New College of the Humanities

Too Much of 'A Good Thing'?

Trevor Fisher takes a fresh look at 1066 and All That and finds it a text for the times.

1990 saw the sixtieth anniversary of Sellar and Yeatman's celebrated lampoon, 1066 And All That. Reprinted thirty-six times since 1930, and never out of print, the Memorable History of England 'comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 genuine dates' has struck a deep chord in generations of people brought up on its central dictum, 'History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember'.

Sellar and Yeatman played on this theme brilliantly. In their Compulsory Preface, they acknowledged their 'inestimable debt to the mass of educated men and women of' their race whose historical intuitions and opinions this work enshrines', and exploited the debt for all they were worth. English education taught history as the 'Rise of the English Speaking Peoples', dates, facts and opinions trooping after each other in strict chronology and with scant concern for understanding. The properly educated knew and understood the official line, appreciated the history-as-stream-of-howlers version which the authors presented, and took the book to their hearts. Even today, amateur theatricals perform the stage version to audiences who know the difference between peasant and pheasant, Feutile and Feudal, and the correct meaning of 'Veni, Vidi, Vici'.

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