The historian unravels all the lies about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Top marks!

Two years ago, Lucy Worsley delivered unto us the three-part series British History’s Biggest Fibs. She took us through the spin Henry VIII put on the Wars of the Roses and how Shakespeare took it and ran with it, helping to preserve big H’s not entirely unbiased account of it as one of the most attractive pieces in the national reliquary. She pointed out that the bloodless Glorious Revolution wasn’t so bloodless or glorious if you happened to be walking as a Scotsman or Irishman through the tumultuous year of 1688. She also showed us how the new, modern, caring ‘n’ sharing form of imperialism that created the Raj with loving Empress Vicky as the gentle polisher of the jewel in her crown … umm … wasn’t.

It was an opportune look, presented with customary brio by the historian, at the process of wish fulfilment, misdirection, confabulation and copper-bottomed lying that makes up an unknowable proportion of all the “facts” we think we have about the past and how it unfolded. Now – because, let’s face it, the time for programmes problematising national narratives and interrogating how they are wrought ain’t got any less ripe over the last 24 months – it is the turn of the United States.

In a move that will probably put her among the first up against the wall when Trump eventually finds the right combination of concrete slabs, metal slats and funding to build it, the first episode of American History’s Biggest Fibs investigated the traditional story Americans tell themselves about plucky colonial farmers unhooking George III’s greedy little tax fingers that were squeezing the life out of a land that yearned to be free in the American Revolution.

The standard version pitches it as a David and Goliath battle. Said plucky colonial farmers, armed with a musket apiece, set their faces against the professional British army and, with a little help from Paul Revere, General George Washington, God and Molly Pitcher, conquered it and brought about life, liberty (bells) and the pursuit of happiness for all, with a little time for high jinks in Boston Harbour along the way.

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