|Genre Period sitcom|
Country of origin United Kingdom
|Theme music composer Howard Goodall|
Original language(s) English
|Written by Richard CurtisRowan Atkinson (series 1)Ben Elton (series 2-4)|
Starring Rowan AtkinsonTony RobinsonTim McInnernyMiranda RichardsonStephen FryHugh Laurie
Blackadder is a series of four BBC1 period British sitcoms, along with several one-off installments. All television episodes starred Rowan Atkinson as the anti-hero Edmund Blackadder, and Tony Robinson as Blackadder's dogsbody, Baldrick. Each series was set in a different historical period, with the two protagonists accompanied by different characters, though several reappear in one series or another, for example Melchett (Stephen Fry) and Lord Flashheart (Rik Mayall).
- Series 1 The Black Adder
- Series 2 Blackadder II
- Series 3 Blackadder the Third
- Series 4 Blackadder Goes Forth
- Pilot episode
- Blackadder The Cavalier Years
- Blackadders Christmas Carol
- Blackadder Back Forth
- Series development
- Recurring cast
- Main cast
- Non recurring cast
- Guest cast
- Theme tune
- Home media
- VHS releases
The first series, The Black Adder, was written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, while subsequent episodes were written by Curtis and Ben Elton. The shows were produced by John Lloyd. In 2000, the fourth series, Blackadder Goes Forth, ranked at 16 in the "100 Greatest British Television Programmes", a list created by the British Film Institute. Also in the 2004 TV poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom", Blackadder was voted the second-best British sitcom of all time, topped by Only Fools and Horses. It was also ranked as the 20th-best TV show of all time by Empire magazine.
Although each series is set in a different era, all follow the "misfortunes" of Edmund Blackadder (played by Atkinson), who in each is a member of a British family dynasty present at many significant periods and places in British history. It is implied in each series that the Blackadder character is a descendant of the previous one (the end theme lyrics of series 2, episode "Heads", specify that he is the great-grandson of the previous), although it is never specified how or when any of the Blackadders (who are usually single and not in a relationship) managed to father children.
As the generations progress, each Blackadder becomes increasingly clever and perceptive, while the family's social status steadily erodes. However, each Blackadder remains a cynical, cowardly opportunist, maintaining and increasing his own status and fortunes, regardless of his surroundings.
The life of each Blackadder is also entwined with his servant, each from the Baldrick family line (played by Tony Robinson). Each generation acts as the dogsbody to his respective Blackadder. They decrease in intelligence (and in personal-hygiene standards) as their masters' intellect increases. Each Blackadder and Baldrick is also saddled with tolerating the presence of a dim-witted aristocrat. This role was taken in the first two series by Lord Percy Percy, played by Tim McInnerny; with Hugh Laurie playing the role in the third and fourth series, as Prince George, Prince Regent; and Lieutenant George, respectively.
Each series was set in a different period of British history, beginning in 1485 and ending in 1917, and comprised six half-hour episodes. The first series, made in 1983, was called The Black Adder and was set in the fictional reign of "Richard IV". The second series, Blackadder II (1986), was set during the reign of Elizabeth I. Blackadder the Third (1987) was set during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the reign of George III, and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989) was set in 1917 in the trenches of the Great War.
Series 1: The Black Adder
The Black Adder, the first series of Blackadder, was written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson and produced by John Lloyd. It originally aired on BBC1 from 15 June 1983 to 20 July 1983, and was a joint production with the Australian Seven Network.
Set in 1485 at the end of the British Middle Ages, the series is written as an alternative history in which King Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth Field only to be mistaken for someone else and murdered, and is succeeded by Richard IV (Brian Blessed), one of the Princes in the Tower. The series follows the exploits of Richard IV's unfavoured second son Edmund, the Duke of Edinburgh (who calls himself "The Black Adder") in his various attempts to increase his standing with his father and his eventual quest to overthrow him.
Conceived while Atkinson and Curtis were working on Not the Nine O'Clock News, the series dealt comically with a number of medieval issues in Britain: witchcraft, Royal succession, European relations, the Crusades, and the conflict between the Church and the Crown. Along with the secret history, many historical events portrayed in the series were anachronistic (for example, the last Crusade to the Holy Land ended in 1291); this dramatic licence would continue in the subsequent Blackadders. The filming of the series was highly ambitious, with a large cast and much location shooting. The series also featured Shakespearean dialogue, often adapted for comic effect; the end credits featured the words "Additional Dialogue by William Shakespeare".
Series 2: Blackadder II
Blackadder II is set in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), who is portrayed by Miranda Richardson. The principal character is Edmund, Lord Blackadder, the great-grandson of the original Black Adder. During the series, he regularly deals with the Queen, her obsequious Lord Chamberlain Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry)—his rival—and the Queen's demented former nanny Nursie (Patsy Byrne).
Following the BBC's request for improvements (and a severe budget reduction), several changes were made. The second series was the first to establish the familiar Blackadder character: cunning, shrewd, and witty, in sharp contrast to the first series' bumbling Prince Edmund. To make the show more cost-effective, it was also shot with virtually no outdoor scenes (the first series was shot largely on location) and several frequently used indoor sets, such as the Queen's throne room and Blackadder's front room.
A quote from this series ranked number three in a list of the top 25 television "putdowns" of the last 40 years by the Radio Times magazine: "The eyes are open, the mouth moves, but Mr. Brain has long since departed, hasn't he, Percy?"
Series 3: Blackadder the Third
Blackadder the Third is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period known as the Regency. In the series, Edmund Blackadder Esquire is the butler to The Prince Regent, the Prince of Wales (the prince is played by Hugh Laurie as a complete fop and idiot). Despite Edmund's respected intelligence and abilities, he has no personal fortune to speak of, apart from his frequently-fluctuating wage packet (as well, it seems, from stealing and selling off the Prince's socks) from the Prince: "If I'm running short of cash, all I have to do is go upstairs and ask Prince Fat-Head for a rise."
As well as Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson in their usual roles, this series starred Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent, and Helen Atkinson-Wood as Mrs. Miggins. The series features Dr. Samuel Johnson (Robbie Coltrane), William Pitt the Younger (Simon Osborne), the French Revolution (featuring Chris Barrie, Nigel Planer and Tim McInnerny as the Scarlet Pimpernel), over-the-top theatrical actors, a squirrel-hating cross-dressing highwayman (Miranda Richardson), and a duel with the Duke of Wellington (Stephen Fry).
Series 4: Blackadder Goes Forth
This series is set in 1917, on the Western Front in the trenches of the First World War. Another "big push" is planned, and Captain Blackadder's one goal is to avoid being killed, but his schemes always land him back in the trenches. Blackadder is joined by his batman Private S. Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and idealistic Edwardian twit Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie). General Melchett (Stephen Fry) rallies his troops from a French château thirty-five miles from the front, where he is aided and abetted by his assistant, Captain Kevin Darling (Tim McInnerny), pencil-pusher supreme and Blackadder's nemesis, whose name is played on for maximum comedic value.
The series' tone is somewhat darker than the other Blackadders; it details the deprivations of trench warfare as well as the incompetence and life-wasting strategies of the top brass. For example, Baldrick is reduced to making coffee from mud and cooking rats, while General Melchett hatches a plan for the troops to walk very slowly toward the German lines, because "it'll be the last thing Fritz will expect."
The final episode, "Goodbyeee", is known for being extraordinarily poignant for a comedy—especially the final scene, which sees the main characters (Blackadder, Baldrick, George, and Darling) finally going "over the top" and charging off into the fog and smoke of no man's land to die. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000 and voted for by industry professionals, Blackadder Goes Forth was placed 16th.
The Blackadder pilot was shot but never aired on terrestrial TV in the UK (although some scenes were shown in the 25th anniversary special Blackadder Rides Again). One notable difference in the pilot, as in many pilots, is the casting. Baldrick is played not by Tony Robinson, but by Philip Fox. Another significant difference is that the character of Prince Edmund presented in the pilot is much closer to the intelligent, conniving Blackadder of the later series than the snivelling, weak buffoon of the original. Set in the year 1582, the script of the pilot is roughly the same as the episode "Born to be King", albeit with some different jokes, with some lines appearing in other episodes of the series.
Blackadder: The Cavalier Years
This special, set in the English Civil War, was shown as part of Comic Relief's Red Nose Day on Friday 5 February 1988. The 15-minute episode is set in November 1648, during the last days of the Civil War. Sir Edmund Blackadder and his servant, Baldrick, are the last two men loyal to the defeated King Charles I of England (played by Stephen Fry, portrayed as a soft-spoken, ineffective, slightly dim character, with the voice and mannerisms of Charles I's namesake, the current Prince of Wales). However, due to a misunderstanding between Oliver Cromwell (guest-star Warren Clarke) and Baldrick, the king is arrested and sent to the Tower of London. The rest of the episode revolves around Blackadder's attempts to save the king, as well as improve his standing.
Blackadder's Christmas Carol
The second special was broadcast on Friday 23 December 1988. In a twist on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder is the "kindest and loveliest" man in England. The Spirit of Christmas shows Blackadder the contrary antics of his ancestors and descendants, and reluctantly informs him that if he turns evil his descendants will enjoy power and fortune, while if he remains the same a future Blackadder will live shamefully subjugated to a future incompetent Baldrick. This remarkable encounter causes him to proclaim, "Bad guys have all the fun", and adopt the personality with which viewers are more familiar.
Blackadder: Back & Forth
Blackadder: Back & Forth was originally shown in the Millennium Dome in 2000, followed by a screening on Sky One in the same year (and later on BBC1). It is set on the turn of the millennium, and features Lord Blackadder placing a bet with his friends – modern versions of Queenie (Miranda Richardson), Melchett (Stephen Fry), George (Hugh Laurie) and Darling (Tim McInnerny) – that he has built a working time machine. While this is intended as a clever con trick, the machine, surprisingly, works, sending Blackadder and Baldrick back to the Cretaceous period, where they manage to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs, through the use of Baldrick's best-worst-and-only pair of underpants as a weapon against a hungry T. Rex. Finding that Baldrick has forgotten to write dates on the machine's dials, the rest of the film follows their attempts to find their way back to 1999, often creating huge historical anomalies in the process that must be corrected before the end. The film includes cameo appearances from Kate Moss and Colin Firth.
Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis developed the idea for the sitcom while working on Not the Nine O'Clock News. Eager to avoid comparisons to the critically acclaimed Fawlty Towers, they proposed the idea of a historical sitcom. An unaired pilot episode was made in 1982, and a six episode series was commissioned. The budget for the series was considerable, with much location shooting particularly at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland and the surrounding countryside in February 1983. The series also used large casts of extras, horses and expensive medieval-style costumes. Atkinson has said about the making of the first series:
The first series was odd, it was very extravagant. It cost a million pounds for the six programmes ... [which] was a lot of money to spend ... It looked great, but it wasn't as consistently funny as we would have liked.
Due to the high cost of the first series, the then-controller of programming of BBC1, Michael Grade, was reluctant to sign off a second series without major improvements and cost cutting to be made to the show, leaving a gap of three years between the two series. Atkinson did not wish to continue writing for the second series.
A chance meeting between Richard Curtis and comedian Ben Elton led to the decision to collaborate on a new series of Blackadder. Recognising the main faults of the first series, Curtis and Elton agreed that Blackadder II would be a studio-only production (along with the inclusion of a live audience during recording, instead of showing the episodes to one after taping). Besides adding a greater comedy focus, Elton suggested a major change in character emphasis: Baldrick would become the stupid sidekick, while Edmund Blackadder evolved into a cunning sycophant. This led to the familiar set-up that was maintained in the following series.
Only in the Back & Forth millennium special was the shooting once again on location, because this was a production with a budget estimated at £3 million, and was a joint venture between Tiger Aspect, Sky Television, the New Millennium Experience Company and the BBC, rather than the BBC alone.
Each series tended to feature the same set of regular actors in different period settings, although throughout the four series and specials, only Blackadder and Baldrick were constant characters. Several regular cast members recurred as characters with similar names, implying, like Blackadder, that they were descendants.
Various actors have appeared in more than one of the Blackadder series and/or specials. These are:
Ben Elton's arrival after the first series heralded the more frequent recruitment of comic actors from the famed "alternative" era for guest appearances, including Robbie Coltrane, Rik Mayall (who had appeared in the final episode of the first series as "Mad Gerald"), Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Mark Arden, Stephen Frost, Chris Barrie and Jeremy Hardy. Elton himself played an anarchist in Blackadder the Third.
Gabrielle Glaister played Bob — an attractive girl who poses as a man - in both series 2 and 4. Rik Mayall plays Lord Flashheart, a vulgar friend in his first appearance and then a successful rival of Blackadder in a later episode of series 2 and 4. He also played a decidedly Flashheart-like Robin Hood in Back & Forth. Lee Cornes also appeared in an episode of all three Curtis-Elton series. He appeared as a guard in the episode "Chains" of Blackadder II; as the poet Shelley in the episode "Ink and Incapability' of Blackadder the Third; and as firing squad soldier Private Fraser in the episode "Corporal Punishment" of Blackadder Goes Forth.
More "establishment"-style actors, some at the veteran stage of their careers, were also recruited for roles. These included Peter Cook, John Grillo, Simon Jones, Tom Baker, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Paddick, Frank Finlay, Kenneth Connor, Bill Wallis, Ronald Lacey, Roger Blake, Denis Lill, Warren Clarke and Geoffrey Palmer, who played Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in "Goodbyeee", the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Miriam Margolyes played three different guest roles: The Spanish Infanta in The Queen of Spain's Beard, Lady Whiteadder in Beer, and Queen Victoria in Blackadder's Christmas Carol.
Unusually for a sitcom based loosely on factual events and in the historical past, a man was recruited for one episode essentially to play himself. Political commentator Vincent Hanna played a character billed as "his own great-great-great grandfather" in the episode "Dish and Dishonesty" of Blackadder the Third. Hanna was asked to take part because the scene was of a by-election in which Baldrick was a candidate and, in the style of modern television, Hanna gave a long-running "live" commentary of events at the count (and interviewed candidates and election agents) to a crowd through the town hall window.
Howard Goodall's theme tune has the same melody throughout all the series, but is played in roughly the style of the period in which it is set. It is performed mostly with trumpets and timpani in The Black Adder, the fanfares used suggesting typical medieval court fanfares; with a combination of recorder, string quartet and electric guitar in Blackadder II; on oboe, cello and harpsichord (in the style of a minuet) for Blackadder the Third; by The Band of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment in Blackadder Goes Forth; sung by carol singers in Blackadder's Christmas Carol; and by an orchestra in Blackadder: The Cavalier Years and Blackadder: Back & Forth.
In 2000, the fourth series, Blackadder Goes Forth, ranked at 16 in the "100 Greatest British Television Programmes", a list created by the British Film Institute. In 2004, a BBC TV poll for "Britain's Best Sitcom", Blackadder was voted the second best British sitcom of all time, topped by Only Fools and Horses. It was also ranked as the 20th Best TV Show of All Time by Empire magazine.
Despite regular statements denying any plans for a fifth series, cast members are regularly asked about the possibility of a new series.
In January 2005, Tony Robinson told ITV's This Morning that Rowan Atkinson was more keen than he has been in the past to do a fifth series, set in the 1960s (centred on a rock band called the "Black Adder Five", with Baldrick – a.k.a. 'Bald Rick' – as the drummer). Robinson in a stage performance 1 June 2007, again mentioned this idea, but in the context of a movie. One idea mentioned by Curtis was that it was Baldrick who had accidentally assassinated John F. Kennedy. However, aside from a brief mention in June 2005, there have been no further announcements from the BBC that a new series is being planned. Furthermore, in November 2005, Rowan Atkinson told BBC Breakfast that, although he would very much like to do a new series set in Colditz or another prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, something which both he and Stephen Fry reiterated at the end of Blackadder Rides Again, the chances of it happening are extremely slim.
There were a couple of ideas that had previously floated for the fifth series. Batadder was intended to be a parody of Batman with Baldrick as the counterpart of Robin (suggested by John Lloyd). This idea eventually came to surface as part of the Comic Relief sketch "Spider-Plant Man" in 2005, with Atkinson as the title hero, Robinson as Robin, Jim Broadbent as Batman and Rachel Stevens as Mary Jane. Star Adder was to be set in space in the future (suggested by Atkinson), though this too was touched upon in Blackadder's Christmas Carol.
On 10 April 2007, Hello! reported that Atkinson was moving forward with his ideas for a fifth series. He said, "I like the idea of him being a prisoner of war in Colditz. That would have the right level of authority and hierarchy which is apparent in all the Blackadders."
A post on BlackAdderHall.com by Ben Elton in early 2007 said that Blackadder would return in some form, whether it be a TV series or movie. Elton has since not given any more information on the putative Blackadder 5.
During an interview in August 2007 about his movie Mr. Bean's Holiday, Atkinson was asked about the possibility of a further Blackadder series, to which the simple reply "No, no chance" was given:"There was a plan for a film set in the Russian revolution, a very interesting one called The Red Adder. He would have been a lieutenant in the Secret Police. Then the revolution happened and at the end he is in the same office doing the same job but just the colours on his uniform have changed. It was quite a sweet idea and we got quite a long way with it but in the end it died a death."
Stephen Fry has expressed the view that, since the series went out on such a good "high", a film might not be a good idea.
During his June 2007 stage performance, chronicled on the Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out DVD, Robinson states that, after filming the Back & Forth special, the general idea was to reunite for another special in 2010. Robinson jokingly remarked that Hugh Laurie's success on House may make that difficult.
At the end of Blackadder Rides Again, Robinson asked Tim McInnerny if he would do another series and he responded "no", because he thought people would not want to see them as they are now and would rather remember them for how they were. In the same documentary, Rowan Atkinson voiced his similar view; 'Times past; that's what they were!' However, Miranda Richardson and Tony Robinson expressed enthusiasm towards the idea of a series set in the Wild West, whilst John Lloyd favoured an idea for a series with a Neanderthal Blackadder. Lastly, Stephen Fry suggested a series set in a prisoner of war camp during World War II, but later remarked that "perhaps it's best to leave these things as a memory."
On 28 November 2012, Rowan Atkinson reprised the role at the "We are most amused" comedy gala for the Prince's Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. He was joined by Tony Robinson as Baldrick. The sketch involved Blackadder as CEO of Melchett, Melchett and Darling bank facing an enquiry over the banking crisis.
In August 2015, Tony Robinson said in an interview "I do think a new series of Blackadder is on the cards. I have spoken to virtually all the cast about this now. The only problem is Hugh [Laurie]'s fee. He's a huge star now."
All series and many of the specials are available on DVD and video. Many are also available on BBC audio cassette. As of 2008, a "Best of BBC" edition box set is available containing all four major series together with Blackadder's Christmas Carol and Back & Forth. All four series and the Christmas special are also available for download on iTunes.
5 February 1990, BBC Enterprises Ltd released the first series on two single videos.
2 October 1989, BBC Enterprises Ltd released the second series on two single videos.
6 March 1989, BBC Enterprises Ltd released the third series on two single videos.
10 September 1990, BBC Enterprises Ltd released the fourth and final series on two single videos.
On 7 September 1992, all eight single Blackadder video releases were re-released as four "complete" double VHS releases. The four entire series videos were re-released as single video releases on 2 October 1995.
On 5 January 1998, five episodes of the first two series were released on a 15 rated compiled video by BBC Worldwide Ltd.
On 4 November 1991, Blackadder's Christmas Carol was released on a single video release rated PG (Cat. No. BBCV 4646)