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Best British Comedy Shows -Blackadder
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.