Gordon Southern, Forum

Doing a complete history of the world in an hour, as Gordon Southern did, is obviously inherently self-defeating. The very idea evokes conceptual whiplash, and sounds highly dangerous for narrator and audience alike. Fully recognising the absurdity of his show’s theme, and despite fairly uncomfortable (read: stiflingly hot) conditions, Gordon Southern managed to cram it all (or a lot of it) in, with a deliriously rapidfire hybrid of educational material and broad historical slapstick.

After providing a smidgin of background about the origins of Homo sapiens, Southern launches into the rise of Western Civilisation with a manic fervour. The Roman Empire gets its due, of course, and we also get flashes of Greek culture and various titbits from the Ancient World. Slides appear and disappear at a dizzying pace. Civilisations rise and fall in around 45 seconds. It’s a little like being force-fed an entire semester of Ancient History in a single lesson, but far more pleasurable. We’re right in the middle of the Middle Ages before we know it, then out the other side. By the time I reached the present, I felt almost as if I’d personally lived through the preceding years.

Southern’s freewheeling, hell-for-leather tone only falters slightly when he reaches the twentieth century. Because we are closer to the traumatic events that happened in recent times, their horrors inevitably seem closer to us. Southern’s explanation of World Wars I and II, while undeniably clever, still ended up sounding a little flip. Still, Southern does his best not to let the humour overshadow the enormity of what he’s narrating, and occasional lapses in tone are inevitable when you’re sprinting through world history at such insane speeds. Southern has put an amazing amount of effort into his history lecture from hell (or perhaps heaven). You could do far worse than to begin your exploration of history with this hyper-caffeinated whistle-stop tour of absolutely everything.  TR

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