Amateur or professional, few students of Britain’s royal, political and constitutional history will be unaware of Dr David Starkey. With an extensive collection of literary and televisual credits, plus a famously oversized personality, he was for many years a giant among celebrity historians. His most prominent was his 2004 series Monarchy, followed by Magna Carta in 2015, but he can be traced back much earlier, appearing in The Trial of King Richard the Third in 1984. He has even been featured on the royal family’s own YouTube channel.
His career, though illustrious, has not been smooth sailing, for his character is notoriously abrasive and his reputation has been rocked by a string of ill-worded outbursts – in most notably in 2011 and 2015. His performance in directly teaching the youth was also rocky.
I was quite surprised, early in 2020, to see him interviewed on Akkad Daily. It taxed my mind to decide whether this pairing more represented Benjamin going up in the world or Starkey going down. Certainly it plummeted with great velocity that summer following a catastrophic episode with Darren Grimes, which resulted in many of his professional contracts being terminated and accolades withdrawn.
Given the severity of that latest offence, and given that he was seventy-five years old, one could have expected Starkey to vanish from public life altogether and slip quietly into retirement. For a few months that looked to be the case but then he began popping up again on various virtual conferences and current affairs broadcasts, suggesting there is still a place for him on the talking head circuit (well, the right-wing parts of it anyway).
A week ago he launched his own YouTube channel on which, seemingly alone, he gives lengthy speeches to his camera about his specialist subjects. Much of it recycles what he has already said in his earlier lectures and documentaries, some of which are of course no longer available. His motivation is not clear: it could simply be a charitable effort for the sake of public education (sort of a more sedate Crash Course) but then his website asks for monetary donations and boasts about the number of supporters he has in his “fight back”.
In between these was Charlie Brooker’s end of year mockumentary Death to 2020, in which Hugh Grant plays the historian Tennyson Foss. Judging by the hair, clothes, spectacles and voice I am fairly sure this is meant to be a pastiche of Starkey’s own interviews, although hints at the character’s backstory are clearly different.