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In the 30+ years since bumbling Blackadder and cunning Baldrick appeared on our TV screens, the show has lost none of its appeal. The writing is held up as a benchmark of virtually perfect comedy, the acting is exceptional and the storylines capture the zeitgeist perfectly (with Blackadder being responsible to a greater or lesser extent for all the troubles that beset Britain during the 430 year lifespan of the show), none more so than with the final episode of series four.
From the late 1400s (set during the reign of the fictional Richard IV) through the Elizabethan age, the Regency era and into the trenches of World War I, Blackadder has followed the fortunes (or misfortunes) of the eponymous protagonist, ably supported by the impeccably cast ensemble.
The first series was written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard ‘Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones and The Vicar of Dibley’ Curtis and produced by legendary producer John Lloyd. The budgets were huge and then-Controller of BBC1 Michael Grade was hesitant to sign off on a second series. When Ben Elton came on board, he and John Lloyd stripped the show back to basics and three years later, series two, with Blackadder as the nefarious miscreant and Baldrick as the stupidest man that has ever lived was broadcast.
Notwithstanding the 430 years between series one and series four, Blackadder is a TV show that has vast range, combining historical insight and analysis with fart gags, satire (a Ben Elton trademark) and pure, unadulterated wit and cynicism.
Ranked second behind Only Fools & Horses as Britain’s Best Sitcom in a TV poll, the show has universal appeal, on a par with Fawlty Towers (a show they were careful to avoid comparisons with) and Monty Python.
While series’ 1-3 focused more on slapstick, series four was darker, giving the audience an idea of the deprivations of trench life during WWI as well as the perceived incompetence and bumblings of the military’s hierarchy. The final episode has gone down in history as both rip-roaringly funny and exceptionally poignant where they finally go ‘over the top’ into no man’s land and are cut down in a hail of bullets. The slo-mo footage as well as the final still image fading from a muddy deathbed to a serene field of poppies overlaid by birdsong was both inspired and respectful.
The cast are routinely asked if a fifth series is likely and while Rowan Atkinson has said that if there was, he’d like it to be set either in Colditz with Blackadder as a POW, or during the ‘swinging sixties’ centred on a rock band called the Black Adder Five, it’s highly unlikely. Another idea mooted was that Baldrick had accidentally assassinated JFK…
What we have here is arguably Britain’s funniest and best loved TV show ever and for that Richard, Ben, Rowan and the rest of you, we thank you.
Captain Darling was originally called Captain Cartwright but Stephen Fry suggested changing the name on the basis that it’s a joke than NEVER gets tired.
Producer John Lloyd (or to give him his full name John Hardress Wilfred Lloyd CBE) is also responsible for British TV’s most enduring and popular television including Not the Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the mega-awesome QI.
The nervous tic Tim McInnerny developed for Captain Darling became second nature to him and took two months to go after filming finished!
The members of Lt. The Hon. George Colthurst St. Barleigh’s Trinity College Tiddlywinks team were George himself, Jocko, the Badger, Sticky, Bumfluff, Drippy, Strangely-Brown, Titch and Mr Floppy.
Rowan Atkinson met Richard Curtis and composer Howard Goodall at Oxford (Tim McInnerny also went there) and Fry and Laurie met at Cambridge, where producer John Lloyd went.
The dearth of British acting talent to have appeared in Blackadder is quite remarkable – Brian Blessed, Patsy Byrne, Helen Atkinson-Wood, Robbie Coltrane, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Mark Arden, Chris Barrie, Peter Cook, Tom Baker, Jim Broadbent, Miriam Margolyes, Warren Clarke and Geoffrey Palmer.
Some of our favourite Blackadder quotes…
Blackadder: Baldrick, believe me, eternity in the company of Beelzebub and all his hellish instruments of death will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me and this pencil if we can’t replace this dictionary.
George: I’m thick, you see. I’m as thick as the big-print version of The Complete Works of Charles Dickens.
Blackadder: I couldn’t be more petrified if a wild Rhinoceros had just come home from a hard day at the swamp and found me wearing his pyjamas, smoking his cigars and in bed with his wife.
General Melchett: If nothing else works, then a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.
Blackadder: Baldrick, I want you to take this and go out and buy a turkey so large, you’d think its mother had been rogered by an omnibus. I’m going to have a party, and no one’s invited but me!
Baldrick: My Lord, I have a cunning plan…
Lord Flashheart: Nursie, am I glad to see you or did someone put a CANOE in my pocket?!
Blackadder: Baldrick, you wouldn’t recognize a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on a harpsichord singing ‘subtle plans are here again’.
The Stars of Blackadder – Where Are They Now
Rowan Atkinson is one of Britain’s finest comedy talents. Since Blackadder, he has been Mr Bean and Johnny English. He played Inspector Fowler in The Thin Blue Line as well as Fagin in the West End production of Oliver! Married with two children, he has a passion for cars and owns a rare McLaren F1. He has appeared at the summit of Top Gear’s ‘Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car’ leaderboard but was dethroned by Friends star Matt LeBlanc.
Sir Tony Robinson
Post-Baldrick, he did some children’s programming but is best known for presenting archaeology show Time Team since 1994, as well as its various spin-offs. He is an accomplished voiceover performer and has narrated a number of audiobooks. A committed Labour Party member, he was knighted in 2013 for public and political service.
He took series three off because he didn’t want to be typecast (although guested in one episode) and returned as Captain Darling in four. He has had a steady if not spectacular film, TV and theatre career (including Iago at the Globe) and he is a patron of the Norwich Film Festival.
Miranda has had a glittering stage and screen career which has included one BAFTA award, two Golden Globe awards and two Academy Award nominations for her performances as Ingrid Fleming in Damage and Vivienne Haigh-Wood in Tom & Viv.
Oft-quoted, but he really is an English treasure. A writer, director, actor, raconteur, presenter, activist, journalist and broadcaster, the British love affair with Stephen Fry is as strong as it’s always been. He appeared with long-time collaborator Hugh Laurie throughout the 80s and 90s but also found time to star in Wilde, Peter’s Friends, Absolute Power, Blackadder, and dozens of documentaries, both light-hearted and hard-hitting. He has presented QI since 2003 and voiced the Harry Potter audiobooks. We love you Stephen!
Like his friend Fry, Hugh Laurie is also a polymath. He’s acted, written and directed and is also an accomplished and critically acclaimed blues musician. He’s most famous these days for playing Dr Gregory House in the hit-US TV show House where he reportedly earned $409,000 per episode! He’s married with three children and lives in London.