Hampton Court Palace and me – from 1970 to 2018

There are three periods of history I guess obsess the Boomer generation – the Romans, the Tudors and the Nazis. If you don’t believe me – check out most of the history channels and you’ll see I’m right. And when it comes to the Tudors, one monarch looms very large: Henry VIII.

In the 1970s, I was given a tatty old Victorian history book and by the age of ten could recite the six unfortunate wives of Henry VIII. In 1972, the actor Keith Mitchell played the king on his deathbed looking back over his life for a hit BBC series called, rather unimaginatively, Henry VIII and His Six Wives. I’m not sure I was allowed to view it on first transmission aged nine what with the beheadings and torture.

Nevertheless, my history-obsessed parents took me around various stately homes that included secret “priest holes” where Catholic priests would hide away during the Protestant Reformation. Those discovered could face the punishment of all traitors – to be hung, drawn and quartered. So – as a young child with an unhealthy love of ancient gore and villainy – I lapped these stories up.

Tony McMahon at Hampton Court Palace
Me at Hampton Court Palace in 1970

I’ve retained my Tudor obsession into middle age so I was delighted when an ITV programme – The Big Audition – invited me to play Henry VIII. They’d tracked me down through a history blog I run. And I got to dress up in a lovely but very heavy costume and wander around Parsons Green in London terrifying passers-by while Julie Walters commented on my new look.

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