Stone Age Dragon's Den example above.
Bring My Brown Pants: After being intimidated by a Viking warlord online, Ethelred the Unready decides he might as well go clothes shopping as well... and posts an order for brown leggings.
Henry VIII bursts in on the matchmaking consultation of the Earl of Arran and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots and declares war on Scotland. One of the dating agency employees notes that someone needs changing and she doesn't think it's the baby.
British Teeth: Used as a contrast between American and British soldiers in a WWII sketch. Also implied by a few Horrible toothpaste recipes, including one whose main ingredient is sugar-paste.
Bumbling Sidekick: Several, notably over-sharing Pedro in 'Francisco Pizarro's Very Rough Guide to Mexico': "...and then we steal all their gold!"
Bully and Wimp Pairing: Again, several, notably Caveman Art Show hosts Ug and Grunt. The clearly more advanced Ug enjoys clubbing his poor Neanderthal co-host, frequently just for the hell of it. ("Now, the next thing we do... is hit Grunt!")
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The Stonewall Jackson sketch is a succinct demonstration of this trope in action; quirks displayed, disbelief from the newbie and competency proved.
Burn the Witch!: The point of an advert for 'Witchfinders Direct'. "Had something bad happen to you? Wasn't your fault? We'll find an old woman and blame her for it!"
Call Back: In his second-series debut, Charles II raps "Is today my birthday, I can't recall/Let's have a party anyway, because I love a masked ball!" Cut to the final episode of the third season, in which his hungover majesty opens a sketch with "Easy, Southerby, I had a rather major un-birthday party last night..."
In one early Bob Hale Report, he uses "except NOT helicopters" in his Mad Libs Catch Phrase (see entry below). It became one of the character's most-quoted lines, leading to this in a fourth-series Report involving Leonardo da Vinci: "Except obviously NOT helicopters. But then — hm? Oh... apparently he did invent a helicopter. Knew that one'd come back to bite me someday."
Ben Willbond offhandedly decided to spice up Alexander the Great's otherwise-innocuous first-series debut by sniffing ominously at his subordinate general's hair. The scene became so iconic a followup sniff (involving a different subordinate) was deliberately scripted into a sketch four series later.
The Cameo: A truly epic one in We're History, the final song of the series. Almost every single historical figure that's ever appeared on the show, from Alexander the Great to Baynton's unnamed awkward peasant, shows up by the last chorus.
Camp Gay: The host of the 'Fashion Fix' skits, a broad parody of popular UK fashion guru Gok Wan. The fashionable advice-giving barbarians of Danke magazine may also be counted.
Camping a Crapper: Edmund II's Stupid Death - killed by a sword up the rear from a Viking hiding in his toilet.
"This is Mike Peabody live from___ for HHTV News, really wishing he was somewhere else...!"
Cat Fight: Not shown, but very much talked about in the Roman funeral sketch:
1st Roman dude: My uncle Centillus had it written into his will that he wanted a fight to the death [over his grave] between two beautiful women!
2nd Roman dude: That's disgusting!
1st Roman dude: His funeral's in ten minutes.
2nd Roman dude: ...can I come?
Cats Are Mean: Rattus, naturally, isn't a fan. Especially not in one segue when a loud and angry meow is heard, chasing him offscreen.
Characterization Marches On: Occasionally, when a character goes from being a one-off sketch to a more recurring or at least, notable figure. For instance, in Richard III's first appearance (in a sketch where his ghost comes to edit Shakespeare's Richard III) he is quite a bit angrier and more northern than his later, more Woobie-ish portrayal.
Christmas Episode: Horrible Christmas, featuring among other things the WWI Christmas Day truce, weird Victorian holiday cards and the decidedly uninspiring truth behind various favourite carols.
Consulting Mister Puppet: The show's version of Caligula makes this a trademark. Usually using his own hand with a face drawn on, but he's also chatted happily with a wooden mallet that he named Whackus Bonkus and which doubled as a murder weapon. The worm attached to the dead man's armour he was wearing may also count although he ended up eating it.
Death's relationship with his two (literal) skeleton sidekicks — joined by a mummy in the fourth series — has definite overtones of this; they're supposed to be an X-Factor-esque judging panel, but Death's apparently the only one that can hear the others' opinions (and berates them loudly when he disagrees). He also occasionally holds staring contests with them.
Continuity Nod: In the four King Georges' song, George III claims that he was as 'batty as a bonkers kangaroo'. In a later song (where George IV goes solo), a dead George III introduces himself as a kangaroo. Not to mention George III's first word in the second song is the same as his last word in the first - 'banana'.
This example is actually also an aversion — the show usually maintains strict continuity in re: who performs what historical character, but in this case George III from the first song (Simon Farnaby) wasn't available for the second so a replacement was brought on. The same situation led to another aversion in which Mat Baynton took over from Farnaby as Caligula.
In one sketch, Jim Howick plays a Georgian army recruit whose CO berates him as "You horrible little man!" Cut to a sketch a few episodes later featuring Howick as a Roman army recruit whose similarly cranky CO uses the same epithet.
Covered in Gunge: All the time. The gunge is usually meant to be poo, and it's almost always Rickard covered in it. The rule seems to be "You write a sketch about a man covered in poo, you have to play the man covered in poo."
Cowboy: A musical number describes what the life of a working cowboy was really like.
Crazy-Prepared: Parodied in the 'Race to the South Pole' sketch, in which the proudly under-equipped British explorers believe the Norwegian team to be sissies for bringing along such luxuries as sled dogs and warm clothing.
Creator Cameo: Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books, quite often turns up in sketches when a kindly elder gent (usually monk) is concerned, notably playing the Bishop in The Monks' Song.
Production assistant (in charge of fact-finding) Greg Jenner often appears in the background of sketches, usually as the mute-but-loyal flunky. Notably, he's William the Conqueror's knight-assistant in both the "Kings & Queens Song" and the 'Mud & Matilda' sketch.
Series producer Caroline Norris appears in Death's waiting room during the jingle as a housewife with a sooty face, presumably blown up by her gas oven.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Often showcased in the video game segments. These include Vikings slaughtering English monks or conquistadores crushing the Aztecs using their superior weapons.
The Dead Can Dance: Death dances to the Stupid Deaths opening jingle, and, in the Scary Special song, even gets a team of Thriller-esque backup-dancing corpses.
Deadpan Snarker: Apparently, history was full of 'em. The talking rat has his moments too: "It's true! William the Conqueror really did explode at his own funeral... try finding that on the Bayeux Tapestry."
Death as Comedy: More or less constantly (although Bloody Hilarious is largely averted). They even have an entire recurring sketch devoted specifically to the concept.
Did You Die?: A variation on this happens when Charles II meets Thomas Blood, the (unexpectedly goodnatured) man who stole the Crown Jewels:
Charles II: You must come 'round to the palace for tea! You can regale us with your funny stories!
Blood: I've got a fantastic one about the time I was plotting to kill you!
Charles II: Did you succeed? No no no, don't tell me, I'll wait until you come round!
Didn't Think This Through: The sheepish conclusion (twice) of the aforementioned Scots whose raid on the disease-weakened English was responsible for a) giving the raiding party the plague and b) thereby introducing plague to Scotland.
Also, the main reason why the French lost the battle of Agincourt.
1st French soldier: Okay... heavy armour, too many knights, too little room, lots of arrows and lots of mud.
2nd French soldier: We probably should have thought this through a little better...
A Saxon farmer who's just burnt all his crops to the ground to ward off ghosts comes to the same conclusion when his wife asks him what exactly he thinks they're going to eat now.
This is also the reaction of General Pausanius when he tries to hide from the Spartan army in a temple to Athena, only to be bricked in.
The whole point of the 'Dodgy War Inventions' animated sketches.
Amateur scientist Robert Cocking designed a parachute, carefully calculating how big it would need to be to support him... but forgot to factor in the weight of the parachute itself. Needless to say, he ended up in a 'Stupid Deaths' sketch.
Disguised in Drag: Used in a 'Putrid Pirates' sketch about tricks they used to entice ships close enough to attack (since a shipful of women wouldn't be perceived as a threat).
Random pirate:(on seeing his bearded captain in drag) Right, I'll just put my eye-patch over my good eye...
Distaff Counterpart: Inverted and played with in the 'Joan of Arc' sketch, in which the skeptical heroine suggests God's angel must mean to call her (fictional) neighbor John of Arc. Who immediately comes running up in chain mail — why, yes, he has always wanted to lead the French to glorious victory and restore the rightful king to the throne! There's no arguing with the Divine will... so John ends up taking over Joan's domestic chores instead.
Also played straight with the "Shouty Georgian Woman" - a one-shot Distaff Counterpart to the Shouty Man.
Don't Explain the Joke: Death has a problem — sometimes the corpses even call him out on it. Rattus is frequently guilty of it too.
Don't Fear The Reaper: Although you may justifiably worry a bit if your death throes weren't sufficiently entertaining, as you then — as per one Stupid Deaths sketch — have to get back into the 'long and boring' Boring Deaths line.
Don't Try This at Home: Sometimes appended to sketches, apparently more because the writers thought it'd be funny than out of any actual desire to avoid lawsuits. Still, yes: drilling holes in your family's skulls, definitely a bad idea.
Used with a surprising amount of seriousness in one sketch. Being that that sketch involves the Viking Historical Paramedics determining the seriousness of a wound by tasting the injured person's blood, it's fair enough that this has something to the effect of "do not do this, EVER, WE ARE SERIOUS, NEVER" plastered underneath it.
Double Meaning Title: The finale song, "We're History". The people singing are literally from history, but they're also "history" in the colloquial sense because the show is ending.
Drill Sergeant Nasty: The knight preparing Crusaders for the monsters they'll be likely to meet on their way to the Holy Land (in a loose takeoff of the classic Monty Python "Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit" sketch).
Dumb Muscle: A gladiator in one sketch, who keeps misunderstanding his trainer's motivational metaphors ("You want me to lick him?") until they're reduced to "Go - out - there - and - kill - him!". Also, unsurprisingly, the cause of a few Stupid Deaths: notably strongman Milo of Croton, trapped by a tree he was trying to split, and the unnamed Greek boxer who beat on his rival's statue until it toppled over on him.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The first series is trying harder to be children's edutainment (onscreen song lyrics etc), on a much lower budget; by the second they've made comedic potential the priority over demographics, and they've clearly got much more to spend on it, a trend that intensified with each series. Originally, as well, skits were based pretty much entirely on stories from the books, and hence have a similarly cartoonish feel, featuring lots of over-the-top grossout gags and violence. As the show has progressed — and, arguably, gained in sophistication — a larger percentage of ideas are from more conventional sources, and based around more subtle limitations of human nature.
Also, compare the simple song-and-dance routines with cardboard props of Series One to the green-screen and dry-ice filled music videos that came later.
Death's makeup and set dressing get a major upgrade between the first and second series — though, strangely, they went from giving him an actual scythe to using obviously tinfoil-wrapped cardboard ones as decorations in series two.
Eat the Dog: Or the horse named Dobbin. Or the goose filled with the Holy Spirit. Or the goat filled with the Holy Spirit. Or an actual dog, if you're Aztec.
Economy Cast: Entire armies, angry mobs etc. tend to be played by about five-six people.
Educational Song: Yes, they are technically supposed to be this. At least one an episode.
Egopolis: The settlers in "Colonisation Colonisation Colonisation" have to give landmarks names that will please King James. Thus James River, Jamestown, etc etc. One man has the audacity to name a fort after himself... fortunately, his name happens to be James too.
As per both history and This Is My Name on Foreign below, Alexander the Great established cities named Alexandria pretty much everywhere in his conquered territories.
Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Caligula (and occasionally Nero), mirroring the Roman belief that a lisp was a sure sign of an aristocrat.
Rattus: ...Y.U.C.K: yuck! And that's not a word I use often.
Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: "The News in Tudor Criminal Slang" begins with a translator accurately translating the slang, gradually getting confused, and finally giving up.
In the "Aztec Priests' Song", two of the priests rattle off the gods they worship, with the third explaining who they are, until the first two get completely tongue-tied over the multi-syllable names — to which the third hastily improvises "Erm... Some other gods' great lives!"**
Everythings Better With Llamas: Literally in an Incan Home Shopping Channel sketch... and played with shortly after in a sketch that basically just repeats the jingle "Stay calmer when you want to harm a llama, call a llama farmer!" over and over and over until someone offscreen finally yells "OH, SHUT UP!"
Evil Is Hammy: Used frequently, largely as a way to get across truly irredeemable nastiness — Emperor Nero, Hitler, the Borgias etc. — without completely freaking out the kiddies.
Eviler than Thou: The theme of the "Evil Emperors' Song" (a pastiche of Michael Jackson's "Bad") featuring Caligula, Elagabalus, Commodus and Nero. Nero handily proves himself the most evil of them all.
Fate Worse than Death: Invoked by Greek ruler Draco in sentencing a hapless apple-snatcher: "Guards! Take him away and make him dead! Oh, and if you can think of anything worse than death, do that too, OK? OK."
Fiery Redhead: Boudicca. To a certain extent, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
Firing in the Air a Lot: Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid do this repeatedly in one of the Cliff Whiteley sketches. Cliff is not happy about the damage to his ceiling.
Flowery Insults: The show's version of William Shakespeare, just like the real one, is a master of these. He manages to literally knock out an opponent in a battle of words, using a barrage of insults collected from the real Shakespeare's works:
Shakespeare: How can I respond to a beslubbered, pebbling, churlish clotpole, a beef-witted gleeking bum-bailey, a gorbellied, mewling, hedge-born, onion-eyed, fustilarian cob-loaf! Flappy-eared, knotty-pated measle, you ruttish, reeking coxcomb, you bugger-mugger moldwarp! Pottle-deep, maggot-pie lewdster! Yeasty, tickle-brained, whey-faced, nut-hook skainsmate!
Follow the Bouncing Ball: Both played straight and parodied, as per the bouncing skulls in the Pachacuti song referenced above.
Football Hooligans: Taken Up to Eleven by the Tudor-era origins of the sport, in which the entire game was essentially two villages beating the living daylights out of each other... with an inflated pig's bladder somewhere on scene. The sketch, naturally, doesn't show the extent of the violence, but makes it clear that participants commonly ended up dead.
Foreign Queasine: Another staple of the show, although "foreign" is usually more a matter of time than of geography. Pretty much the entire point of the Ready Steady Feast and Historical Masterchef bits, among others.
Forgot to Feed the Monster: Nigel the Historical Paramedic forgot to feed the spiders for the asthma cure ("Are you insane in ye brain? We can't feed her dead buttered spiders!") Earlier, a Viking navigator forgets to feed the navigation raven, putting a distinct crimp in plans to release it and follow it to land.
For the Evulz: As per history, what tends to happen when Roman emperors get bored. Caligula randomly kills people, Elagabalus serves his dinner guests painted rocks and hands out dead dogs as lottery prizes, and Nero describes his persecution of Christians as "just a fun game I played, y'know..."
Cesare Borgia as well. As per history, he gleefully explains in the 'Borgia Family Song' that he's ready to kill at the slightest provocation or for no reason at all.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: Plenty in the "Historical Internet" sketches, among others. For example, Cleopatra getting an email from her sister and Henry VIII's mistress Bessie Blount being on his top 8 on "Yebo".
Fully-Clothed Nudity: The "naked man" in Elizabeth I's throne room is still wearing undergarments that cover him completely from the waist down. (And a woolly hat.)
Fundamentally Funny Fruit: Bananas and pineapples are even funnier in the hands of seventeenth-century folk who've never seen them before. One man tries to eat a banana by biting into the side of it, unpeeled, and the Stuart-era Historical Masterchef contestant nearly panics at the suggestion that she serve a pineapple as food: "Are you out of your mind? You can't just eat pineapple! ...It's been on the lord of the manor's mantelpiece for weeks, he puts it there to show off how rich he is."
The Fun in Funeral: Several sketches on ancient burial rites turn out to involve this, especially one in which it's revealed Romans sometimes had their favourite slaves — male and female — fight to the death over their graves, which evolved into the concept of gladiators.
Gasshole: In the aforementioned 'Real Live Cowboys' number, one of them farts a solo because of all the beans they eat.
Gesundheit: Augustus to Agrippa, the man never given credit for many accomplishments claimed by Augustus, or, apparently, for even having a name.
Weirdly inverted in a sketch about the Persian army: "It doesn't even sound like a sneeze, it just sounds like you're saying 'Wazoo.'"
Gilded Cage: Passionately invoked by King John Balliol when his lawyer questions why the former Scottish King is so desperate to get out of the Tower of London despite the luxurious treatment he's getting. Balliol insists that his heart and soul belong in Scotland and he must get back home... until the lawyer offers to get him banished to France.
Girls with Moustaches: A false beard finishes off Cleopatra's beauty regime, though it only appears for a moment in her song. Hatshepsut likes her beard so much she decides to keep it.
Giver of Lame Names: The guy in Pilgrim Fathers who says "I'm from Newcastle, can we call this New Newcastle?"
Gladiator Games: Multiple sketches about them, including a memorable one in which they run out of animals.
"Good Luck" Gesture: In the "Queen for Nine Days" sketch, when sending a letter to Mary Tudor asking Mary to recognize her as Queen Lady Jane Grey does the classic 'Fingers crossed!' while holding them up.
Gratuitous French: In many sketches dealing with France, most noticably the Joan of Arc song.
The Grim Reaper: He loves his job. He really does. Except during that one humongous backlog in afterlife applications caused by the 'Measly Middle Ages' (Crusades, floods, plague, Hundred Years' War, etc. etc...).
Hard Head: Turns up with surprising abandon in a supposed children's educational programme. Most notably in the 'Caveman Art Show' sketches, wherein Grunt takes multiple club bashings from his co-host without apparent injury — of course, when he finally turns the tables, his co-host isn't so lucky.
Historical Villain Upgrade: Lampshaded and played straight in one sketch about Richard III, in which his ghost gripes about how his Shakespearean portrayal is pure fiction. There's a continuation in a third series song, in which Richard III lists all the ways in which he's remembered and complains that he's a nice guy, really, and that Shakespeare made up the phrase "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" out of whole cloth.
Hoist by His Own Petard: At the end of the Greek Historical Wife Swap, the Athenian man suggests they vote on whose way of life is the best. The Spartan man votes Spartan. His wife votes Spartan. The Athenian man votes Athenian. His wife... doesn't get to vote, she's only a woman!
Home Guard: Several sketches reference the British version in WWII, notably one based on how they frequently contrived to injure themselves with their makeshift weapons.
Hook Hand: In the pirate sketches. Lampshaded exasperatedly when one such character is offered a high-five: "Seriously, why would you do that?"
Horny Vikings: The show makes a point of not giving its Vikings horned helmets, and providing occasional reminders that they never really wore them (although Rattus does wear one from time to time). The trope is otherwise mostly played straight.
...And then completely subverted in a Series 5 song, which portrays the Vikings as Simon-and-Garfunkel-esque flower children.
Hot Scientist: The "Wonders of the Ancient Universe" host actually introduces himself as a "hot Egyptian scientist", "gorgeous Viking scientist" or "surprisingly handsome Anglo-Saxon scientist". Etc.
In the "Victorian Names" sketch, the substitute teacher expresses amazement at the bizarre names of the pupils... only to reveal that her name is "Miss Farting Clack".
Similarly, the two confused peasants in the "Wat Tyler" sketch call "Wat" a silly name. However, it turns out that their names are "Who" and "When".
"Oh, whatever!" (offscreen) "Yes?"
There's also the Newgate Prison guard who refuses to allow a pig in the prison on the grounds that they're "filthy animals" and then sticks his finger up his nose.
The correspondent at the prom warns Charles II not to mention Victoria's late husband in her presence — then, once she arrives, welcomes her to the Royal Albert Hall, causing her to rush off in tears.
The "Tudor Sugar-Paste Toothpaste" commercial. Elizabeth I says, "As a famous monarch, I'm always being asked how I keep my teeth so bright, white and healthy," at which point she opens her mouth to reveal very yellowed teeth.
When Mary Shelley mentions her friendship with Lord Byron, one of the Movie Executives tells her "I hate namedroppers, and so does my good friend Brad Pitt."
Tropes I to P
I Ate What?: One of Admiral Nelson's crew proposes a toast to the fallen admiral. He then does a Spit Take on being told that the body is pickling in the brandy they're drinking.
Which is also a fairly common reaction from the host upon trying the historical 'delicacies' in the "Ready Steady Feast" sketches. Somehow, she never learns to ask what the ingredients are before trying them...
Identical Grandson: Inevitable in a show with all the variously interrelated characters of history played by just a few actors, but particularly noticeable in the Stuart dynasty, with Baynton playing all the Jameses and Charleses yet shown (plus cousin Rupert).
"Because you're a Catholic and I'm a Catholic, and the king hates Catholics! He seems to think we're always plotting something."
Irony: Often, as a byproduct of the concept. On the Historical Masterchef sketches, for instance, the most sophisticated food is served by a caveman named Nug.
Is This Thing Still On?: After discussing her marital prospects on a Skype equivalent with William Cecil, Elizabeth I announces that she is married to England. Cecil says goodbye and then mutters "She's finally lost it", prompting Elizabeth to respond "I'm still here, Cecil!".
Also used at the end of the HHTV Sport report on Emma Sharp, who ran one thousand miles in a thousand hours. "I mean, she must have cheated, there's no way a woman - ah, we're not still on air, are we, Pete?"
It Is Pronounced Tropay: Cliff Whitely always has to remind people that his name is pronounced White-LEE rather than White-LIE. In fact, his own theme song doesn't get it right.
In one sketch, a monk is called a crackpot for believing that the Earth is round and the Moon causes tides.
In another, a Georgian sports presenter claims football is just a fad, and that long after people have gotten over football they'll still be into pinching matches and greased goose grabbing.
On scientific exploration into the causes of illness: "A microscope? What do you expect to find, tiny little creatures?!"
Another sketch revolves around cavemen studying plans for an ambitious new invention: the 'city'. The idea guy is mocked for coming up with pointlessly 'fancy-pants' concepts like "streets" and "trade".
In another, a Parliamentary aide is laughed at for citing research that suggests dumping raw sewage into the Thames might not be the best idea, and that the subsequent traces of sewage in the drinking water are probably the cause of the current cholera epidemic.
A Stuart merchant who encourages his friends to try tea is laughed off at first. "Dead leaves in water? Like a puddle in Autumn?"
One of the guests in the Georgian Come Dine With Me sketch believes this about the first Indian restaurant in Britain. The future George IV promptly asks if he's going to finish his curry.
I Want My Mommy: Invoked by a young student warrior in the "Spartan High School Musical" song, and by a fully-grown Spartan warrior in a sketch involving preparation for the battle of Thermopylae. Made even funnier when you realise that, as per what the show has already established, 'mommy' would most likely have just clocked them upside the ear and thrown them right back out into the battle.
At the end of the "Celtic Boast Battle Rap" the Celt who was stabbed runs out of the tent yelling "MUM!"
The general cry of "Mummy!" is used again in a Historical Hospital episode. Only this one makes total sense, considering that the speaker is from Ancient Egypt, is being chased out the door, and has just nearly run into a patient covered head to toe in bandages.
Kent Brockman News: What inevitably happens when a sleek modern news crew (on the 'News at When' broadcast) tries to report on messy historical events. And that's not even mentioning poor Bob Hale, who was apparently originally meant to be the weatherman. "Our forecast is for lots of Vikings heading down from the north — but look! The Saxons are fighting back! Wait, here come the Vikings again..."
Kick the Dog: Shows up a lot, historical class divisions being what they were among other things. A high point of sorts is reached during the Georgian Wife Swap sketch, in which wealthy Lord Posh, deeply moved by Mrs. Peasant's complaining over her lot at dinner, summons his personal orchestra to play sad music while she tells him all about it... then informs the whole Peasant family that he's razing their cottage... then summons the orchestra again when they get upset about it.
Earlier in that particular skit, Lady Posh, annoyed that Mr and Mrs Peasant's starving little girl has possibly stolen an apple out of her ridiculously elaborate hairstyle, concludes with a sigh that she'll just have to have the child hanged.
Similarly, the Victorian Wife Swap's ending has the Tombleby-Pumblechooks informing the Smikes that the latter will be moving out of the slum... only to be thrown in jail for stealing a lump of coal. To add insult to injury, the T-P's throw the lump away because it was touched by poor people.
The Knights Who Say Squee: Death is very excited to meet "the Draco," and keeps a collection of autographs from some of history's most famous baddies.
Large Ham: Several of the historical figures, of whom Henry VIII, Charles II and Caligula are unsurprisingly foremost. The SHOUTY MAN and Death have their moments as well. Really, watch any sketch with members of the core troupe in the background and you'll see some fairly shameless scene-stealing going on.
Customer: Well, tell the king that he's very smart, and in no way at all a silly old -
Frank: Don't push your luck.
Laughably Evil: Where to even start. The entire show seems to be made of these guys.
Literal Metaphor: The core concept of "Literally", the Viking invasion anthem. "We're gonna set this sleepy town alight/Literally!"
Also lampshaded by the Crusader who has just spent hours trying to find the Holy Land by following a goose "filled with the holy spirit": "I never thought I'd be part of a walking metaphor, but that was literally a wild goose chase."
Luxury Prison Suite: Newgate, as long as you can afford it. King John Balliol of Scotland also gets one of these in the Tower of London, and hates it ("You wouldn't keep an animal like this! It's inhumane!") He cheers up noticeably, though, when his lawyer offers to get him banished to France instead.
Lyrical Dissonance: "Work, Terrible Work", an upbeat, catchy song about the horrors of child labor in Victorian England. Based loosely on "Food, Glorious Food", itself an upbeat, catchy song about the horrors of workhouses in Victorian England, from the musical Oliver!.
As noted above, "Do the Pachacuti" is probably the most relentlessly cheerful, upbeat song about mutilating dead enemies you will ever hear.
Mad Artist: Their portrayal of medieval French troubadour Bertran de Born shows shades of this.
Mad Libs Catch Phrase: Bob Hale has a tendency to give lists in the form of "X, and Y, and Z, except not Y," where X and Z are historical facts and Y is a humorous anachronism. Usually helicopters. Or mutant sea monsters...
Also, HHTV's war correspondent invariably signs off with "This is Mike Peabody, reporting for HHTV News live from [historical event], really wishing he were somewhere else...!"
Anchorwoman Sam does her own version of this to introduce Bob's reports: "Hello, and welcome to the News at When. When? [Time period], when [description of important event]. To tell us more, here's Bob Hale, with the [Subject] Report."
Makeup Is Evil: Oliver Cromwell certainly thinks so. ("Especially that eyeshadow with that top.")
Mayincatec: Refreshingly averted. The Aztecs and the Incas are appropriately treated as two distinct cultures; the Mayans have yet to be featured at all.
Meaningful Name: Oh yeah. Notables include Abigail Tight-Corset and Matilda Never-Wash. There are a couple of names that are meaningful but more likely to sail over kid's heads; one character, a Victorian drunk, is named Florence Guttersnipe.
Medium Awareness: Frequent. At one point, Cliff Whiteley asks Mary Seacole if she'd like to appear on a "historical sketch show for the BBC". When she sceptically asks him "It any good?" he turns and grins into the camera: "It ain't bad!"
Metaphorgotten: A Saxon farmer giving his neighbor advice regarding his barren field reminds him that "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - unless you're me, 'cause that's not!"
Mistaken for Aliens: One Scary Story tells the tale of the Green Children of Woolpit, a mysterious, otherworldly-green pair of siblings from the far-off planet of.... Belgium.
Mood Whiplash: After sketches, Rattus will sometimes become a bit sombre when describing the reality behind the funny, especially in re: the First & Second World Wars. ("Well, what do you expect? It is 'Horrible' Histories, after all.") They manage to pull it off with impressive tact and taste... to the point where the rat's finally moved to protest after an especially horrible scene: "Do you know, if I'm honest, I'd rather just do the funnies. Couldn't we get a badger or something in for the sad bits?"
Moral Guardians: A feature of the 'Slimy Stuarts' sketches especially, thanks to the Cavalier/Roundhead conflict. The show is characteristically unsubtle about which side it's on, as per a sketch in which Oliver Cromwell has his relatives arrested for simply showing up at his door to wish him Happy Christmas.
Charles II:(rapping) Old Ollie wasn't jolly, he was glum and he was proud
Would be miserable as sin, only sinning's not allowed!
Motor Mouth: Bob Hale's Reports are essentially very extended, very detailed and very enthusiastic monologues.
Mr. Fanservice: None of the characters specifically — but the combination of extremely attractive actors and frequent shirtlessness is much too obvious to be entirely coincidental.
Mummies at the Dinner Table: One sketch features an unlucky couple enduring dinner at the Raleighs' after Sir Walter's been executed for treason... and thus having to make conversation with his preserved head, in order to avoid upsetting his wife.
My Little Phony: One sketch in a fifth season episode included the Victorian My Little Pit Pony. This doll described what life was like for horses that worked in coal mines, including breathing coal dust and getting stuck in tunnels. They only came in one color: black.
My Local: Death's (so he claims) is called "The King's Head Being Chopped Off".
Namesake Gag: One sketch showed the Earl of Sandwich inventing the sandwich. This was then followed by the culinary creations of of his friends Baron Hotdog (silly) and Lord Turkey of Twizzler (very silly).
Never Live It Down: In-universe. King George IV complains that he's most known for his obesity, rather than his achievements or interesting life.
Also a stone age bed guaranteed never to sag... because it's made of stone.
The Nicknamer: There's a sketch about Elizabeth I being this, including her most well-known nickname of "Pygmy" for one of her ministers.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: The 'hot Egyptian' (or 'gorgeous Viking', or 'surprisingly handsome Anglo-Saxon') scientist host of the Wonders of the Universe skits is named Brian, looks like him and speaks like him but is totally not UK pop-science presenter Brian Cox. Totally.
Also, the 'angry, shouty' chef host of "Roman Kitchen Nightmares" is so completely notGordon Ramsey.
The Shouty Man totally doesn't sound almost identical to infomercial reader Barry Scott, never mind how one sketch about chimney sweeps happens to include a parody of the tagline from his Cilit Bang infomercial.
No Indoor Voice: Bob Hale and The Shouty Man. Other notable sketches include one with Caligula: "THINK YOU'RE BIGGER THAN ME?!".
The show's version of Greg Wallace on the Historical Masterchef segments. After an Aztec chef tells him what a howler monkey is, this ensues:
No Kill Like Overkill: Again, the SHOUTY MAN. Also, the conclusion to a song about Victorian inventions... did you know they invented dynamite during that era?
Nonverbal Miscommunication: In a segment on the sign language of Saxon monks, a monk's attempt to tell his brothers that the Vikings are attacking is first interpreted as "the gorillas are making clay pots" and then "the gorillas are ringing the bells".
"Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Signs pop up during sketches, to the effect that they're not making up certain historical details... or that they are. (The sign that they are usually says "Silly" or, at least once, "Very Very Silly".)
The 'Victorian Names' sketch includes a pop up after every single name just to reassure us that they're real, and given that they include names like "Never" and "Baboon" this is entirely justified.
Oh Crap: Several times per episode, although the most spectacular is probably Emperor Elagabalus' dinner guests upon finding a live lion in the powder room.
Old-Timey Bathing Suit: The sketch "Victorian Beach Watch" demonstrates some problems with these, namely that they are hard to swim in as well as hard to put on, leading to lifeguards not being able to save someone before he shows up and clocks them upside the ear.
Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Real-life Aristotle was the original, and the show's version sings it thus: "I took all their theories higher / Discovered water, ether, earth, air, and fire / Mastered every science, I'm Mister Know-It-All!"
One Steve Limit: Deliberately — not to say enthusiastically — averted by writer Rickard, who has admitted to shoehorning 'Geoff's into his sketches wherever possible. Most noticeable with the various Historical Paramedics, who regardless of era are invariably named Geoff and Nigel (Rickard's father's name).
Every horse is named Dobbin (or in the Roman chariot racing sketch, 'Dobbinus').
Only Sane Woman: Anchorwoman Sam is appropriately perturbed by Bob Hale's weirdness... which doesn't stop her from taking advantage of it from time-to-time in the service of a good punchline, as in the Human (Evolution) Report.
On the Next: "Historical Wife Swap" sketches generally end with one of these, as does 'My Big Fat (Medieval Scottish) Wedding'.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Played with to heighten the absurdity of historical cliches — most notably during the 'Savage Stone Age' segments, in which the performers routinely switch from subliterate grunts to perfect English without missing a beat.
Also used to great effect during a 'Putrid Pirates' sketch featuring the notorious Captain Black Bart listing off his rules to the new recruits. He starts off in bog-standard 'Arrr, me mateys!' mode... right up until "Rule One: Fighting!":
Black Bart (abruptly switching to modern 'posh' accent): "No fighting. It's antisocial, and it's a good way to lose an eye, isn't it Mulligan?"
During the Dick Turpin song, sung otherwise with an assumed accent, the words "that's lame" are in the actor's normal voice.
Oop North: The 'Home Guard Injuries' sketch is taken specifically from the accident reports of the Durham division. The attempts at the accent are almost as hilarious as the intended comedy.
Paint the Town Red: "We're gonna paint the whole town red / Literally! / With the blood of the dead / Literally!"
Parent Service: Go on, just try to find one clip on YouTube with Mathew Baynton in it that doesn't have comments gushing over how 'fit' (British for 'gorgeous') Mat is. Seriously, they're even on the one in which he plays an eighty-year-old Charles Darwin.
Larry Rickard, one of the writers/performers, has also referred to costar Ben Willbond as 'mum candy' in one of his tweets — and of course, Rickard himself and Jim Howick get their share of this as well. It's all become something of a behind-the-scenes Running Gag.
Which was in turn lampshaded during a 2011 pre-BAFTA ceremony interview with the cast. "What's the secret to your tremendous success?" Rickard (completely deadpan): "Mat's eyes." Rickard also referred the 'why does the show appeal to adults?' question to Willbond the mum candy.
Pie in the Face: A sketch on Victorian manners, in which almost everything a gentleman does whilst on a picnic results in him being slapped by his lady, ends with him oh-so-politely ascertaining that there's nothing at all improper about an apple pie... then shoving it into her face. "Just be grateful I forgot the cream!"
Poirot Speak: Sometimes. For example, the sketch at a German supply store during the Battle of Stalingrad — the whole thing is in English, except for the words Herr and Auf Wiedersehn.
Poke the Poodle: When the Goths take over Rome, they plan to destroy it... only to decide against destroying the arenas, the aqueduct, the houses, and the art. They eventually content themselves with smashing a few jugs, before heading off to tidy up in the Roman baths.
Portmanteau Couple Name: Spoofed in Victoria & Albert's love ballad: "The press watched every smile and flirt/Called us Alboria, but I preferred Vicbert!"
Powered by a Forsaken Child: For the Victorian Dragon's Den segment, all of the new labour saving inventions being presented consist of a street child. Something of a running theme in the 'Vile Victorians' segments generally; see also the "Work, Terrible Work!" song, an advertisement for New! Victorian Child (ie. chimney sweeps) and a sketch in which among a kid's fifth birthday presents is a job in the factory alongside his dad — who then implies that they thus won't have to worry about a sixth birthday present.
Puff of Logic: Merlin disappears upon being told that he's not real in the "It's Not True!" song.
Pun: Not quite as bad as the books, but still manages to get off some serious groaners. "At night, the Vikings navigated by the stars. Take a right at Britney Spears, then a left at Angelina Jolie! Hahaha!"
Pungeon Master: Death quite fancies himself as one, as does Rattus. Also a favourite tactic of Tudor jester Will Somers, though in his case it's justified somewhat as he's frantically trying to keep Henry VIII happy.
A Rare Sentence: In this sketch: "This is Dom Duckworth, in Stuart England, covered in the remains of an ancient Egyptian mummy - a sentence I thought I'd never hear myself say."
Readings Blew Up the Scale: Bob Hale's Thing-O-Meters frequently get broken by the sheer magnitude of whatever they're measuring, whether it be the number of heads cut off in the French Revolution or the drama level of World War II.
Reality Ensues: One "Historical Masterchef" sketch focuses on a Stuart era head cook... who has no idea how to use a modern stove.
Real Joke Name: The point of the "Real Victorian Names" sketch (as for instance 'Minty Badger' and 'Princess Cheese').
Real Men Wear Pink: Vercingetorix - "a man so deadly, he can wear pigtails and still look hard."
Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: As per history, a distinctly premature obituary is Alfred Nobel's inspiration for establishing his eponymous prizes (as it revealed that otherwise he would be remembered solely as the 'Merchant of Death', ie the inventor of dynamite). "And I will call them... Prizemite!"
Rhetorical Request Blunder: A sketch involves Henry II explaining to HHTV's Royalty Today correspondent how he accidentally murdered his friend Thomas Becket in one of history's most famous examples of this trope. Thing is, Henry's still being followed by the three "idiot knights" whose over-literal interpretation of "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!?" led to Becket's death. This becomes a new and immediate problem when, pressed for more details, Henry jokingly asks if no one will rid him of this troublesome interviewer...
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: As his song says, William Wallace's rebel career possibly began as this, depending on the veracity of stories of English forces harassing his family and killing his wife.
Roger Rabbit Effect: Happens a few times early in Series 1, as when the cartoon Roman from the era introductions walks in on a Shouty Man advertisement to inform a disgusted audience that Romans used urine for mouthwash.
Royal Brat: Emperor Elagabalus. Also George IV, in all but actual age.
Rump Roast: In one sketch a Victorian man's trousers have caught fire. The funny part isn't only that his bottom is on fire, it's that any of the words another Victorian man is trying to use to inform him of this, even "trousers" and "legs", are considered too rude, so all the man who's on fire is doing is reprimanding the other man for his language. At the end, he finally realizes what's happening and yells "My trousers! My legs! My BOTTOM!"
Sadist Teacher: A carryover from the books, and even less subtle. One sketch on Stone Age burial rituals fades out to Rattus and a single tiny pea on a plate: "Here's a brain I've prepared myself. As you can see, from a PE teacher! Hah!"
When a fed-up Death decides to quit in one Stupid Deaths sketch, the queue of corpses asks what other job a 'miserable, sick-looking' Grim Reaper could possibly do. He suggests becoming a school headmaster. Everyone nods thoughtfully.
Then there's this doozy from Elagabalus in the "Evil Emperors' Song":
''You'd think to children, I'd be cuter
No, I was their biggest executor
Used their guts to read the future
Says here I should get a job as a school tutor!''
Also the 'Historical Headmasters', who threaten to beat/cane students for arriving at school after dawn, wearing shoes and being caught stealing (it should be clarified that it's not the student stealing that's the problem, it's his getting caught).
Serkis Folk: The video-game advertisement sketches ("Warrior", "Duat", et cetera) all star video-game animation versions of the main cast.
Shirtless Scene: Quite a few for a supposed kids' show, to the point where it may overall be second only to Twilight for shirtless Fanservice. One sketch about the Greek Olympics, where most games were played naked, had a sports presenter cover up the Greek athlete with his clipboard, followed by a report on the Greek wrestling, featuring a Greek athlete in a loincloth.
Often lampshaded by said shirtless men covering up their chests rather obviously. Most obviously of all in the aforementioned 'preparation for Thermopylae' sketch, in which the warrior complains outright that the shield he's been given "won't even cover my nipples!"
Shout-Out: So many. The songs in particular, featuring references to artists such as The Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, The Monkees, Lady Gaga and Adam and the Ants. Recognisable personalities include Gordon Ramsay ("Hello, I'm an angry shouty Roman chef!") and UK newscaster Peter Snow (as sent up by Bob Hale). A lot of the sketches are more-or-less direct takeoffs of Monty Python (especially the ones set in Rome) or Blackadder (the Tudors). Entire segments are based off various types of reality shows, eg. Masterchef, Wife Swap, Come Dine With Me, etc.
Bonus points in actually getting Dave Lamb to narrate the Come Dine With Me sketches, and to host the game show.
Many of the songs include a direct Shout-Out to the original inspiration:
"Mary Seacole" (parody of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies"): "And I think it my destiny, child / To be a war medic!"
"The Few (RAF Pilots)" (parody of Take That's "Relight My Fire"): "Take that, Hitler!"
"Dick Turpin Highwayman" (parody of Adam Ant's "Stand and Deliver"): "No more stand and deliver.."
"Australia" (parody of Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky"): "And that is when your Neighbours don't become good friends."
Special points have to go to "Norman Family Tree" for managing to name drop no less than nineABBA songs.
The song "I'm a Knight" is a deliberate Monty Python pastiche (complete with uncanny Eric Idle lookalike aka show writer Steve Punt). See also the Historical Paramedics' retreating cry as the modern-day EMS approach: "Run away! Run away!"
The "God Compare!" sketch is blatantly based on the equally... offbeat "Go Compare" adverts.
The 'Prisoner of War' sketch is another fairly obvious parody, of the American show Hogan's Heroes. The musical motif, the characters of incompetent Commandant Klinzman (for Colonel Klink) and cheeky Squadron Leader Higgins (for Colonel Hogan), and the constant escape attempts are all very familiar.
A cute one in the Series Four song special episode, which introduces Rattus' feisty, googly-eyed young nephew Scrappus. Naturally, by only the second intermission, Uncle Rattus has been driven to lock him in a cage 'for his own good'.
Their portrayal of Pope Alexander VI is clearly a nod to Vito Corleone.
Twit Light features dark, brooding Lord Byron turning on the lights to reveal he's not a vampire — merely "an incredibly pretentious poet."
The "Georgian Crimefighting sketch is an obvious parody of Sherlock, complete with the white text showing important details. It also includes a 'Dr. Mottson' and the Holmes character wearing a dark longcoat.
The Vercingetorix vs. Caesar sketch uses gag noses, overhead shots of a cartoon diagram of Gaul with a standard shoved in it, and scenes of Caesar raving in his room about 'the impudent Gauls', which all together make it vaguely resemble an Astérix comic (which features a small Gallic village still holding out after Vercingetorix's defeat). A later sketch involving Roman legionaries being paid in salt makes the Astérix parallels even more obvious: "Join the Roman Army, they said..."
"The Borgia Family" is a pastiche of The Addams Family theme song, complete with a scene of Lucrezia trimming roses that's nearly identical to a famous one of Morticia.
Signature Laugh: Rattus punctuates his stories with a distinctive "Hahahah!" and excited little paws.
Special Effect Failure: In-Universe examples when Jasper Maskelyne — and later, in the Renaissance Report, Bob Hale — fail to dramatically disappear in a puff of smoke. Bob at least is sanguine about this. "Yep, didn't work in rehearsal, either."
Occasionally happens simply because the show can't afford CGI elephants or snakes. They do a valiant job with two stagehands and some grey felt though.
Species Surname: Actually, Species Full Name. Rattus Rattus is also the scientific name for the black rat.
Springtime for Hitler: After having his ship fouled up by seasick cattle, pirate Basil Hood tries to get himself arrested by the Royal Navy. However, the captain finds the ship so disgusting that he lets the pirates go.
Stealth Pun: The Owain Glyndwr song is a pastiche of "Delilah" by Tom Jones — however, when Owain mentions being given the title of Prince... of Wales, it segues into a pastiche of "Kiss", which was also performed by Jones, but originally by Prince.
Stock Footage: Used in the Monarchs song, including some footage from earlier HH episodes. The Neil Armstrong sketch also features footage from the Apollo landings.
Used liberally throughout We're History, the final song of the series.
Stupid Crooks: How Guy Fawkes and his band of conspirators are portrayed.
Stylistic Suck: The awkward but earwormy jingles, acting and singing in many of the parodies — notably "Stay Calmer When You Want a Harm a Llama" — are 110% deliberate and meant to evoke cheap adverts and infomercials.
Suddenly Shouting: Before the aBook came out, the only way to get your poetry to the masses was by writing it on long, awkward scrolls, OR BY SHOUTING REALLY LOUD!
"A three-hour poem? Still, I suppose it's better than some of the acts on Britain's Got Talent, ha ha!"
Talking Animal: Rattus Rattus (named for his species) — a puppet Expy of a similar rat character from the books — hosts the original series, explaining and clarifying the historical information presented in each sketch... in his own inimitable fashion (describing the cause of The Black Death: "So that's Rats 1, Humans 0.") Despite the tiny swords and top hats, he appears to be quite content merely to snigger at the horrible humans from beneath their floorboards... at least until the behind-the-scenes vid that reveals he's moved to Hollywood to become a Star, or barring that become a historical consultant to Steven Spielberg.
Tangled Family Tree: The poor "This is Your Reign" presenter gets very confused (and squicked) by Cleopatra's family tree — including her marrying two of her brothersand her father — when she appears on his show. Also comes up in the "Norman Family Tree" song (which covers the medieval battle for the English throne between Henry, Stephen and two would-be Empress Matildas), to the extent that at one point they resort to an onscreen diagram.
Teens Are Monsters: Elagabalus was quite possibly the original... something the show plays up for all it's worth. "I'm so random! Huhuhuhuhuhuh!"
Tempting Fate: At one point in the "Court of Historical Law" sketch featuring Tsar Peter III's case against a rat (or possibly 'a mouse, with delusions of grandeur') that he found nibbling his toy soldiers:
Judge: Well, this certainly can't get any weirder...
Peter:(triumphantly produces a teeny little gallows)
Judge: ...Yes it could. It could get weirder.
Used again in the Borgias' song:
Cesare: I am the mostest powerfulest, evilest of all As long as Dad's alive, there's not a single chance I'll fall!
Thing-O-Meter: Bob Hale is fond of them. The "French Revolution Report" has a Head-Cutting-Off-O-Meter and a Cunning-Plan-O-Meter, for example.
This Is My Name on Foreign: Alexander the Great decides to name one of his cities something other than Alexandria for once. He'll name this one Iskenderun. "Why Iskenderun?" "It's Turkish." "...is it Turkish for Alexandria?" "YES."
Those Wacky Nazis: The particular version of Evil Is Hammy (see above) used in the WWII sketches. "Join the Hitler Youth: Just like the Scouts... only EVIL!"
Small boy: But I'm only 10...
Hitler:(gives Nazi salute) Talk to ze hand, 'cos ze face ain't listening.
And from a later sketch, detailing how the German response to D-Day was delayed thanks to his guards' reluctance to disturb 'Mr. Grumpy Pants' at his nap:
SS Guard 1: But if we wake ze Fuhrer, he will... why, he will... get in such a paddy!
SS Guard 2: Ooh, such a paddy he will get in!
Toilet Humour: Up to and including a couple sketches actually set in the Roman communal toilets.
Too Dumb to Live: Fittingly, a number of people in the Stupid Deaths sketches. Perhaps most notably Hannah Twynnoy, who, when a travelling circus came to her small Georgian village, thought it would be hilarious to repeatedly poke the tiger with a stick.
Totally Radical: In-universe, as used by the title character in the "You've Been Artois'd!" sketch. "I know these words, you see? I am 'street', yes?"
Unwanted Rescue: Socrates explains it thus: "Look, no real philosopher fears death. If you rescue me, people will still find me really annoying; I'll end up in prison again."
Upper-Class Twit: A staple, as exemplified by Blenkinsop & Maltravers in the 'Causes of WWI' sketch. Mike Peabody narrowly escapes lynching over being mistaken for one in the 'Fall of the Bastille' sketch.
Villain Song: Several. Henry VIII's especially is deliberately styled in the traditional Disney manner: "I'm Henry the Eighth, I had six sorry wives/Some might say I ruined their lives..."
Dick Turpin, Blackbeard, Cleopatra and Pachacuti also have their own villain songs, albeit much less traditional versions.
The Pachacuti song in particular, considering it's styled as an annoyingly catchy summer novelty song.
The Borgia Family also gets its own villain song.
The most Egregious villain song is probably the aforementioned 'Evil Emperors Song' by Caligula, Elagabalus, Commodus and Nero.
There's also "Ain't Staying Alive", sung by the Aztec priests.
Don't forget "Literally" by the Viking raiders. Vikinglandinverts this by explaining how the Vikings built nice villages, set up trade routes, and in general improved life in England and Northern Scotland.
There's also an inversion by legendary royal villain Richard III, who sings about how he was in reality not evil.
'Bloody' Mary Tudor also gets a musical chance to explain that she really was trying to be good (yes, back then that could easily include burning 'heretics' at the stake) and wasn't so much unsuccessful as pathetically naive and unfortunate.
Vomit Discretion Shot: Standard... and odd, considering they then have no problem showing the actual vomit afterwards.
We Meet Again: Spoofed relentlessly in the aforementioned WWII POW sketch. It starts with Commandant Klinsman admitting that he and Squadron Leader Higgins haven't actually met before, "I just like ze vay I sound vhen I say zat." Higgins then proceeds to disappear every time the commandant looks away, getting dragged back in each time:
Workaholic: Winston Churchill, much to the dismay of his secretary and a general.
Worst Aid: As administered by various past-time physicians in the recurring Historical Hospital sketch. As you might imagine, it's not uncommon for a patient to come in with a blister and be dead ten minutes later.
Similarly, the Historical Paramedics sketches, although their patients rarely die — presumably because the HPs are forced to flee the scene too quickly to avoid the present-day EMS.
Subverted by the Arabian healer, who pleasantly surprises his apprehensive patients with his thoroughly reasonable remedies and ends up chasing away a far less knowledgeable Crusader doctor with his own bone saw.
Also, unsurprisingly, comes up in Stupid Deaths from time to time.
Would Hurt a Child: Emperor Elagabalus is the only one to openly boast of it, but several of the other historical figures the show mentions were guilty as well.
Depending on your definition of 'hurt', the "Work, Terrible Work!" song could also be considered an excellent example.