By Hannah Furness, Arts Correspondent
With titles such as Terrible Tudors, Rotten Romans and the Measly Middle Ages, author Terry Deary has never been one to sugar coat the Horrible Histories of the world.
He has now admitted deliberately littering his books with subversive messages for his young readers, as he condemns school a “waste of time”.
Deary, who has sold around 25 million copies of his Horrible Histories series across the world since they were first published in 1993, said laced his stories with radical ideas in the same way “sneaky propagandists” do, insisting: “I’m poisoning the minds of children.”
Deary’s best-loved books include the Terrible Tudors, Rotten Romans and Vile Victorians, along with the Groovy Greeks, Vicious Vikings and Awesome Egyptians.
Telling history through timelines, quizzes and a series of cartoons, they delight in telling children that “history can be horrible” before unveiling the rude, quirky and amusing anecdotes to bring the period to life.
Calling himself an “anarchist”, he has now disclosed his delight in sprinkling his books with radical ideas, with a profound dislike for authority stemming from his own schooldays.
“The teachers put my back up,” he told the Sunday Times. “They kick conformity into children. Teachers are just bullies and schools are a waste of time.
“They’re an ancient Greek idea that the Victorians borrowed to get kids off the street. It’s fundamentally wrong.”
Dismissing the government as “just a bunch of muppets in Whitehall telling teachers what to teach”, he argued children should instead be offered mentors tailored to their specific needs.
“Every child has an entitlement to be education for their needs,” he said. “The key is to identify talents. Schools can’t do that in classes of 30. Mentors could.
“If you’re a writer then someone attaches you to a write. Art to an artist. Mechanics to a mechanic. What is your skill? Everybody has a skill.”
Speaking of his books, which have been adapted into a popular television series, he attributed their success to the concept of “treating children with respect”.
He added: “Never talk down to children. Their ability to understand human nature has to be respected.”
When asked about the radical undertones of his work, he told the newspaper: “That’s the way snaky propagandists do it. I’m poisoning the minds of children…yes!”
He has previously said of his Horrible Histories: “I think what underlies Horrible Histories is the goodness of ordinary people as opposed to the evil and stupidity of people in power.
“They may start out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but in power your mindset becomes hanging on to that power whatever it takes, and if that involves corruption, you’ll use it.”
His 1998 book, Frightful First World War, begins: “History can be horrible. So horrible that some boring old fogies think young people should not be told the whole, terrible truth.”
It goes on to challenge young readers to “try this quick quiz on your teacher and watch as they strain their brain cell to the limit.
“If they get a question wrong you can jeer because they’re a dunce – if they get it right you can jeer because they’re probably old enough to remember the First World War!”
Rotten Romans refers to teachers “droning on”, while Barmy British Empire tells of “brutal Britannia” and the “dreadful deeds down under”. An entire book is dedicated to “Churchill and his Woeful Wars”.
A stage version of Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain is currently touring theatres.