Written originally by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder told the story of Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh, and was set during the War of the Roses, as the houses of York and Lancaster battled for the English throne.
Filmed mainly on location around Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, the series proved to be so costly due to its darkly lavish production design and costuming, and had such little impact on viewers, that new BBC chief Michael Grade sent the series to the chopping block. However, Ben Elton replaced Atkinson as one member of the writing team, and a script for a second series was produced with a much smaller budget, tighter scripts, and more laughs.
Given a new lease of life Edmund Blackadder returned in the form of the original's great great grandson and as a treacherous and scheming courtier of Queen Elizabeth 1 (Miranda Richardson). Once again support for Blackadder came in the form of his squalid buffoon of a manservant, Baldrick, as played to seedy perfection by Tony Robinson. With the inspired restructuring of the dynamics between the two central characters, which saw a direct role reversal from the original series, with Blackadder becoming the intelligent side of the partnership and Baldrick the astonishingly stupid stooge, the series was a hit and Blackadder returned for a third stint of scheming and plotting, set two centuries later, this time as butler to the idiotic George, Prince of Wales (Hugh Laurie). By now the show was forming something of a repertory company of actors with Laurie, Robinson, Stephen Fry and Tim McInnerny returning in various guises to both frustrate and thwart Edmund's designs on making his life more comfortable at the expense of just about anyone that stood in his way.
It was with the last series, Blackadder Goes Forth, that viewers were finally introduced to a more sympathetic character, as Curtis and Elton tackled the futility and hopelessness of the First World War. Ensconced in a trench along the Western Front, Blackadder tried every trick in the book to work his ticket home. However, hampered by his imbecile lieutenant, George, Private Baldrick and the unsympathetic General Melchett and his adjutant Captain Darling, the series finally reached its inevitable conclusion as Edmund Blackadder and his men went "over the top" in a futile assault of the German trenches and on to their certain death. As the slow motion action faded the viewers last image of Edmund and his men was replaced by a field of silently, gently swaying poppies.
The four series boasted a guest cast of some of
Britain's finest actors, including Brian Blessed, Robbie Coltrane, Rik Mayall, Miriam Margolyes
and Elspert Gray. Co-writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton went on to individual successes, Curtis
with The Vicar of Dibley and the smash hit movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, Elton
with numerous West End productions and best selling books. Atkinson re-created his character for a
special film to be shown exclusively at Britain's Millennium Dome, there was also a Christmas
special based on Charles Dickens' classic story A Christmas Carol, in which Edmund was depicted as
Ebenezer Scrooge, but in a twist to the original, Blackadder started out as a kind and generous
figure before turning into the character the viewers loved to hate.
There was also a 15-minute
special for Comic Relief (The Cavalier Years). A year after Blackadder finished Atkinson
created another memorable comic character for TV; Mr Bean.
Published on November 30th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH for Television Heaven.