Greg Jenner Q&A: “People see me coming and hear the Crazy Frog ringtone”

The historian talks BoJack Horseman, the problematic 19th-century actor Edmund Kean, and John Bew's Citizen Clem.

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Greg Jenner was born in Kent in 1982 and is the historical consultant on the TV series “Horrible Histories”. His “Homeschool ­History” lessons were launched in April as part of the BBC’s lockdown education drive.

What’s your earliest memory?

As a child, my parents shielded me from the corrupting influence of sugar. Then a neighbour who was babysitting me gave me a Milkybar. I still remember that creamy, saccharine jolt of deliciousness. 

Who are your heroes?

Indiana Jones as a kid and Eddie Izzard as a teen, but heroes are best left to the Marvel Universe. I’d prefer real people to stay frustratingly complex.

What book last changed your thinking?

Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads made me realise I don’t know enough about most of the planet. That was a humbling shock. I’ve been adding more global history into everything I’ve done since. 

Which political figure do you look up to?

I read John Bew’s excellent study of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem, and came away impressed. Quiet competence is underrated. Though I’m unconvinced by the moustache.  

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The life of the hilariously problematic 19th-century actor Edmund Kean, who is one of my favourite historical celebrities even though he was an absolute bellend. 

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d go back to 1961 to watch Spurs win the league and cup double – it’s never going to happen in my lifetime.  

What TV show could you not live without?

I’ve saved the final series of BoJack Horseman as a reward for getting through all my deadlines. I realise it’s absurd, but I demand the right to keep not watching a show because I love it too much. 

Who would paint your portrait?

Joshua Reynolds is a bit too dead, sadly, so I’d go with Phil Galloway, whose paintings of modern footballers depicted as 1960s pop icons make me smile. 

What’s your theme tune?

I’d love it to be the opening music to Brooklyn 99. Alas, others probably see me coming and hear the Crazy Frog ringtone. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Work with better, cleverer, funnier people. Ideally, you’ll learn from their example, but, if not, at least you’ll never be bored. It’s worked for me so far.

What’s currently bugging you?

I’ve still not met Michael Palin. 

What single thing would make your life better?

Financial security. Or a bouncy castle. Either is fine.

When were you happiest?

Last August, when our daughter was born. She arrived after five years of infertility, three miscarriages, six rounds of IVF, three months of horrible morning sickness for my wife, and prolonged grief. But she was instantly the best thing in the world.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Neuroscientist – I’m fascinated by why people do things. 

Are we all doomed?

Donald Trump is still the president of the US, so yeah, seems probable. 

Greg Jenner’s podcasts “Homeschool History” and “You’re Dead To Me” are available on BBC Sounds. His book “Dead Famous” is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

This article appears in the 12 June 2020 issue of the New Statesman, A world in revolt

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