Adrian Edmondson on time travel

In honour of Adrian Edmondson's new book Tilly and the Time Machine, we grilled the comedian on what period he'd most like to travel back to, and who he'd bring home for dinner...

If you had a time machine, what period would you most like to visit?

Ages ago I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In there they have two rooms dedicated to American landscape paintings. Most of them are painted by or about pioneers discovering a new land. I’ve also read quite a lot about the ‘Plymouth Plantation’ and the early settlers. It’s a period I think I would enjoy. The North East of America was largely uninhabited and there’s such a feeling of wonder and discovery in those paintings.

What would you do if you could change something in history or in the future?

I think religion is the source of most of the problems in the world, so I would go back to each of them in turn and nip them all in the bud. I’d also take Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking back to about the dawn of man, so that science and reason could take hold much earlier.

Tilly introduces Queen Victoria to sausages on sticks. What would you give to her?

I read quite a bit about Queen Victoria whilst writing the book. Quite frankly she doesn’t seem very nice, but, as with most people, this probably stems from her own unhappiness. It’s quite obvious she never dealt with the loss of [her husband] Albert, so I’d give her some books on Stoic philosophy.

David Bowie. My hero. Obviously I’d like to talk to him about the music, but most of all I’d like to clear up how to pronounce his name


Who from the past, present or future would you invite to your time travellers’ dinner party?

I’d love to meet Napoleon. He was undoubtedly a genius, but he made some catastrophic decisions too – like the invasion of Russia. I’d like to understand how he could be so brilliant and so wrong at the same time.

Boadicea. A strong woman in an age not associated with strong women. I’m writing a second book for children at the moment about a very small boy called Henry who runs away with a talking Shetland pony called Boadicea – she’s very opinionated, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Joshua Slocum. He was the first man to sail single-handedly around the world. He set off in 1895, in a tub of a boat he’d built himself, and it took him three years. I’ve read his account of the journey several times – he’s a very good story-teller, and he saw the whole world at an intriguing time in history.

Marilyn Monroe. She’s obviously very beautiful, but she’s also a very underrated actress. I think her looks got in the way of people seeing how good an actress she was. Misfits is one of my favourite films. I think the trouble she caused on film sets was part of how she delivered what she did, and I’d love to talk to her about that. 

David Bowie. My hero. Obviously I’d like to talk to him about the music, but most of all I’d like to clear up how to pronounce his name. At my school we pronounced the middle vowel ‘ow’ as in ‘Ow, I’ve hurt my leg’.  From the 80s on people seemed to pronounce it ‘oh’ as in the word ‘snowy’. And Bowie himself is on (written) record saying it should rhyme with the inventor of the Bowie knife, Jim Bowie, but in America that is pronounced ‘oo’ as in ‘Louie’…

Which time travelling books/films/fiction/songs really stand out for you?

This may seem odd, in that I have written a book about a time machine, but I’m not really a fan of science fiction. The time machine in my book is very much a device for examining a problem in the present – namely, the different attitudes Tilly and her dad have to how to remember her mother. 

Although, thinking about it, Silent Running is one of my favourite films – the one about the last few plant specimens being looked after on giant bio domes floating around space. Perhaps I enjoy the fact that it’s possible!

What would you put in your time capsule?

Chocolate digestives, a mandolin, a bottle of Harvey’s Sussex Best, the Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, an Exeter City FC scarf, and a spare pair of underpants.

More about the author

Tilly and the Time Machine

Adrian Edmondson (and others)

Tilly is seven and a half - and about to make history.

When Tilly's dad builds a time machine in the shed there's only one place she really wants to go: back to her sixth birthday party, when she ate too many cupcakes and her mummy was still here.

But then something goes wrong! Tilly's dad gets stuck in the past and only she can save him . . . Will they make it back in time for tea?

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