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The Marxist on your children’s bookshelf

Terry Deary: a self-proclaimed “sneaky propagandist”

Marxist historians have long grappled with the “Sisyphean task” of breaking into the bestseller lists and changing the views of the masses, says Pratinav Anil in UnHerd. One of their number may well have succeeded. Terry Deary is celebrating 30 years of his Horrible Histories children’s books, of which 270 instalments have been published and “north of 35 million copies sold”, not to mention the TV and West End spin-offs. The works are known for their “guts and gore”, and “addiction to alliteration”, with titles like Rotten Romans, Vile Victorians and Vicious Vikings. But Deary, who likens himself to a “sneaky propagandist”, has always been clear about his penchant for attacking the elite.

In Slimy Stuarts, he writes about how “slimy Charlie” (Charles I) thought he could rule without parliament, and therefore “got the chop”. In The Peasants’ Revolting Lives, he explains how the “monstrous” food-hoarding of the clergy led to the Archbishop of Canterbury being beheaded in 1381. He says “Brutal Britannia” was, along with Belgium, “one of the most evil empires in the world”. These interpretations are unsurprising for a man who had a poor, abusive childhood in postwar Sunderland – and who, when asked to name his favourite historical figure, chose “Mr and Mrs Peasant”. Thanks to the tens of millions of children who’ve internalised his views, “Deary has played a greater part in shaping public opinion than most public intellectuals”.