Best of British Comedy-Blackadder
Blackadder was a BBC TV show starring Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder.
In the first series, Edmund Blackadder is a rather odd little man with a pudding bowl haircut and a strangely stooping posture. According to rumour, when the pilot was being filmed, The Black Adder was much more like the arrogant ancestors seen in later series but by the time filming began, he had morphed into the snivelling wimp we see in The Black Adder. It is plain from later series that that character did not have enough about him to survive for another incarnation. Later examples are, arguably, far more entertaining.
The first series relied more on pathos to make us laugh. The character of Edmund Blackadder is a rather laughable character, overshadowed by other characters by and large.
One thing which did make The Black Adder rise above the norm was the fact that it was very 'different'. I have already discussed in other hubs a movement in British comedy in the 1980s towards more radical styles and subjects.
The Black Adder took us into British history -the middle ages of England, to tell its story.
Other shows had done this of course, Dad's Army and 'Allo, 'Allo both used the Second World War as a subject for comedy and Hi-de-Hi was all about the 1950s and the golden age of holiday parks but long ago history was a new subject - a show set outside the 20th century was very new.
The Black Adder - A Secret History
Describing the plot of The Black Adder is not easy. It takes as its premise the fact that Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth Field. Well, of course, he didn't, Henry Tudor won.
Anyway, it's best not to get bogged down in the real history if you're watching The Black Adder.
As with all of the other Blackadder series, history is used as a background and its events, real or unreal are used in an anachronistic way to reflect events in our times. Richard Curits is very good at this and he wrote the first series with Rowan Atkinson and the next three series with Ben Elton.
The Black Adder had the additional talents of an amazing supporting cast. It was shot, at enormous expense on location, particularly at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, later to be used to film Harry Potter movies. John Lloyd the shows producer is claimed to have told the BBC "Black Adder looks a million dollars but cost a million pounds." When Richard Curtis got the commission to make the next series he was asked to keep it mainly studio-bound, to avoid the cost incurred by the first series.
In spite of this it was only moderately successful and it looked, for a long time, like it would be the first and last series to feature this character.
But then Richard Curtis had a brilliant idea!
Richard Curtis offered us a second show based on the original Black Adder but with a twist - he moved events forward to the Elizabethan period (1558-1603) and the original Black Adder's great-grandson, Edmund Blackadder is now a well-to-do gentleman, a courtier to Elizabeth the FIrst.
Rowan Atkinson returns as Edmund Blackadder but he is quite changed. He is much more Macchiavellian in character. Baldrick is still his manservant but the genes in his family seem to be regressive and Baldrick is now an inoffensive, amusing but not at all intelligent fellow.
He will be the butt of many of Blackadder's jokes but will stay loyal and save Blackadder's bacon on one or two occasions.
Blackadder also has Lord Percy as his foolish friend.
Queen Elizabeth is presented as a rather childish monarch by Miranda Richardson.
There are nice roles too (which will occur in later series) for Stephen Fry as Lord Melchett and Rik Mayall as Lord Flashheart
This series works because this new Edmund Blackadder is so wily, cruel and amusing.
Blackadder is never better than when he is humiliating other people or laughing at the hardship of others.
This series was so good that we quite forgot about The Black Adder - indeed, we could not believe that that strange fellow's genes had transmogrified into the new Blackadder.
After the second series, the question was - could Richard Curtis and Ben Elton do it again and which historical period would they pick next?
Blackadder the Third
The period just before The Regency is chosen for Backadder the Third, so we join Mr E Blackadder Esquire in the latter part of the eighteenth century just before George III's son acted as regent during the King's long period of illness with porphyria.
Edmund is again ably assisted by Baldrick who is as unintelligent as ever but still capable of the occasional 'cunning plan'.
Tim McInnerny chose not to take place in this series for fear of always being associated with the pretty but useless Lord Percy.
In Blackadder the Third, Hugh Laurie joins the cast in the role of Prince George, the Prince Regent and he does an excellent job in playing the vain, self-obsessed fop with no discernible intelligence.
The cast this time was slightly smaller but had more cameo roles. Stephen Fry plays an amazing Duke of Wellington.
Once more, we are treated to things like lampooning parts of The Enlightenment (because in the twentieth century you're looking a long way back and its fun!) and Blackadder, as always is out to make a buck, preferably from his boss who has more money than sense.
Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson have great comic timing when they're together and by now Tony Robinson knows the ropes and he plays Baldrick so well - the viewing public love him.
Blackadder the Third was more popular again that Backadder II and won the Best Comedy BAFTA and was nominated for a further 3 awards.
The trick for Richard Curtis now was to not fall into some formulaic scripting. It needed a fresh approach - a historic period which would spark the imagination.
They did that and more with Blackadder Goes Forth.
Blackadder Goes Forth
I remember watching the first episode of Blackadder Goes Forth and thinking 'I'm not sure about this. The First World War isn't a funny period of history in which to set a show.'
On the face of it, I think I was right. A world war which saw many millions lose their lives could not possibly be a good subject for laughter and yet, how wrong I was.
Rowan Atkinson's Captain Blackadder is in charge of his platoon of troops, amongst them are George (played by Hugh Laurie) and Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson).
Their commanding officer is General Melchett (Stephen Fry) an inept man full of his own self-importance. Tim McInnerny returns as Captain Darling who has a strong dislike for Blackadder who he sees as self-serving.
All of the men are waiting for the 'big push', each awaiting word from Field-Marshall Haig that they're going over the top.
Blackadder's only interest (himself!) is to get away from this place before it all kicks off.
Baldrick is a simple fellow (again) and George is the last remaining member of the Cambridge Tiddly Winking Team.
We are joined again by Rik Mayall as Flashheart in rip-roaring form.
Blackadder Goes Forth is more than a comedy this time - it is making something funny out of something very tragic - the lines are blurred now between what we laugh at and what really happened. Ben Elton and Richard Curtis repeatedly show the decision-making and strategic impulses of the First World War as acts of lunacy.
Nothing more that mistake after mistake by an upper-class military hierarchy without any real understanding of the suffering of the men in the trenches, mainly working-class men with nothing in their lives but their families and their loyalty to their country.
Curtis and Elton use the dialogue to reveal the incompetence and also to show their respect to soldiers who fought in that war. In 1989, we understood the references only too well.
The last episode is now part of British comedy history - a comedy show which had you laughing all the way through it and ended with you close to tears but with a feeling that justice had been done.
Richard Curtis and Ben Elton ended Blackadder Goes Forth and also ended Blackadder as a comedy show - the decision was made to go out on a high and not make any more series.
Their one concession was a hilarious Christmas special which took us forward to 'the ghost of Blackadder Future' but there has been no Blackadder since then.
We miss it but we understand that its four series will stand the test of time, it stopped at the right time and in doing so will also be referred to as 'classic' - and that adjective is well deserved.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 22, 2013:
Sharkye11, thanks for the comment - we love the Christmas Carol episode. We love it when he goes forward to the future and Miranda Richardson is his boss in the spaceship. Her lines are fantastic in that. This is my favourite when Blackadder tells her he's conquered an enemy on her behalf 'You have most pleasantly wibbled my frusset pouch' :o)
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on February 22, 2013:
Loved reading this hub! I ama huge fan of skewed British comedy, and Blackadder is one of the most entertaining examples of twisted humor. Blackadder II in the Elizabethan period is my favorite, but every year I watch Blackadders Christams Carol as a tradition.
I'm laughing just from reading your hub and thinking about Edmund and Baldric! Voting and sharing!
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on August 14, 2012:
Mohan, thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment -I think I write these hubs because I am on a nostalgia kick myself :o), glad it worked its magic on you.
Mohan Kumar from UK on August 14, 2012:
A great tribute to a comedy classic. It was a brilliant stabel of talented creators and actors: Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie ( To think he is now the uber popular Dr House!)
the list goes on. Love the series Julie ad thanks for the memories. Makes me wanna view them again... voted up/shared.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on July 28, 2012:
Mary, I do hope you get a chance to catch up with it, it mixes British history with the various generations of the Blackadder family so you get to see Edmund in medieval times, then in the 16th, 18th and 20th century, very, very funny. Many thanks for your comment.
Mary Craig from New York on July 28, 2012:
Boy do I feel like I'm living on another planet. I never heard of the Black Adder. I do adore British comedy...most of our most popular comedies here are derived from British comedies! We do get to watch some first runs on Public Television...I watch "Keeping Up Appearances" and "As Time Goes By". Now I'll have to try to find the Black Adder.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on July 28, 2012:
Linda, he's more famous as Mr Bean (but I'm not fussy on Mr Bean). I love Blackadder though - he's so mean and funny with it!
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on July 28, 2012:
I had no idea who I was watching during the Olympics opening ceremony, but I do now! He's one funny dude!!
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 17, 2012:
JK, many thanks for stopping by to comment. Every series of Blackadder seemed to have a few stand out episodes. I remember 'Beer', it was a cracker. I seem to remember the puritan 'Whiteadders' with Miriam Margoyles, who is always very funny.
James Kenny from Birmingham, England on February 17, 2012:
Hi Jools, great hub. I absolutely love Blackadder, my favourite episode was 'Beer' in Blackadder II. I remember Melchett telling everyone about the last time Blackadder got drunk: 'I'm sure we all remember the shame and embarrassment of the visit of the King of Austria when Blackadder was found wandering naked around Hampton singing, I'm Merlin, the happy pig'.
I also liked it when Queenie shows up at the party and asks everyone if they know who she is, and Blackadder goes: 'Yes I know who you are...You're Merlin, the happy pig,'
Also the goblin song at the end, still makes me laugh now.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 25, 2012:
MM, thanks for your kind comment - we all still watch it too! But we all have different favourites.
Movie Master from United Kingdom on January 24, 2012:
Hi Jools, I think I must have watched every episode of blackadder with my children, they loved it and still 'quote' from it even now! Blackadder 11 was always our favourite!
Absolutely brilliant hub, thank you and voted up/awesome.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 23, 2012:
Bruce, Richard Curtis co-wrote most of the shows. He is also responsible for Not The Nine O'Clock News, an earlier show of Rowan Atkinson's. Thanks for commenting.
UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on January 23, 2012:
I have been a Blackadder fan for a very longtime....the funniest thing since Monty Python's early days....I was not aware Richard Curtis was behind some of the success of Blackadder....which only makes me even more impressed with Curtis's writing ability and sense of humor.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 19, 2012:
Flora, Glad you liked the hub - I still hoot with laughter at Baldrick's poem, 'The German Guns' and Blackadder Goes Forth is my favourite.
FloraBreenRobison on January 18, 2012:
I love this series. It is one of my all-time favourites. I do not find myself laughing uproariously at things I have seen before in general, but this is one of those series. You know, I don't watch many medical shows so I remain totally familiar with Hugh laurie in all his British work, even though he no longer works in UK.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 18, 2012:
Cheers Eddy, thanks for your comment, you take care too.
Eiddwen from Wales on January 18, 2012:
Thanks for sharing this gem.
Take care and enjoy your day.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 17, 2012:
Rob, thanks so much for your comment. I love all of Blackadder but the first one had to grow on me. I think he's much better as schemer too and yes, you're right about Mr Bean. Rowan Atkinson has suffered from this type of comedy because he's a face puller. I'm not that keen on Mr Bean, it makes me smile but it's not up there with Blackadder. And Hugh Laurie's George as Dr House - he'd solve a tricky diagnosis and yell "Hoorah and Hussah!"- what would audiences think of that!
Rob from Oviedo, FL on January 17, 2012:
Hi Jools; this is one of the great comedies ever. I love the fact that British comedies don't talk down to the audience, and presume that the audience knows or can at least understand the historical setting.
It was a very smart move to change Blackadder from a sniveling weasel to a schemer. He's much funnier when he's snarky than when he's hapless. (It's too bad most of his career had been spent playing variations on his inept 'Mr. Bean' character because I much prefer him sarcastic and devious.)
I think the third year was the peak of the show. While I liked years 2 and 4, I think 3 was the best. (It was the only time a Blackadder actually survived at the end of the season and actually prospered.)
Tony Robinson is one of the great comedy sidekicks. Whenever I watch Hugh Laurie as dim-witted George, I keep thinking "Wow, I can't believe this is Dr. House!"
What's interesting about this show is that there are no laudable or admirable people. Everyone is either nasty, idiotic or insane.
Great article on a great show,
pmccray on January 16, 2012:
This too I will add to my repertoire of beloved English comedy. Thank you for sharing, voted up, marked interesting
LewSethics on January 15, 2012:
Hilarious stuff! Nobody does british like the british!
Steve Lensman from Manchester, England on January 15, 2012:
eeek I missed all the videos I had flashblock on (using Firefox)
Baldrick: Can I do another one (poem)? I can go on all night!
Blackadder: Not with a bayonet through your neck you wouldn't.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 15, 2012:
Steve, thanks for the comment and the quotes - I'm still laughing. I almost included quotes in the hub but I wanted to put them all in so it was a no-go. I have included the "Boom, Boom, Boom" video instead which I still laugh out loud at when Blackadder ends it for Baldrick and George interjects "I say sir, that is spooky." Love it!
Steve Lensman from Manchester, England on January 15, 2012:
Blackadder: A man may fight for many things. His country, his friends, his principles, the glistening ear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally, I'd mud-wrestle my own mother for a ton of cash, an amusing clock and a sack of French porn.
Thanks for all the info and facts on a classic TV comedy series Jools. My favourite series? They're all funny, probably Blackadder the Third.
Lord Flashheart: [about planes] Always treat your kite like you treat your woman.
Lieutenant George: You mean take her to tea with you to meet your mother and father?
Lord Flashheart: No! I mean get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back!
Captain Blackadder: I can see why the suffragette movement are wanting the vote.
Lord Flashheart: Hey, hey! Any girl who wants to chain herself to my railings and suffer a jet movement gets my vote!
Voted Up and Useful, Interesting too.
Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 15, 2012:
Cheers TWD - I loved Goes Forth and thought the first one was just ok. Just goes to show how much we all like different things. My hubby likes the Elizabethan one the best.
The Writers Dog on January 15, 2012:
Hi Jools! I enjoyed the first three series of Black Adder, but can not stand Black Adder Goes Forth. Don't ask why. I have no idea!
My favourite scene in the original is when the three witches mistake Edmund for Henry Tudor.
Baldrick was always my favourite character. Great Hub... voted up.