THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) is one of my favourite poems to teach. Narrative poetry provides ample room for creativity to flourish, to spark imagination and provide a snapshot of other worlds and lives. Top of my list is always this, but swiftly followed by The Lady of Shalott (Tennyson), The Listeners (De La Mare) and The Raven (Poe) for their added layers of mystery, passion and fear. Each in their own way intense and satisfying to teach, particularly when you note the comprehension dawning on a child’s face as each story unfurls. I will always maintain, such inspiration and quality generates some of the highest quality writing my classes will produce – in any genre.
However, The Highwayman always holds a particular place in my heart – perhaps because it opens up all manner of comedic opportunities. One of my earliest encounters with such a gentleman was in the guise of Monty Python’s deranged example, Dennis Moore – a lupin stealing fool who can’t quite grasp the concept of robbing the rich to feed the poor. Complete with cheesy theme tune (quite similar to that of the typical Robin Hood theme) the ridiculousness of it all could not but entrance me. To add to this, came my Blackadder education and the marvellous talents of Miranda Richardson. Known famously for her immature portrayal of the Virgin Queen, she also made an appearance in the third series as yet another unconventional squirrel shooting Highwayman – or highwaygal I suppose! Being possibly some of the finest British comedy, I felt it was only fair to share these variations of daylight robbers with my classes – strictly age appropriate clips obviously – but they helped to provide a little more context and understanding to my pupils. Yes they are silly, but surely silly is just what being a child should be about! In all seriousness though, it did help open up discussions as to the purpose of a highwayman, what drove them to such deeds and how Noyes’ portrayal was in itself unconventional due to the reliance on love and company.
So how happy was I today when I realised I had another clip to add to my teaching repertoire?! This time something slightly more age appropriate and a lot more historically accurate, but just as entertaining. Yup, those fabulous creatures over at the BBC have launched their third series of Horrible Histories with yet more brilliant lyrical witticisms which are both educational AND silly! The first in the series teaches us a little more about Dick Turpin . . .
This new series promises to be just as wonderful as the previous two with additional skits based on contemporary programming such as ‘Historical Master Chef’. The talents in this show are utterly wasted on children – but I do think they were made with the additional adult audience in mind. And they are set to make a firm fixture in my history/literacy teaching in the months to come! Thank you Terry Deary, and thank you Horrible Histories!