Encyclopedia > Blackadder

  Article Content

Blackadder

Blackadder is a British television comedy programme from the BBC, a surreal take on British history. Blackadder is not the title of any specific series, but is the general term for the programmes - four series and several one-off episodes - taken as a whole. The series were written by Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton, and Richard Curtis, and produced by John Lloyd.

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:

  • "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."

Table of contents

List of series

  1. The Black Adder (1983)
  2. Blackadder II (1986)
  3. Blackadder the Third (1987)
  4. Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)

Plus specials:

  1. Blackadder: the Cavalier Years (1988) (15 minute insert in Comic Relief Night)
  2. Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988) (45 minute Christmas special)
  3. Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999) (45 minute Millennium Dome special)

Series 1: The Black Adder

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:

  • 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, Marquis of the Midlands, Lord Hoe-Maker in Ordinary, Harbinger of the Doomed Rat (1460 - 1498)
  • Prince Edmund, "the Black Adder", Duke of Edinburgh, Warden of the Royal Privvies, the Laird of Roxburg, Selkirk, and Peebles, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Great Gumblededook, Duke of Hastings (1461 - 1498)

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:

  • Lord Dougal McAngus, Supreme Commander of the King's Army (c. 1462 - 1487).

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.

Episode list

  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.
  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...
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.

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, 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.

Episode list

  1. "Bells" - Blackadder falls in love with his new servant, "Bob", who he thinks is a man, but who is in fact a disguised woman named Kate. 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[?]).
  2. "Head" - 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.
  3. "Potato" - To prove he's better than Walter Raleigh and to impress the Queen, Blackadder sets out for the sea.
  4. "Money" - Blackadder has to pay a large sum of money to a furious bishop, while the Queen keeps "borrowing" his money.
  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).
  6. "Chains" - Blackadder is captured by the Spaniards, and ends up in the dungeons of a weird interrogator Prince Ludwig, 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.

Series 3: Blackadder the Third

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.

Episode list

In this series, the episode titles use alliteration in a humorous parody of the titles of Jane Austen's novels Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

  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.
  2. "Ink and Incapability" - Samuel Johnson seeks the Prince's patronage for his groundbreaking new book, the Dictionary.
  3. "Nob and Nobility" - After Blackadder disparages the Scarlet Pimpernel, two noblemen 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 seizes the Embassy.
  4. "Sense and Senility" - An anarchist makes an attempt on the Prince's life. Blackadder suggests the Prince show the public how charming and intelligent he his, but first he needs some training in acting.
  5. "Amy and Amiability" - Blackadder searches for a wife for his master. The main criterion is that she should be rich. The bride he chooses is Amy Hardwood, an industrialist's daughter who has a reputation of being extravagant. As Edmund proceeds to court Amy on behalf of his master, she seems to be falling for him. But as Edmund finds out progressively: her father is broke, her money comes from a career she has started as the famous "highwayman", the Shadow, and her affections are part of a plan to use him to get the Prince's money. Edmund ends up giving Amy to the authorities for hanging and wins the Shadow's ransom, £10,000, for himself.
  6. "Duel and Duality" - The Duke of Wellington challenges the Prince to a duel. The Prince, being a huge coward, enlists Blackadder's help to avoid this. Edmund and the Prince change places. 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" to the throne.

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 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.

Episode list

In this series, the episode titles are, with the exception of the final one, puns on military ranks.

  1. "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.
  2. "Corporal Punishment" - A hungry Blackadder shoots General Melchett's favourite carrier pigeon, Speckled Jim.
  3. "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.
  4. "Private Plane" - Though initially put off by the brash Squadron Leader Lord Flasheart, Blackadder comes to believe that the flying corps may be a rather cushy number.
  5. "General Hospital" - A spy has been traced to the local hospital where George is invalided. Is Blackadder man enough to find him? This will mean leaving the trenches for several weeks.
  6. "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".

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.

Specials

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: Back & Forth" (1999) - Created for show in the Millennium Dome by Sky Television and the BBC, with sponsorship from - among others - Tesco.

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!

Diverse Characters

Tie-ins

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:

  • Blackadder: The Whole Damn Dynasty 1485-1917 (Being the - almost - complete scripts)
  • Cunning: The Blackadder Programme Guide (A Guide to the series', with asides, anecdotes and observations)
  • Blackadder: Back and Forth (A script book with copious photographs from the most recent outing)

External Links



All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

 
  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
 
 
  
  Featured Article
CSV

... ...