Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Blackadder is the collective name for a series of British sitcoms made by the BBC, plus several one-off episodes, often for the television charity Comic Relief. The first series was written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson; subsequent series were written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. The shows were produced by John Lloyd, and starred Rowan Atkinson as the eponymous protagonist, Edmund Blackadder, and Tony Robinson as his sidekick, Baldrick.
Four series of six half-hour episodes were made, each series set in a different period of British history. The first series was called The Black Adder and was made in 1983; this was followed by Blackadder II in 1985, Blackadder the Third in 1987, and finally Blackadder Goes Forth in 1989. In addition to the series themselves, three specials were also made: "Blackadder: The Cavalier Years" appeared as a 15 minute insert in the 1988 Comic Relief Night; Blackadder's Christmas Carol was a 1988 Christmas special which lasted for 45 minutes; and Blackadder: Back & Forth was a 30 minute film originally shown in a special cinema at the Millennium Dome during 2000, and later broadcast by Sky and the BBC. A pilot episode was filmed in 1982, but has never been shown on television.
In January 2005, Tony Robinson told ITV's This Morning that Rowan Atkinson is more keen than he has been in the past to do a fifth series, set in the 1960s. However, the BBC stated that there were no plans for a comeback.
Developments over the series
It is implied that in each series the Blackadder character is a (distant) descendant of the previous one. With each observed generation, Blackadder's social standing is reduced, from prince, to nobleman, to royal butler, to army captain; and by the end, in the last episode of the last series, nothing more than cannon-fodder. However, he concurrently goes from an incompetent fool (in the first series) to an ever more cunning and devious genius.
The Macbeth-esque witches, in "The Foretelling" (1.1), thinking he is someone else, promise one day Blackadder will be King and, in "Bells" (2.1), the 'wise woman' says "thou plottest Edmund: thou wouldst be King!". In the first series, Edmund does become King for less than a minute, but then dies after succumbing to some poisoned wine. In the second series, Blackadder comes very close to marrying Elizabeth I but fails. At the end of the third series, Blackadder assumes the role of Prince Regent after the real prince is killed in a duel with the Duke of Wellington, and (presumably, though not definitely) goes on to assume the identity of George IV. After the continual decline in status through the series, Blackadder, or at least the descendant of the original, finally becomes King of the United Kingdom in Blackadder: Back & Forth. A Grand Admiral Blackadder of the far future is also seen in the Christmas special, and his status further rises when he manages to achieve control of the entire universe upon marrying Queen Asphyxia XIX.
Similarities over the series
Each series tended to feature the same set of actors in different period settings, retaining roughly the same class divisions; thus Stephen Fry played the mild-mannered Lord Melchett, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I in the second series, and General Melchett, a blustering buffoon, in the fourth. Tim McInnerny played Lord Percy Percy in Blackadder, reprising the role for Blackadder II, and going on to play Kevin Darling in Blackadder Goes Forth, and Blackadder Back and Forth. Hugh Laurie plays Prince Ludwig the Indestructible in Blackadder II, Prince George in Blackadder the Third and the upper-class Lieutenant George in Blackadder Goes Forth. In both Blackadder II and Blackadder Goes Forth, Rik Mayall plays the dashing Lord Flashheart, a vulgar rival of Blackadder.
The Howard Goodall theme tune has the same melody throughout the four series, but being played in roughly the style of the period in which it is set (mostly with trumpets in The Black Adder; with a combination of wind instruments and electric guitar in Blackadder II; on harpsichord for Blackadder the Third; by a military band 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.
Popularity and effects on popular culture
After the first series — which ran to a considerable budget for a sitcom, and had been shot largely on location — the BBC decided not to take up the option of a second series. In 1984 Michael Grade took over as the controller of BBC One and, after talks with the Blackadder team, agreed that a second series could be made as long as the cost was dramatically cut. The second series saw the filming changed to studio only and Ben Elton joining the writing team. Elton added more jokes to the scripts and suggested a major character change: Baldrick would become the stupid sidekick character to the more intellectual Edmund Blackadder. This premise led to the now-familiar setup of the characters and was maintained over all the following series. Blackadder came second in a 2004 BBC poll to find 'Britain's Best Sitcom', confirming the wisdom of Grade's decision to revive the show.
Whenever Blackadder found himself in a difficult situation (most episodes) Baldrick would suggest a solution starting with "I have a cunning plan". This became the character's catchphrase and, while the suggestions were usually totally unhelpful, he would sometimes come up with a plan that went towards saving the day.
Blackadder popularised the use of exaggerated simile and similar devices for comic effect in Britain. Examples include:
- "Madder than Mad Jack McMad, winner of last year's Mr. Madman competition."
- "I've got a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel." or "As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University."
- "I'm as happy as a Frenchman who's just invented a pair of self-removing trousers."
- "I'm as weary as a dog with no legs that's just climbed Ben Nevis."
- "We're in the stickiest situation since Sticky the stick insect got stuck on a sticky bun"
It also turned the implied wit of wordplay on its head for humorous effect:
- "Blackadder, you twist and turn like a twisty, turny thing."
- "The grave opens up before me like a big hole in the ground."
- "Disease and deprivation stalk our land, like two giant stalking things."
- "We're as similar as two completely dissimilar things in a pod."
- "Better a lapdog to a slip of a girl than a ... git!"
The series and specials
- The Black Adder
- Blackadder II
- Blackadder: The Cavalier Years
- Blackadder and the King's Birthday
- Blackadder the Third
- Blackadder's Christmas Carol
- Blackadder Goes Forth
- Blackadder: Back & Forth
Series 1: The Black Adder
Set in the Middle Ages, this is in fact a secret history. It opens with the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) being won by Richard III (played by Peter Cook), instead of Henry Tudor who won in reality. However, Richard III is then accidentally killed by Prince Edmund (Richard tries to borrow Blackadder's horse, but Edmund thinks he is stealing it and cuts his head off). Nevertheless, it presents the now-common revisionist image of Richard III as a genuinely nice man, as he walks around the battlefield calling politely for a horse.
The late King's nephew, Richard, Duke of York (played by Brian Blessed) who is Edmund Plantagenet's (The Black Adder) father, is then crowned as Richard IV. Prince Edmund never took part in the battle (he arrived late and went the wrong way, but claimed to have killed four hundred and fifty men, one of whom had already been killed by his brother...). Richard, Duke of York (one of the 'Princes in the Tower') was in reality only 12 years old when Battle of Bosworth Field took place in 1485, and so far too young to have had two grown up sons.
- Prince Harry, Prince of Wales, Prince Regent, Captain of the Guard, Grand Warden of the Northern and Eastern Marches, Chief Lunatic of the Duchy of Gloucester, Viceroy of Wales, Sheriff of Nottingham, Marquess of the Midlands, Lord Hoe-Maker Extraordinary, Harbinger of the Doomed Rat (1460–1498)
- Prince Edmund, "the Black Adder", Duke of Edinburgh, Warden of the Royal Privvies, the Laird of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Peebles, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Great Grumbledook, Duke of Hastings (1461–1498)
It is later revealed in the episode "Born to be King" that after Harry's birth and before Edmund's, Queen Gertrude had an affair with Donald McAngus, Third Duke of Argyll. There is a possibility that Edmund was this affair's result. If so, then Edmund is Harry's half-brother and also has another half-brother:
By the end of the series, events converge with our timeline, when King Richard IV and his entire family are poisoned, allowing Henry Tudor to take the throne as King Henry VII. He then proceeds to rewrite history, presenting Richard III as a monster, and eliminating Richard IV's reign from the history books. In this series, the character of the Black Adder is somewhat different from later incarnations, being largely unintelligent, and relying more on the plans of Baldrick. The title of Laird of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles may have been inspired by the then leader of the Liberal Party David Steel who was MP for that constituency when the series was written.
The character does evolve through the series, however, and he begins showing signs of what his descendants will be like by the final episode, where he begins insulting everyone around him and making his own plans. "The Black Adder" is also a title that Edmund adopts during the first episode (after first considering "The Black Vegetable"): presumably one of his descendants adopted it as a surname prior to Blackadder II, where the title character bears the name "Edmund Blackadder".
It is therefore interesting to note that the unaired pilot episode, covering the basic plot of "Born to be King", has some differences to the first series. Baldrick was played by Philip Fox , who was presumably dropped for Tony Robinson in the series because he was not as funny as Robinson. The King is played by John Savident (famous for playing Fred Elliot in the TV soap Coronation Street), while Percy was still played by Tim McInnerny. Rowan Atkinson speaks, dresses and generally looks and acts like the later Blackadder descendants of the second series onwards, but no reason is given as to why he changed to a snivelling wretch in the first series.
Richard Curtis admitted in a 2004 documentary on the show that just before filming began, producer John Lloyd came up to him with Atkinson and asked what Edmund's character was. Curtis then realised that, despite writing some funny lines, he had no idea how Rowan Atkinson was supposed to play his part.
- 1. "The Foretelling"
- Richard III wins the historic Battle of Bosworth Field, but is promptly killed by his bumbling grandnephew Edmund. Understandably, the late King is livid at this, and won't let Edmund forget it.
- BBC One, Wednesday June 15, 1983, 9.25–10pm
- 2. "Born to be King"
- Edmund's elder brother Harry is looking after the throne while their father is off fighting in the Crusades, but Edmund would much rather that he had it himself. So he obtains evidence that their mother had had an affair, making Harry illegitimate. Of course, Edmund's sums are all wrong...
- BBC One, Wednesday June 22, 1983, 9.25–10pm
- 3. "The Archbishop"
- With the Archbishops of Canterbury being bumped off left, right, and centre, appointing one's enemy to the post may seem like a cunning plan. Unfortunately for Edmund, the plan backfires, and he ends up with the post himself.
- BBC One, Wednesday June 29, 1983, 9.25–10pm
- 4. "The Queen of Spain's Beard"
- In the name of international diplomacy, the King decides to marry Edmund off to a Spanish princess. Finding the Infanta unattractive, Edmund tries to get out of the alliance, and eventually succeeds, only to end up married to the very young Princess Leia of Hungary, and having to read her bedtime stories.
- BBC One, Wednesday July 6, 1983, 9.25–10pm
- 5. "Witchsmeller Pursuivant"
- The Black Death is sweeping across England, and the whole country is in turmoil. Witchcraft is blamed, and so the Witchsmeller Pursuivant is summoned to identify the culprits. The Witchsmeller decides that Edmund is responsible.
- BBC One, Wednesday July 13, 1983, 9.25–10pm
- 6. "The Black Seal"
- Edmund is stripped of all his titles and honours, apart from Warden of the Royal Privy. Outraged by the way that his father is treating him, he rounds up six of the most evil men in England to help him seize the throne for himself. He manages to hold it for approximately 30 seconds.
- BBC One, Wednesday July 20 1983, 9.25–10pm
The opening titles consisted of several stock shots of Edmund riding his horse on location, interspersed with different shots of him doing various silly things (and, usually, a shot of King Richard IV to go with Brian Blessed's credit). The closing titles were the same sequence of Edmund riding around, eventually falling off his horse, and then chasing after it. The theme tune also gained lyrics:
- The sound of hoofbeats 'cross the glade,
- Good folk, lock up your son and daughter,
- Beware the deadly flashing blade,
- Unless you want to end up shorter.
- Black Adder, Black Adder, he rides a pitch black steed.
- Black Adder, Black Adder, he's very bad indeed.
- Black: his gloves of finest mole,
- Black: his codpiece made of metal,
- His horse is blacker than a hole,
- His pot is blacker than his kettle.
- Black Adder, Black Adder, with many a cunning plan.
- Black Adder, Black Adder, you horrid little man.
Series 2: Blackadder II
Blackadder II is set in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558–1603). The principal character is Edmund, Lord Blackadder, a great-grandson of the original Black Adder (according to the title song) and a close servant of the Queen. The Queen (or Queenie), played by Miranda Richardson, likes to chop off people's heads and play jokes on Edmund. Edmund's hopes of marrying her never bear fruit. The Queen is joined by her advisor Lord Melchett (with whom Blackadder has a mutual relationship of hate) and her insane nanny, Nursie. This series establishes the more familiar character of Edmund: cunning, shrewd, entirely and without fail insulting to everyone he doesn't have to suck up to, and witty, following the BBC's request for the show to be made funnier.
The action is generally split between Blackadder's house (or to be more specific his front room, though we do also get to see his hallway, bedroom, dining room and Baldrick's bedroom) and the Queen's throne room. Each episode also features another location, from a poverty-stricken man's front room (which was the setting for Blackadder II's first ever scene) to a German dungeon. This was done after the first series, when large sets and outdoor scenes proved too expensive.
In this series, the episode titles are all one-word sideways references to the subject of the episode (wedding, execution, voyages of exploration, debt, drinking alcohol, and imprisonment).
- 1. "Bells"
- Blackadder falls in love with his new servant, "Bob", whom he thinks is a man, but who is in fact a disguised woman named Kate, who has come to seek her fortune to help her ailing family. When Blackadder finds out, he is much relieved, and the two of them decide to get married. However, during the marriage ceremony, she elopes with the best man, Lord Flashheart (played by Rik Mayall).
- BBC One, Thursday January 9, 1985, 9.30–10pm
- 2. "Head"
- Without a choice in the matter, Blackadder is made High Executioner and has to cope with the wife of a man condemned to be executed. Unfortunately, the man is already dead.
- BBC One, Thursday January 16, 1985, 9.30–10pm
- 3. "Potato"
- To impress the Queen and to prove he's better than Walter Raleigh, Blackadder sets out for the sea (guest starring Tom Baker and Simon Jones).
- BBC One, Thursday January 23, 1985, 9.30–10pm
- 4. "Money"
- Blackadder owes a large sum of money to the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells that he can't pay, while the Queen keeps "borrowing" his money as soon as he gets it.
- BBC One, Wednesday February 5, 1985, 9.30–10pm
- 5. "Beer"
- Blackadder's puritanical aunt and uncle, the Whiteadders, call round to discuss his inheritance, at the same time as he plans to hold a drinking competition with Lord Melchett. To top it all, Edmund's tolerance for beer isn't what it could be, so he runs a significant risk of being found face-down in a puddle (like last time).
- BBC One, Thursday February 13, 1985, 9.30–10pm
- 6. "Chains"
- Blackadder and Melchett are captured by the Spaniards, and end up in the dungeons of a weird interrogator Prince Ludwig (played by Hugh Laurie), a German supervillain who aims to kill the Queen. By the end of the episode, Ludwig has killed the entire cast and has disguised himself as Queen Elizabeth, replacing her on the throne.
- BBC One, Thursday February 20, 1985, 9.30–10pm
The opening titles are played to a version of the theme on an Elizabethan wind instrument and an electric guitar, over shots of a black adder slithering about on a checkerboard surface. The snake misbehaves and is eventually removed and replaced with something to do with the title of the episode. The opening ominous violin music and initial shots bear a passing resemblance to the opening credits of the 1975 BBC television adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius featuring Derek Jacobi.
The closing titles use a different arrangement of the theme on different instruments, with lyrics reflecting what had happened in the episode, over a shot of Blackadder walking in a palace garden and being annoyed by a minstrel. As each episode elapses, this sequence becomes a mini-series in its own right. At the end of the final episode, Blackadder catches the minstrel and dunks him into a fountain numerous times.
Series 3: Blackadder the Third
Blackadder The Third is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period known as the Regency. For much of this period, King George III was incapacitated due to poor mental health, and his son George, the Prince of Wales, acted as regent. From 1811 until his father's death in 1820, he was known as "the Prince Regent".
In the series, E. Blackadder Esquire is the butler to the Prince of Wales (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. According to Edmund he has been serving the Prince Regent all their lives, since they were both breastfeeding (and he had to show the Prince which part of his mother was serving the drinks). There are three main sets: the Prince's quarters, which are large and lavish, the below-stairs kitchen hangout of Blackadder and Baldrick, which is dark and squalid, and finally Mrs. Miggins' coffee house (Mrs Miggins' pie shop was a never-seen running gag in Blackadder II, and her character - or, at least, a descendent thereof - was now finally shown).
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 (no relation to Rowan) as Mrs. Miggins. The series features rotten boroughs, Dr. Johnson (played by Robbie Coltrane), the French Revolution and the Scarlet Pimpernel, bad acting, highwaymen who hate squirrels, and duels.
- 1. "Dish and Dishonesty"
- Prime Minister Pitt the Younger wants to strike the Prince Regent from the Civil List. The only thing for a royal butler to do is to rig an election. The episode features a cameo by Vincent Hanna a political commentator who was an expert on by-elections.
- BBC One, Thursday September 17, 1987, 9.30–10pm
- 2. "Ink and Incapability"
- Samuel Johnson (Robbie Coltrane) seeks the Prince's patronage for his ground breaking new book, the Dictionary. Edmund accidentally instructs Baldrick to burn the book, and so he attempts to rewrite it overnight.
- BBC One, Thursday September 24, 1987, 9.30–10pm
- 3. "Nob and Nobility"
- After Blackadder disparages the Scarlet Pimpernel, two noblemen (one of whom is played by a returning Tim McInnerny) bet him a thousand guineas he can't go to France, rescue an aristocrat and present him at the French Embassy Ball. Meanwhile, a revolutionary (Chris Barrie) seizes the Embassy.
- BBC One, Thursday October 1, 1987, 9.30–10pm
- 4. "Sense and Senility"
- An anarchist (Ben Elton in a cameo) makes an attempt on the Prince's life. Blackadder suggests the Prince show the public how charming and intelligent he is, but first he needs some training in acting.
- BBC One, Thursday October 8, 1987, 9.30–10pm
- 5. "Amy and Amiability"
- Blackadder searches for a wife for his master. The main criterion is that she should be rich, in order to solve both his own financial problems and the Prince Regent's. His choice, Amy Hardwood (Miranda Richardson), daughter of an industrialist, seems promising if cloyingly sweet, but Blackadder abandons the plan when he discovers that her father is broke. Turning to the life of a highwayman with some success, he discovers that Amy Hardwood is in fact herself the notorious highwayman, the Shadow. She pretends to be in love with Edmund as a ploy to steal the prince's money, but he turns her over to the authorities for a ten thousand pound reward. The episode also contains a brief reference to the Prince Regent's eventual bride, Caroline of Brunswick, and Blackadder's distaste for her personality (which, given that he takes the place of his master as King George IV, may account for their historically cold relations).
- BBC One, Thursday October 15, 1987, 9.30–10pm
- 6. "Duel and Duality"
- The Duke of Wellington (Stephen Fry) challenges the Prince to a duel after he unwittingly has sex with his nieces. The Prince, being a huge coward, enlists Blackadder's help to avoid this. Edmund and the Prince change places, with Edmund hoping that his psychotic Scottish cousin MacAdder (also played by Rowan Atkinson) will take his place. To Edmund's annoyance he declines, but at the end of the episode it is Edmund who survives the duel, while the Prince is shot dead by Wellington who thought he was a useless butler. Mad King George apparently can't tell the difference between his late son and Edmund, and Edmund is more than happy to replace his late master as Prince Regent and possibly later his new "daddy" on the throne.
- BBC One, Thursday October 22, 1987, 9.30–10pm
The opening theme is this time played on a harpsichord and cello over close-ups of Blackadder searching a book-case, the credits and "Blackadder the Third" appearing on some of the books' spines (along with humorous titles such as "From Black Death to Blackadder" and "The Encyclopaedia Blackaddica"). Hidden inside a hollow book, he finds a romance novel, complete with steamy cover art, bearing the episode's title. The closing credits are presented in the style of a programme from a Regency-era play, and with an entirely new closing theme.
Series 4: Blackadder Goes Forth
This series is set in the trenches of the First World War. Another "big push" is planned, and Captain Blackadder's one goal is to avoid getting shot, so he plots ways to get out of it. Blackadder is joined by the idealistic, gung-ho Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), and the world's worst cook, Private S. Baldrick. Loony General Melchett rallies his troops from a French mansion, where he is aided and abetted by Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny), pencil-pusher supreme, whose name is played on for maximum comedy value. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Blackadder Goes Forth was placed 16th.
Note: Captain Darling's name was originally intended to be Captain Cartwright, until Stephen Fry chirped in with the name 'Darling', and the name, along with 'Bob' became one of the funniest words to be said in the series.
In this series, the episode titles are, with the exception of the final one, puns on military ranks.
- 1. "Plan A: Captain Cook"
- Blackadder finds out that if he gets a work of art on the cover of the magazine King and Country, it could be his ticket out of the trenches. Instead, he ends up avoiding an attack by disguising himself as a chef and, together with George and Baldrick, cooking the latter's ...esoteric... recipes for General Melchett's dinner.
- BBC One, Thursday September 28, 1989, 9.30–10pm
- 2. "Plan B: Corporal Punishment"
- A hungry Blackadder shoots General Melchett's favourite carrier pigeon, Speckled Jim, when it brings him orders that due to communications problems, the shooting of carrier pigeons is now a court-martial offence.
- BBC One, Thursday October 5, 1989, 9.30–10pm
- 3. "Plan C: Major Star"
- In order to boost morale (and maybe skip out of the trenches for a few weeks) Blackadder organises a cabaret show. Meanwhile, the General apparently hasn't noticed anything odd about his new driver, Corporal Bob Parkhurst (Gabrielle Glaister) — really a girl named Kate who's pretending to be a man.
- BBC One, Thursday October 12, 1989, 9.30–10pm
- 4. "Plan D: Private Plane"
- Though initially put off by the brash Squadron Leader Lord Flasheart (Rik Mayall again), Blackadder comes to believe that the flying corps may be a rather cushy number. Shot down and captured by Baron von Richthofen (Adrian Edmondson), Blackadder and Baldrick are rescued by Flasheart and return to the trenches.
- BBC One, Thursday October 19, 1989, 9.30–10pm
- 5. "Plan E: General Hospital"
- A spy has been traced to the local hospital where George is invalided. Is Blackadder man enough to find him? This will, of course, mean leaving the trenches for several weeks. Featuring Miranda Richardson as Nurse Mary, with whom Blackadder becomes briefly involved.
- BBC One, Thursday October 26, 1989, 9.30–10pm
- 6. "Plan F: Goodbyeee..."
- With the Big Push looming ever closer, Blackadder decides that feigning insanity is the only way out. Following an old trick from the Sudan, he puts his underpants on his head, sticks a pencil in each nostril, and starts saying "Wibble".
- BBC One, Thursday November 2, 1989, 9.30–10pm
The theme tune here was played by a military band (in this case the Band of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment) over opening title images of Blackadder and George parading their men past Melchett and Darling, while Baldrick plays the triangle. The music starts with the opening bars of 'The British Grenadiers ' before segueing into the familiar Blackadder theme. In the closing credits, the full Blackadder theme plays as the men march off down the parade ground. Of note is that the titles here are presented as static captions instead of being rolled as on the previous three series, and that the crew credits are presented in pseudo-military fashion: for example, the designer is credited thus: ' Dgr – 404371 Hull, C '.
The final episode of the last series, "Goodbyeee...", is known for being extraordinarily moving 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 to die in the fog and smoke of no man's land (Melchett remained at his office but gave permission for a reluctant Darling to meet the others). His final line, said before this scene, offered after Baldrick claims to have one last plan to stop them going over the top (at which point a voice cries for the men to stand ready): "Well, I am afraid it will have to wait. Whatever it was I am sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman around here?" is particularly poignant and memorable. "Goodbyeee..." also had no closing titles, simply fading from Blackadder, Baldrick, George and Darling charging across No-Man's Land under fire, to a field of poppies in the sunlight.
"Blackadder: The Cavalier Years"
The Episode begins in November, 1648. King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland has already lost the Civil War. Only two men remain loyal to him. Sir Edmund Blackadder, the sole descendant of the Blackadder dynasty at the time and his servant Baldrick, the only son of a pig farmer and a bearded lady (both according to the introduction). They have given refuge to the King in Blackadder Hall. Edmund remains loyal because as a known royalist he sees the King as his only hope of survival and also because of his fear of a hideous age of Puritanism, full of moral prohibitions (as he describes it). During a short absence of Edmund, Oliver Cromwell himself arrives at Blackadder Hall, accompanied by a number of his Roundheads. He is personally investigating the King's whereabouts. Baldrick fails to convince him that he has no idea. Between this and the following scene Cromwell discovers and arrests the King.
The Second scene takes place in the Tower of London, two weeks later. King Charles' praying is interrupted by two subsequent visits. The first by Cromwell who warns him of his doom and the second by Edmund, disguised as a priest. He informs the King that he is planning his escape. While Edmund is still there the King receives a notice that he has been sentenced to death. (Despite its placement in late November or early December, 1648 within the context of this episode, historically King Charles' sentence to death came on January 27, 1649).
As January 29, 1649 arrives and his execution approaches, King Charles is again visited by Edmund. Though his plans for an escape haven't materialised he informs the King that there is still some hope. The Parliament has yet to find a man willing to be the King's executioner. Charles, rather philosophically, proclaims that he isn't looking forward to his execution but "It's a question of balance, isn't it? Like so many other things" (Charles, played by Stephen Fry is very much a pastiche of his modern day namesake the Prince of Wales). Edmund proceeds in assuring Charles that no one would dare to become the King's executioner. Just as he says that, the King receives a notice that they found his executioner.
Back at Blackadder Hall, Baldrick is singing as Edmund proclaims his life to be in ruins. While Baldrick informs he has accepted a job, Edmund wonders who could be so utterly without heart and soul, so low and degraded as to behead the King of England. As his own words sink in, he proceeds in interrogating Baldrick who admits he accepted the job. Baldrick explains to the reasonably enraged Edmund that he has a plan to save the King. He presents Edmund with a huge pumpkin, painted to represent a human face. He plans to place it on the King's head and chop it instead. Edmund dismisses the plan as unconvincing as Baldrick will have to hold it in front of the crowd, which is sure to notice. Baldrick, though saddened, says that at least the money, £1000, is good. Edmund's greed awakes at this and he proceeds in taking the money from Baldrick and announcing that he would replace him as the executioner. (Historically King Charles' executioner was Richard Brandon).
January 30, 1649, King Charles' day of execution. King Charles is left alone for a few minutes with his executioner, Edmund in a hood and with a false voice. Edmund takes advantage of these minutes to relieve the King of his money bag. But the King finally recognizes him. He congratulates him for trying to save him even in the last minute and gives him custody of his infant son, the later King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland. (Historically he was 19 years old at the time of his father's death). For lack of a better plan Edmund uses the one Baldrick had suggested. The camera then focuses to Baldrick who is listening at the sounds of the execution. Edmund chops the pumpkin and proclaims that "This is the head of a traitor". Predictably the crowd answers "No, it's not; it's a huge pumpkin with a pathetic moustache drawn on it". Edmund apologises and says he will try again. Baldrick still listens as Edmund beheads Charles and the crowd cheers.
As the last scene begins Edmund and Baldrick have returned to Blackadder Hall. A disgusted Edmund cradles the infant Charles in his hands. Baldrick tries to console him by saying that at least he tried and that now the future of the British monarchy lies fast asleep in his arms in the person of this infant prince. He suggests to his master that he should be ready to escape to France, because as a known loyalist he is in danger of being arrested by the Roundheads and beheaded. Edmund, who apparently had forgotten that he is in a position of danger, immediately rises from his seat, ready to take action. But before he can do anything. Roundheads are already at the Hall's doors demanding his surrender. Edmund explains to Baldrick that there is no choice for a man of honour but to stand and fight, and die in defence of his future sovereign. Fortunately for him, he was never a man of honour. Passing the prince to Baldrick, Edmund proceeds in removing his long black hair, apparently a wig, his false moustache and beard to reveal short blond hair and a clean-shaven face. Thus unrecognisable, when a Roundhead enters the room he denounces Baldrick as a "royalist scum". The episode ends with Baldrick, still holding the Prince in his arms, being approached by the Roundhead, sword drawn.
"Blackadder's Christmas Carol"
Main article: "Blackadder's Christmas Carol"
The second special was broadcast in 1988. In a twist on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder is the "kindest and loveliest" man in England. One of the ghosts that so effectively convinced Ebenezer Scrooge to change his miserly ways reluctantly displays for this Blackadder the contrary antics of his ancestors and descendants, causing him to proclaim, "Bad guys have all the fun."
"Blackadder and the King's Birthday"
A short sketch with Rowan Atkinson as Lord Blackadder and Stephen Fry as King Charles II was performed at the Prince of Wales' 50th Birthday Gala. It was televised on ITV (in the UK) on 14 November 1998.
"Blackadder: Back & Forth"
Main article: Blackadder: Back & Forth
Blackadder: Back & Forth was originally shown in the Millennium Dome. It's 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, does work, sending Blackadder and Baldrick back to the time of the dinosaurs.
Attempting to find their way home, they find themselves at the court of Elizabeth I, where they are mistaken for the contemporary versions and Blackadder takes the opportunity to assault William Shakespeare (Colin Firth) "on behalf of generations of schoolchildren". They next arrive in Sherwood Forest, where Blackadder, held hostage by Robin Hood (Rik Mayall) talks the Merry Men into revolt. They eventually kill him and, after spending some time in the forest—in Edmund's case, with Maid Marian (Kate Moss) and in Baldrick's, with Will Scarlett, they return to the machine.
The duo have brief stopovers at the Battle of Waterloo, where they accidentally kill Wellington (Stephen Fry), and in Roman Britain, where Centurion Blackaddecus and Legionary Baldrickus face the Scots, before they finally find their way home, thanks to Baldrick's cunning plan of sticking his head into the toilet and seeing where the switches were when his life flashes before his eyes.
Returning home to a French-ruled Britain where no-one's heard of Shakespeare or Robin Hood, Blackadder quickly returns to the machine and restores history. Upon his second return, the others comment that a machine like that could be dangerous in the wrong hands. This gives Blackadder a very cunning plan indeed, and he excuses himself while the others watch the Millennium celebrations on television.
The television shows King Edmund III and Queen Marian of Sherwood arriving at the Millennium Dome to be greeted by Prime Minister Baldrick. The Blackadders have finally achieved their destiny.
Later in 2002, another incarnation, Sir Osmond-Darling Blackadder (Keeper of the Lawn Sprinklers), was seen talking about HM Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee in a BBC trailer, and later in a highlights programme with Dame Edna Everage.
Main article: historical anomalies in Blackadder
The Blackadder series contain many instances of anachronism or anachronistic references. For example:
- In Blackadder II, Blackadder threatens to call the police if Percy says 'hey nonny nonny'. Actually, the British police force was not established until 1821, by Sir Robert Peel
- It is not entirely clear when exactly Blackadder The Third is meant to be set and the series encompasses many historical persons and events from throughout the reign of George III (1760-1820) and even beyond. The most common setting appears to be during the Regency (1811-1820) but Prince George is portrayed as thin and young, when actually, by this point he was in his early fifties and very, very fat. Bizarrely, jokes are made about his weight which, while appropriate for the real Prince, seem out of place when describing Hugh Laurie.
- In Blackadder I, the Duke of Edinburgh is one of Edmund's titles. However Scotland had a separate monarchy at this point, and this title had not yet been created.
Main article: List of characters in Blackadder
The main recurring members of the cast were:
- Prince/Lord/Sir/Mr./Captain Edmund Blackadder; Macadder; Ebeneezer Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson)
- Sod-off (sic) Baldrick (a dim and ragged dogsbody), Alsatian (Tony Robinson)
- Lord Percy Percy; Captain Kevin Darling; Lord Topper and "Le Comte de Frou Frou"; Archdeacon Darling; Duke of Darling; Duc de Darling (Tim McInnerny)
- Queen Elizabeth I; Amy Hardwood; Nurse Fletcher-Brown; Queen Asphyxia; Lady Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson)
- Prince George; Lieutenant The Honourable George Colthurst St. Bartleigh; Prince Ludwig the Indestructible; Prince Pigmot; Simon "Farters Parters" Partridge a.k.a. Mr Ostrich; Viscount George Bufton-Tufton; Georgius (Hugh Laurie)
- Lord Melchett; General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett; The Duke of Wellington; Lord Frondo; King Charles I; Bishop Flavius Melchett; General Melchecus (Stephen Fry)
Patsy Byrne received huge plaudits for her crucial role as Nursie in all six episodes of Blackadder II but never featured in either of the subsequent series', either as a regular character or one-off. Her only future role in Blackadder was in Blackadder's Christmas Carol, when she briefly reprised Nursie during the plot's flashback to Blackadder II, and then as one of the "triple husbandoid" to Queen Asphyxia as the plot fast-forwarded to Christmas future. Similarly, Helen Atkinson-Wood was a welcome addition to the cast for the role of Mrs Miggins in all six episodes of Blackadder the Third, but did not appear again in the programme.
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 actually 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. However, aside from the regular cast listed above, only one actor - Lee Cornes - 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 John Grillo, Tom Baker, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Paddick, Kenneth Connor, Bill Wallis, Ronald Lacey, Roger Blake, Denis Lill, Warren Clarke, Miriam Margolyes and, perhaps most famously, Geoffrey Palmer who played Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in Goodbyeeee..., the final, fatal episode of Blackadder Goes Forth.
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 resident through the town hall window.
The only books of particular note, are:
- Curtis, Richard, Ben Elton, and Rowan Atkinson. Blackadder: The Whole Damn Dynasty 1485–1917. Penguin Books, 2000. ISBN 0140296085. Being the—almost—complete scripts of the four regular series.
- Howarth, Chris, and Steve Lyons. Cunning: The Blackadder Programme Guide. Virgin Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0753504472. An unofficial guide to the series, with asides, anecdotes and observations.
- Curtis, Richard, Ben Elton. Blackadder: Back & Forth. Penguin Books, 2000. ISBN 0140291350 . A script book with copious photographs from the most recent outing.
- Blackadder II (1986) at the Internet Movie Database
- Blackadder the Third (1987) at the Internet Movie Database
- Blackadder: The Cavalier Years (1988) at the Internet Movie Database
- Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988) at the Internet Movie Database
- Blackadder Goes Forth (1989) at the Internet Movie Database
- Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Black Adder Scripts
- BBC Comedy: Black Adder 1485–1917
- Blackadder Hall
- British Sitcom Guide
- The Exhaustive Blackadder (transcripts)
- Blackadder at the Open Directory Project.
- Powertie: A Blackadder Reference Site
- TV Tome: Blackadder
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