Horrible Histories in the making at the Imperial War Museum

© Paul Marriott

It went away for a while, but fear not history-fans, the Imperial War Museum is opening up again and just in time for the summer holidays. Its first exhibition will bring to life the best-selling children’s book series Horrible Histories during a Secrets and Spies summer season.

The books’ comic look at history so resonated with children that it prompted the creation of a television series by the same name.

“The fact that they’re cheeky is what kids like,” explains illustrator Martin Brown, who will speak at the museum. “I have a soft spot for the Stone Age books. The Georgians were fun but I got sick of drawing frills by the end of it. I had an interest in history from high school but it was fun to get involved with it afresh.”

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A keen drawer from a young age, Martin studied teaching for three out of four years in Melbourne before talking himself out of returning to a high school environment. Though he always loved drawing from a young age he never had formal training and credits the American book Fun with a Pencil, which was given to his Mum in 1947, as his best resource.
Arriving in London as a backpacker 30 years ago, he started out working at London Graphics Centre before deciding to really make a go of cartooning. “One day I just quit my job and called myself a freelance cartoonist; I spent about six months on the dole playing cricket in Battersea Park.” he recalls.

Fortunately the editorial work soon started rolling in with regular work cartooning for Reader’s Digest and in various papers and magazines. It was when Martin scored a job with Scholastic publishers that he really had his foot in the door. “I was cycling round London with my portfolio under my arm. It was that classic case of just knocking on doors,” he tells.
It paid off and the cartoonist was offered work drawing for author Peter Corey’s new Coping With… series. “That was great fun; we used to have editorial meetings with a bottle of wine where we’d just crack jokes at each other and that was the job,” Martin tells. When he suggested they create a Coping With… History book, little did he know he was onto something big. The publisher paired him with writer Terry Deary and the rest was, literally, history. Or horrible history in Martin’s case.

The Secrets and Spies kids’ summer season is at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, SE1 6HZ, from July 29-January 4, 2015. Admission: £3.30 (children), £6.20 (adults), £12.25-£19 (family). Phone: 020 7416 5000. http://www.iwm.org.uk
Horrible Histories author Terry Deary is at the IWM on August 1 from 12pm-3pm and illustrator Martin Brown is there on October 19 and 20 at 12pm and 3pm. Admission: £8, under 4s: free.

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