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Four series were made, each one set in a different period of history, featuring the anti-hero, Blackadder. It is implied that in each series the Blackadder character is a 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 - by the end, nothing more than cannon-fodder.
All the series starred Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder, and Tony Robinson as his sidekick Baldrick. Each series also tended to feature the same set of actors in different period settings; thus Stephen Fry played Lord Melchett, an advisor to the Queen in the second series, and General Melchett, a blustering buffoon, in the fourth. Anachronistic references were plentiful and mainly humorous.
It popularised the use of simile and associated devices for comic effect in Britain. Examples include:
Set in the Middle Ages, this is in fact an alternate 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 real life. However, Richard III is then accidentally killed shortly after the battle, and the late King's nephew, Richard, Duke of York is crowned as Richard IV.
Richard and his wife Queen Gertrude of Flowers, the Witch Queen have two sons:
It is later revealed in the episode "Born to be King" that after Harry's birth and preceding 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.
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, who 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 relation of hate) and her insane nanny, Nursie. This series establishes the more familiar character of Edmund, as cunning, shrewd, and witty.
The action is generally split between Blackadder's house (or to be more specific his front room) and the Queen's throne room. Each episode also features another location, from Baldrick's bedroom to a German dungeon.
Blackadder The Third is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period known as the Regency period. 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, Edmund Blackadder, Esquire, is the Prince of Wales's butler. 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 lifes, since they were both breast-feeding. There are three main sets: the Prince's quarters, which are large and lavish, the below-stairs hangout of Blackadder and Baldrick, which is dark and squalid, and finally Mrs. Miggins's pie shop (briefly mentioned in Blackadder II, now 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 (anachronistically) (played by Robbie Coltrane), the French Revolution (also anachronistically), bad acting, highwaymen, and duels.
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 Leiutenant 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, whose name is played on for maximum comedy value.
In this series, the episode titles are, with the exception of the final one, puns on military ranks.
The final episode of the last series, "Goodbyeee", is known for being extraordinarily moving for a comedy. The final scene sees the main characters - Blackadder, Baldrick, George, and Darling - charging off to die in the fog and smoke of no man's land.
Ebeneezer Blackadder is the nicest man in England. He is everything that Ebenezer Scrooge was by the end of the original story. He is generous and kind to everybody, and sensitive to the misery of others. As a result, everybody takes advantage of his kindness, and all but Baldrick view him as a victim. His business turns no profit, all his earnings going to charity, and he lives a lonely, miserable life.
All this changes when the Spirit of Christmas makes the mistake of calling round to congratulate him for his ways. The spirit lets him see shades of the past, the lives of his ancestors Lord Blackadder and Edmund Blackadder, the butler of the Prince Regent. Instead of being convinced that he is better than them, he grows to admire them and their wit. He asks the spirit to show him what could happen if he became like them. He sees a vision of a distant future where his distant descendant Commander Blackadder is a successful, if ruthless, official of a Universe-spanning Empire about to marry the similarly ruthless and insanely ambitious Queen Asphyxia XIX, both planning to conquer the Universe. Ebeneezer asks the Spirit what will happen if he stays kind. As an answer, he sees an alternate vision of the same future era where his descendant is nothing more than a naked slave of the rather incompetent Commander Baldrick.
Ebeneezer makes his decision, proclaiming, "Bad guys have all the fun." He wakes up a different man: bitter, vengeful, greedy for money, and insulting to everyone he meets. Although he is now more in control of his life, he misses a golden opportunity when he insults two strangers who had come to reward him for his reputed generosity. These are Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort, Albert. The episode ends leaving Ebeneezer contemplating his life.
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 descedant of the Blackadder dynastie 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 own 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 personaly 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 philosophicaly ,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". 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 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 unconvicing 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. (Historicaly 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 this minutes to releave 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.(Historicaly 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 mustache 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 craddles 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 sit, 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 honor but to stand and fight, and die in defence of his future sovereign. Fortunately for him, he was never a man of honor. Passing the prince to Baldrick, Edmund proceeds in removing his long black hair, apparently a wig, his false mustache and beard to reveal short blond hair and a clean-shaven face. Thus unrecognizable, when a Roundhead enters the room he points to 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 is entertaining guests on New Year's Eve, 1999. As a practical joke, he plans to convince them he has a working time machine (and win 10 grand into the bargain). Amazingly, the time machine, built by Baldrick to plans by Leonardo da Vinci, actually works.
Having been charged by his guests, a Melchett, a Darling, a George and a descendant of Queen Elizabeth I (Stephen Fry, Tim McInnery[?], Hugh Laurie and Miranda Richardson) to travel back through time to bring back: Wellington's boot, a really smelly pair of underpants and a couple of other items, Blackadder intends to scam his guests by dredging the items from his personal store. However, in pulling a lever, he discovers the machine works.
Blackadder and Baldrick travel back into the far distant path and put Shakespeare of writing plays, kill the dinosaurs, Robin Hood and Wellington, before returning to the present day. Having irreversibly changed history, he finds a Britain under the rule of the French, who won at Waterloo, among other irregularities. He immediately travels back to rectify these discrepancies.
In the closing scenes, Blackadder is reminded how problematic it must have been, and that an unscrupulous person could have gained great power and wealth with such a machine... which gives him a Cunning Plan...
This is a short film commissioned especially for showing at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich throughout the year 2000. Note: this is the only Blackadder story to be shot entirely on film and with no laughtrack, although one was added for a later BBC screening.
The film closes with the promise that 'Blackadder will return' ...in the year 3000!
All series' and many of the specials are available on DVD and Video, as well as many available on BBC Audio Cassette. The only books of particular note, are: