A woman in a sports coat stands in a field with ruins behind her in the distance.

There’s No Better History Teacher on TV Than This Terrible Fake Reporter

If you’ve never heard the words, “It’s hard to believe I’m walking through the ruins of the first ever city because I’m not. That’s in Iraq,” that means you’ve probably never been introduced to Philomena Cunk. And you’re missing out.

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The clip featuring that quote has been making the rounds on TikTok, as a template for users to make videos where they say that they’re doing something when, actually, they’re not. Other clips have also become popular on social media, with Cunk asking important historical questions like, “Which was more culturally significant? The Renaissance or Single Ladies by Beyoncé?”

Cunk clips have been liked and shared thousands of times. Everyone loves Philomena Cunk, including me.

@bbc

Philomena Cunk is back and asking all the big, important questions #CunkOnEarth #BBCiPlayer #PhilomenaCunk

♬ original sound – BBC

While these clips are funny, the source material is even more hilarious.

They come from programs brought to our screens by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. The character, Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan), first appeared in the U.K. on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe and now has had her own spin-off shows Cunk on Britain and Cunk on Earth—the latter of which premiered on BBC Two last fall and hit Netflix in January 2023.

The belly-laughter-inducing character is an ill-informed reporter who, despite her mispronunciations (like Henry of Eight) and extremely false facts (no, Aristotle did not, in fact, coin the adage “Dance like no one’s watching”), actually gives audiences really informative lessons on history and Earth in half-hour mockumentary-style episodes.

I’m quite a big history buff already but I’ve actually learned a lot from the show—and I haven’t even fully watched both of the series yet. If the idea of a history show daunts you or bores you and you’re hesitant to watch, I really encourage you to give this a chance. With Philomena not always being the brightest, topics are broken down into easy-to-digest concepts that still allow you to have all the facts.

Despite Charlie Brooker being the one to write the show, Diane Morgan really makes Cunk what she is. Her performance is truly something else. She interviews real experts in the fields she’s exploring, and it’s not clear just how in they are on this joke—though they themselves, and their discomfort, are never the butt of that joke. The patience with which they answer Cunk’s ludicrous, innocently ignorant questions (Did Egyptians build the pyramids from the bottom up or the top down?) is both hilarious and completely precious.

Morgan told the Evening Standard in 2018 that she preferred performing as Cunk to being herself. “Nothing you can say is wrong and you can do away with social niceties. You can do exactly what you want. It’s really freeing, I don’t need to worry. I prefer being her than me. I get a list of questions but you never know how it will go — it’s my favourite bit as there are less lines to learn.”

We don’t know if we’ll get another series featuring her, especially as it’s only just launched on Netflix worldwide, but I really hope we do.

(featured image: Jonathan Browning/Netflix)


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Author
Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock is a UK-based entertainment journalist who talks incessantly about her thoughts on pop culture. She can often be found with her headphones on listening to an array of music, scrolling through social media, at the cinema with a large popcorn, or laying in bed as she binges the latest TV releases. She has almost a year of experience and her core beat is digital culture.