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John o' Farrell "An Utterly Impartial History of Britain" Book Review

Or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge

History of Britain book cover

If the idea of picking up, let alone reading, a history of the United Kingdom bores you to tears, then maybe this satirical tome could be the book for you.

Although a fan of history, I tend to be picky about the books I read. The Second World War, Vietnam, The Falklands (guess the theme?) tend to be my main areas of interest, with the history of Great Britain right down the bottom with "The Social History of the French Revolution".

So why did I buy this book? I didn't, and probably never would have done - it was a Christmas present, but once I started reading it on a boring Boxing Day I was hooked.

It is very funny yet informative, covering (obviously not in great detail) the history of Great Britain from the Romans to the end of the Second World War., poking fun at historical figures but also enlightening the reader with little known facts and incidents that have influenced how our society is today.

Oh, and the author doesn't mind knocking the French. Good enough for me.


John o' Farrell, Author. Newspaper columnist, author, TV writer and an occasional pundit on the BBC's "Have I Got News For You" guides us through the Kings, Queens, Lord Protectors and Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, summing it up by saying "You had to be there really...."

Roman Soldiers

O' Farrell on the Romans:

"Around 40,000 men arrived in Britain to face Celtic Tribes who had become increasing defiant of the Empire... The British outnumbered the invaders, but as is the tradition in rural areas. hated their neighbours even more than they hated foreigners..."

Bayeaux Tapestry

On The Normans:

"Er, why's he called William the Conqueror?"
"Don't worry about that, it's just a nickname"

"In fact, during his lifetime... he was actually called "William the Bastard.. owing to his illegitmacy... and the fact he was a complete bastard... he thought nothing of having a man's tongue pulled out and nailed to his front door.. so you'd probably exercise a certain amount of caution before calling him it to his face... "

Henry viii

On Henry VIII:

"Our popular image of Henry is of a very fat and arrogant man with an annoying beard. In fact when he first came to the throne he was handsome and athletic... played the lute and is even credited with writing 'Greensleeves', the very essence of a renaissance Man."

"38 years later he died a bloated, disabled, paranoid despot, condemned to hell by the Pope, 5 failed marriages and the kingdom fiercely divided. Still, 'Greensleeves' is quite a catchy little number."


On the Creation of the Metropolitan Police:

"One thousand constables were introduced on to the London Streets to direct tourists to Tower Bridge, tell people the time and pull over any liberated slaves driving an expensive car... It is of course from Robert Peel that we get the slang word 'Bobby' for Policemen and well into the 20th Century the police were still nicknamed 'Peelers' Sir Robert Peel's middle names were 'Bill', 'Fuzz', 'Pig', 'Filth' and Rozzer'. "



"America also gave assistance to China who had turned up to the Second World War far too early in 1937. Relations between the United States and Japan were rapidly deteriorating as the latter took over French Indo-China. 'Why can't places like Vietnam just be left alone?' argued the Americans."

I've picked out some funny excerpts from the book, but it's not just a series of one-liners, there's all the facts you'll need to bluff your way through the history section of the local pub quiz. It's just that with his sarcastic and satirical style o' Farrell makes British History interesting and the book a real page turner, also (as he admits) skimming over the boring bits....

"An Utterly Impartial History of Britain" is no text book - the accuracy of it has been questioned by some, but for the casual reader who would never normally pick up a History book, this is a great read, and I now know more about our Great Britain than I ever did before. Recommended.

Buy An Utterly Impartial History of Britain from Amazon.co.uk

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