Horrible Histories scribe reveals how scary schooldays started a revolution

Terry Deary reveals how his tough Sunderland schooldays made him determined to change how kids see history – by keeping in the gory bits – and started a revolution in teaching us about the past

As Horrible Histories celebrates its 25th anniversary author of the smash-hit books Terry Deary has told The Big Issue about his own horrible history with education.

The bestselling author of the series, which has sold 30 million copies worldwide and been translated into 40 languages, told The Big Issue: “I never did history, never read a children’s book, we were just taught for two years how to pass the 11-plus exam. It’s not education, it’s schooling. Education is preparing somebody for life, schooling is preparing somebody to pass exams.”


In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

Deary, 72, said he was regularly punished by teachers: “I wasn’t a really bad lad – in junior school I was quite quiet, but if I talked at the wrong time it was ‘put your hand out’,” he says. “It was quite odd really. When I got to secondary I was still being beaten as a sixth-former.”

Now the author of 270 books including fiction and fantasy titles in addition to the Horrible Histories series, the avowedly anti-authoritarian Sunderland-born wordsmith, who got three A-levels, said further education was never presented as an opportunity during his schooldays: “Nobody ever said you could go to university. It was ‘get a job in the mill’ because you’re working-class, or under-class really.”

To celebrate 25 years of Horrible Histories Deary took The Big Issue on an exclusive guided tour of the most horrible historical spots in Durham, in which he talks about the highs and lows (especially the loathsome lows) of the city’s past, as well as his own journey – and his thwarted ambitions to be a country and western singer!

Meanwhile ‘chief nerd’ on the multi-award-winning hilarious Horrible Histories TV series, historian Greg Jenner, explains how Deary’s work helped to revolutionise the way the subject is taught to kids, and how it has influenced the next generation of historians. You can read all about it in this week’s Big Issue, on sale now.

And there is a chance to win a Beastly Bundle of Horrible Histories books and Gruesome Goodies including costumes, games and DVDs here.

Horrible Histories 25th Anniversary editions of the classic books, including Terrifying Tudors and Awful Egyptians, are out now (published by Scholastic).

Portrait of Terry Deary outside Durham Cathedral by David Lawson Studios