If your idea of the best possible time isn't Danny Dyer on horseback, jousting a watermelon and shouting at it to "Get hold of that," we're fundamentally different people and I recommend you stop reading now. If, however, you are of sound mind and therefore recognise that Danny Dyer – he of Eastenders, he of Football Factory, he of "them slags" – getting, in his words, "Vikinged up out my brain" is the highest value television entertainment we could possibly hope for in Britain in 2019, then I'd like to welcome you. Hi. You're home.
On Wednesday night (the 24th of January), BBC1 aired the first episode of Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family in its prestigious 9PM slot. The show sees Danny tracing his resplendent family tree (in 2016, he discovered on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are that he’s descended from King Edward III) back as far as possible, and then – here’s the good bit – living as his ancestors might have. This basically means we get hours of footage of him wearing stupid outfits, pretending to command a Viking army ("Let’s go and have a tear up with the Normandy mob, let’s have it) and, while surveying the UK atop Dover Castle, declaring, "I own the lot."
It’s hard to cut down to a highlights reel, because when you’re making a show where Danny Dyer eats traditionally made Viking cheese and says it tastes "like Philadelphia", every second is, verily, a highlight. But I have gathered here a selection of my favourite bits, to preserve in time the moment the UK got its new best history presenter. David Starkey? Fuck off out of it: there’s a new Conqueror in town.
"That’s it boys, row. ROW."
Danny’s family tree is traced back to a Viking called Rollo, who lived in the 9th century. This, obviously, is a great excuse to send him to Sweden and stick him on a boat with a load of rowing lads while wearing a helmet. He joins a group of Viking LARPers who show him how to fight, before cooking him a traditional Viking meal, which leads to a phenomenal exchange where he’s basically just identifying different vegetables but somehow, simply because of his Danny Dyer-ness, makes it sound like he's offering carrots outside. "Look, that’s a parsnip. All over it."
The segment ends with him stood at the front of a mini longboat, sounding like the boss of a firm getting the lads ready for an away day at Chelsea – which, to be fair, is basically all a Viking king was anyway. "That’s it, boys, row. ROW. Here we go. Yes. Row. Go on, stick them oars right in. There you go, look at that. Proper."
"I, Danny Dyer, 30 times great grandson of William the Conqueror, have got the hump."
You know when something is so funny you can’t even laugh but are instead just frozen in the moment because you brain is trying to process what it has just seen? That was what happened to me when I watched Danny Dyer on the back of a horse learning to joust, with a spear in his hand, declaring, "I, Danny Dyer, 30 times great grandson of William the Conqueror, have got the hump with an Anglo-Saxon watermelon, and it’s gonna get it."
The background here is that after receiving some royal coinage (with his face on one side and the West Ham badge on the other, of course) in the style of his next ancestor, William the Conqueror, Danny trips back to the 11th century to live as William did. Hearing that the BAFTAs have been in touch to give the jousting segment a late-entry Best Film nomination.
"Have you pissed on it, Daniel?"
There’s nothing I can say to make this bit (when Danny dresses up as Henry II, who he’s also related to) funnier than it already is.
"You could see God plotting up in here"
Danny Dyer, like onions and ogres, has layers, and the last bit of Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family peels some away, because it’s actually weirdly touching. He goes to Paris to explore the life of Louis IX of France (his 26 times great-grandfather), who was so religious he self-flagellated every day. Inside Notre Dame cathedral, Danny’s shown a tunic worn by Louis, and he genuinely looks quite overwhelmed as he exhales "Fackkkinell."
In a chapel inside the cathedral, he remains overcome: "I don’t think I’ve ever been in a building that’s more godlike, where you feel like you could see God plotting up in here." He looks up at the ornate stained glass, as an enthusiastic historian named Emily beams at him, and delivers the line of the episode: "If God was gonna have some windows, they’d be his windows."
There’s been some chat about how Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family represents a dumbed down version of history programming, but that’s elitist bullshit. There hasn’t been a factual history programme so accessible and also just fucking funny in years. If anything, this is the direction the BBC, and everyone else, should be taking from now on. All hail Danny Dyer, descendent of kings, jouster of watermelons, supreme haver of it.