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08th Dec 2022

Star of Horrible Histories says cast did ‘blackface’ by getting spray tans to play Egyptians

Jack Peat

Mathew Baynton said its leading cast members were ‘basically a bunch of white people’

The star of BBC children’s television show Horrible Histories says the cast did ‘blackface’ by getting spray tans to play Egyptians.

Speaking to Cherwell, the Oxford University student newspaper, Matthew Baynton said the leading actors in the show were “basically a bunch of white people” and suggested producers would hire a more ethnically diverse cast today.

“We didn’t do blackface, for example, but you could argue that we did. Because I played Egyptians, you know, for example, where you’d get a spray tan, essentially, and stand in your pants.”

Horrible Histories was produced by CBBC and ran from 2009 to 2014.

It was based on Terry Deary’s best-selling books of the same name and was influential in the education of a generation of children.

A Brexit special edition of the show in 2020, featuring Baynton, was mired in controversy after including a sketch that suggested that Britain had produced little throughout history and had relied on imports.

Andrew Neil, who at the time was one of the corporation’s own presenters described it as “anti-British drivel of a high order” whilst James Cleverly, the Tory MP said that suggesting that things which did not originate in Britain could not be British was an argument that had been made by the BNP.

Baynton told the Oxford Union last month that the reaction to the sketch had been “a culture war thing”, Cherwell reported.

He said “We need to move on from being ashamed of our past. Shame has a really important function… guilt is a really important part of rearing a child.”

He added: “It is a grown up thing to live with shame. It doesn’t mean that I can’t have pride. [We can] hold seemingly contradictory things at the same moment.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “Horrible Histories is a comedy sketch show that uses a troupe of actors across a variety of roles and since it began on the BBC fifteen years ago, we have done a lot of work to increase diverse representation within the cast and we now explore a wider range of global history stories to authentically represent our audiences.”

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