Blackadder at 30: how the cunning plan worked

Source: Telegraph

‘The Black Adder’ began on June 15, 30 years ago. Despite a chaotic start, it became a hit. The rest, says Dominic Cavendish, is history.

“It was a great lesson in vanity and egotism,” says veteran producerJohn Lloyd, looking back on The Black Adder, the first series of what became simply Blackadder. June 15, 2013, brings the 30th anniversary of the first episode’s broadcast on BBC One. History, the fabric of which Blackadder draws from, however tongue-in-cheekily, has started to weave the show into its own tapestry.

And yet it’s worth remembering how narrowly Blackadder avoided being trampled underfoot in the onward march of televisual endeavour. Lloyd – one of Britain’s most successful producers of comedy on radio andtelevision, responsible for Spitting Image and QI, among much else – has previously admitted to the angst, setbacks and accidental saving graces that went into the programme’s DNA.

Yet when I catch up with him, he’s more than usually emphatic about how deficient those early episodes were: “Richard [Curtis], Rowan [Atkinson] and I had come off Not the Nine O’Clock News, which was a triumph – we’d won two Baftas for the last series,” he recalls. “We were young, we thought ‘We’re brilliant, we can do anything,’ and we bit off more than we could chew.”

In the documentary trip down memory lane conducted to mark the 25th anniversary, Blackadder Rides Again, Atkinson and Lloyd retrod their steps around Alnwick Castle, Northumberland – the location for the first series’ mock-authentic version of late-medieval history, in which Brian Blessed’s Richard, Duke of York, father to Atkinson’s Edmund (“The Black Adder”), gained the English throne at the Battle of Bosworth.

Filming was a logistical nightmare and Lloyd shudders at the memory. “I was standing there in the freezing cold, looking at the dogs and the horses, surrounded by snow, thinking ‘What on Earth have we done?’ Richard and I used to stay up all night writing the scripts. We weren’t ready.”

The big joke about The Black Adder back at Television Centre was that it was the show that looked like a million dollars – and cost a million pounds (these being the days when the pound had clout). “It took months to edit,” Lloyd says. “I think one of the actors died, we took so long to edit it. We had to do retakes the whole time.” Although a second series was commissioned – despite mixed reviews – the arrival of Michael Grade as BBC One controller in 1984 spelt the bloody axe. He took one look at the cost and the ratings (not great), and cancelled the show.

The cavalry had arrived, though, in the shape of Ben Elton – nephew, it’s worth noting, of the venerated Tudor historian GR Elton. Taking over as joint scriptwriter, his whizzo idea was to get out of the boggy, lice-ridden misery of the Middle Ages and cut a sexier, punkier dash in the Elizabethan era.

It was a decision that, at a stroke, unlocked the show’s full potential for rapier wit, silly costumes, light-of-touch satire and richly detailed characterisation built around the intricacies and hypocrisies of class and power. One frantic weekend spent lopping off anything in the scripts that would require more than a minimal budget, one concerted plea for a reprieve, and the rest is the stuff of golden memories, reissued DVDs and repeats until doomsday.

Blackadder II begat Blackadder the Third – set in the Regency period – which begat Blackadder Goes Forth, bringing things from the mire and gore of the Middle Ages to the mud and blood of the First World War trenches. Lavish location shoots had given way to a studio set-up, with the scripts all the tighter and better for it. Having started out trying to subvert the traditional sitcom, the team – the talent of which no subsequent generation has yet matched – produced comedy’s answer to a cathedral, robust and built to last.

In explaining Blackadder’s enduring power, aside from the fashion-proof nature of its historical settings, we should point to its unique combination of guile and guilelessness, of perfectionism and on-the-fly invention. In artistic terms, it’s Edmund and Baldrick rolled into one.

In a neat final twist of behind-the-scenes irony, the most hallowed moment of the series came about by accident rather than design. The haunting last scene of the final series shows Blackadder and his not so merry men – Tony Robinson’s hangdog Private Baldrick, Hugh Laurie’s asinine but suddenly anxious Lieutenant George and Tim McInnerny’s ever-twitchy Captain Darling – getting felled by machine-gun fire as they go over the top.

Time itself seems to slow to a standstill – and past laughter turns into a silent act of remembrance punctuated only by birdsong. Having begun on a parodic Shakespearean note in the very first episode – with a rewrite of Richard III, performed by Peter Cook – the magnum opus arrives at a place as poignant as anything in the Histories.

The series’s knowing send-up of a simplistic Ladybird view of English history grows organically into a humble indictment, in grim monochrome fading into the blood-red of a poppy field, of the supposedly educated few whose idiocy led to such senseless slaughter.

Those closing moments were the result of happenstance. The final take was a rushed, botched job, with no time or inclination for another go. It was only in the editing suite that the possibilities of snatching artistic victory from the jaws of a deadly shambles dawned. Having started out biting off more than they could chew, they reached the apotheosis of “less is more”.

“Suddenly we were all standing there in awe,” Lloyd remembers. “My only contribution was to say ‘We’ve touched something here. Quite by accident we’ve done something extraordinary. It would be impertinent to put credits on this. We will take them off.’” And that’s what they did.

New Blackadder Clip Surfaces

This 3.32 minute clip of the most recent Blackadder outing has recently surfaced on the internet; thanks to Johan for bringing this to my attention.

Blackadder @ The Prince’s Trust from Henry Elliss on Vimeo.

You can watch the original clip (uploaded by Henry Elliss) here: http://vimeo.com/55153435

If you’ve not been keeping up to date with all things Blackadder, a Blackadder sketch written by Ben Elton and starring both Rowan Aktinson and Tony Robinson was performed on Nov 28th at a special charity gala event “We Are Most Amused” in aid of the Prince’s Trust. The 13 minute sketch was all about the banks, bankers and banking crisis.

Rare Blackadder Christmas Script Goes Under The Hammer

Source: Coastal Scene 24

A signed 22-page draft for an unfilmed Blackadder Christmas special was a star attraction at a recent fundraising auction held at Bruisyard Hall, near Framlingham.

It was bought by the venue’s Paul Rous, who was delighted to have secured the manuscript.

“I have always thoroughly enjoyed the Blackadder series and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own a piece of something I grew up with and have such fond memories of,” he said. “I feel the connection between Blackadder and Bruisyard Hall is a very relevant one given that one highlights the significant periods of British history since the 1400s and the other has lived through them.”

The script comes with a note from Mr Curtis, who has a home in Walberswick and is a great supporter of The Suffolk Foundation.

In it he says the draft was started in 1988 by himself and fellow writer Ben Elton but was abandoned because they feared it might cause too much offence and they had another idea about Blackadder’s Christmas Carol that they wanted to pursue instead. Mr Curtis describes the Christmas special that never was as a “strange mix between Fawlty Towers and the Life of Brian” and finishes by saying: “I hope you enjoy it a bit – but don’t get too excited – for one thing it just stops – it has no end at all.”

The auction – held at Bruisyard Hall as part of a masquerade ball and helmed by Steven Stockton of Bonhams – raised more than £4,000 for The Suffolk Foundation, which distributes grants to charities and community groups across the county.

New Blackadder Sketch Performed

Blackadder & Baldrick - image copyright The Princes Trust

Update: The Prince’s Trust charity have confirmed that this sketch will NOT be broadcast on television. I will endeavour to locate the full script and publish it here on Blackadder Hall.

A new Blackadder sketch written by Ben Elton and starring both Rowan Aktinson and Tony Robinson was performed last evening at a special charity gala event “We Are Most Amused” in aid of the Prince’s Trust. The 13 minute sketch was all about the banks, bankers and banking crisis.

In the sketch, Rowan played the role of Sir Edmund Blackadder, chief executive of the Melchett, Melchett & Darling bank. While Tony was Sodoff Baldrick, Blackadder’s gardener.

In the sketch, Sir Edmund was called before a parliamentary inquiry into the banking crisis. The woman chairing the inquiry was played by Miranda Hart (from Miranda and Call the Midwife), with her deputies played by Helen Lederer (Absolutely Fabulous) and Sanjeev Bhasker (The Khumars at No42).

Here’s a couple of short clips:

Below is a sample of the dialogue (Source: Telegraph.co.uk)

Blackadder: “The task of this inquiry is to identify those responsible and if necessary to apportion blame. To help I would like to call a witness to the inquiry. I would like to call my gardener… Mr Sodoff Baldrick.”

Enter Baldrick in grubby overalls.

Madam Chair [to Baldrick]: “I’m sorry, could you tell me your first name again?”

Baldrick: “Sodoff.”

Madam Chair: “Well, I was only asking. Your witness, Sir Edmund.”

Blackadder: “Thank you, Madam Chair. Before we begin, Baldrick, kindly assure the inquiry that you are here of your own volition.”

Baldrick: “I can’t do that, my lord.”

Blackadder: “Why not?”

Baldrick: “I don’t know what ‘volition’ means.”

Blackadder [long-sufferingly]: “Did you come here on your own initiative?”

Baldrick: “No, my lord. I came on my bike.”

Madam Chair: “Why is the witness calling you ‘my lord’, Sir Edmund?”

Blackadder: “Because I bought a peerage at the parliamentary gift shop on my way in. There’s a selection of honours for sale next to the Big Ben snow globes. So, Baldrick…”

Baldrick: “I wish to address the charwoman!”

Madam Chair: “I’m afraid she’s busy polishing the Speaker’s gavel.”

Female deputy chair: “Doesn’t Mrs Bercow normally do that?”

Madam Chair: “Yes, but not this morning. She’s got an FHM calendar shoot followed by a meeting of Attention-Seekers Anonymous with Mrs Mensch and that mad cow that went into the jungle. Don’t you follow Twitter?”

Lost Blackadder ‘Script’ uncovered

Below is an extract from Richard Curtis’  screenplay for a Christmas Special of Blackadder that was never made back in 1988.

The script is taken from a new book on Blackadder written by Jem Roberts.

ROLLER & VOICE-OVER (WITH CHORAL ACCOMPANIMENT, ANGELS, ETC)

“And it came to pass, in those days when a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrolment, when Quirinius was Governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And this did constitute an enormous business opportunity for Hoteliers all over the land of Judah, not least in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.”

Cut to the outside of the inn; the sign reads “Blackadder Inn: Merry Enrolment Day!” Caption: 24 December.

SCENE 1 THE FOYER

It should be quite realistic, not a romanised reception desk. Enter Blackadder. He has long Jewish locks – looks Arabic.

Blackadder: Baldrick! (Enter Baldrick. He looks awful, as usual) Where the hell is that turkey?

Baldrick: What turkey, master?

Blackadder: I told you to buy a turkey for tonight’s special supper. For Jehovah’s sake this is the most important night in the history of this hotel – please our customers tonight and we’ll get them back every year – tonight could be the beginning of something big, something which will change the world.

Baldrick: All right, I’ll go out and get it…

SCENE 2 THE KITCHEN

Baldrick is arriving back. He takes a big turkey out of his sack, clears the table, and begins to pluck it. But as he pulls out the first feather…

Turkey: What the hell are you doing?

Baldrick: Who said that?

Turkey: Me.

Baldrick: Oh, my God.

Turkey: What an incredible way to behave – bring me back here to your house, and then start tearing my bloody feathers out. You little b——!

Baldrick: But I have to do it; you’re the master’s supper.

Turkey: (utter outrage) I beg your pardon?

Baldrick: You’re the special dinner.

Turkey: Wait a second – you mean, not satisfied with tearing my feathers out, you’re actually going to eat me as well?

Baldrick: That’s right.

Turkey: But I’m a talking turkey – with me, you could buy a hundred ordinary turkeys.

Enter Blackadder slightly flappy.

Blackadder: Baldrick – we need some entertainment for tonight.

Baldrick: We’ve already got it, lots of wine and our special feast. Although –

Blackadder: No, come on, come on – entertainments – you know, snake tamers, lion charmers, that kind of thing. Can you think of anyone in that line?

Baldrick: Well, my cousin is a very good all-round family entertainer.

Blackadder: (suspicious) Really?

Baldrick: Well, he’s not a bad magician.

Blackadder: Tell the truth, Baldrick. (Hits him.)

Baldrick: My cousin’s a c— magician, but he’s got a collection of funny hats. (Blackadder just hits him.) My cousin’s got one funny cap.

Blackadder: Then get him round here at once – and finish plucking that turkey.

Baldrick: I can’t.

Blackadder: Why not?

Baldrick: Well, I’ll let the turkey answer for itself.

Blackadder: I’m sorry?

Baldrick: It’s a talking turkey.

Blackadder: Of course it is. (To the turkey.) Tell me, we’re undecided what vegetables to do with you. What do you think? Peas or parsnips? (Pause.) Sorry – didn’t quite catch that. (Pause.) Mmm – Baldrick – do you remember what the punishment for lying and time wasting is under Roman law?

Baldrick: Ahm…

Blackadder: It’s something to do with a hand and a very sharp axe, isn’t it?

Baldrick: Oh, yes.

Blackadder: Now, get that cousin, and round up any other entertainers, or we’re in trouble. And get that turkey in … NOW!

(Blackadder leaves.)

Baldrick: Why didn’t you say anything while he was here?

Turkey: I was shy.

Baldrick: Well, I’m going to have to do it anyway.

Turkey: You cruel b——.

Baldrick: But I’ll go and talk to my cousin first.

Turkey: Phew. At least it gives me time to make peace with God… Oh, and by the way… if it comes down to parsnips or peas, I prefer parsnips.

Baldrick: Brilliant.

SCENE 3 FOYER

A bunch of people are checking in. Blackadder is quite thrilled…

Blackadder: Excellent, excellent. (He eventually has to write “No” in front of “Vacancies”) Brilliant. The place is full. Rachel – Baldrick – if anyone else comes – it is full. We haven’t got room to squeeze in a mouse…

He exits, as Rachel potters round the desk. There is a sound of angels vaguely in the background – and Joseph enters, a nice man with a beard.

Joseph: Good evening. Is there any room at the inn?

Rachel: I’m afraid not.

Joseph: What – totally sold out?

Rachel: Totally booked up.

Joseph: Fine. Fine. Oh, god. (He starts to cry.)

Rachel: What’s the matter?

Joseph: Oh, no, it’s fine. It’s just that my wife and I have been travelling for weeks now – and she’s about to give birth, I mean literally it could be at any moment. And, well, I suppose she’ll just have to have the baby in the street.

Rachel: Well, maybe we could find somewhere. Go on, bring your wife in.

Joseph: Oh, thank you very much. (He goes to the door.) Darling – there’s a place!

It turns out that Blackadder is actually returning, and nose to nose with him. Blackadder is not happy.

Blackadder: I’m sorry?

Joseph: I was just telling my wife there was a room here.

Blackadder: Ah – and who told you that?

Rachel: It was me.

Blackadder: And where is this extraordinary room going to magically spring from?

Rachel: Well, I thought perhaps they might stay… (Enter Baldrick.) In Baldrick’s room.

Blackadder: Oh, well, yes, all right. How about I offer you this young man’s room?

Joseph: That sounds excellent.

Blackadder: Yes. It’s not that excellent – less of a room, more of a manger.

Joseph: As long as it’s inside, it’ll do us.

Blackadder: Ah.

Joseph: It’s outside?

Baldrick: Outsidish. Come on – you’ll be all right.

Blackadder: Great, let’s get on with the evening. And tell her, if she does have the kid, to keep the noise down. We don’t want him crying during the entertainment.

SCENE 4 THE MANGER.

Baldrick leads Joseph in. It is a total hole.

Baldrick: Here we go. Had any thoughts about what you’re going to call the baby?

Joseph: Not really. If it was a girl we thought maybe after its mother.

Baldrick: What’s her name?

Joseph: Mary. We’re having a lot more trouble with the boy’s name. Any ideas?

Baldrick: Well, my name’s Baldrick, but I doubt if you’d want that.

Joseph: Well, it’s not bad. Baldrick. Yes, not bad…

Biblical Blackadder Uncovered in NEW Book!

source: BBC.co.uk

A draft script for a Christmas episode of Blackadder has come to light during research for a new book about the BBC’s classic comedy series.

Blackadder in Bethlehem sees Rowan Atkinson’s character as the owner of the inn where Joseph and Mary seek a bed for the night.

The story also features Baldrick, the Three Kings – and a talking turkey.

Written in 1988, the script was given to comedy historian Jem Roberts by writer Richard Curtis.

Roberts describes it as “completely unofficial Blackadder”.

Fragments of the unfinished script appear in his book, The History of the Black Adder, which is published later this week.

In the book, Curtis that he abandoned the idea “for fear it would cause too much offence”.

Instead, it was the Dickensian-themed Blackadder’s Christmas Carol that went into production, and was broadcast on 23 December 1988.

Blackadder ran for four series between 1983 and 1989, starring Atkinson as Blackadder and Tony Robinson as his dogsbody Baldrick.

There were also some stand-alone stories, the last of which was Blackadder: Back and Forth in 1999.

“When you write a book about a comedy world, there is a dream that you’ll be invited into this Ali Baba’s cave of unbelievable archive material,” Roberts told the BBC. “I always presumed that would never be the case with Blackadder.”

But Roberts was amazed when he was handed the previously unseen script while interviewing Curtis at his offices in Notting Hill.

“He printed out a document from his computer and said, ‘see what you want to do with this’.

“My jaw dropped when I saw I was holding a lost Blackadder script.

Roberts added: “He wrote on the script that one of the reasons it didn’t get used was because it was a strange cross between Fawlty Towers and Life of Brian.

“He didn’t think he was going to make it compare to either of them. That’s his reason for it never getting any further than it did.”

Set on 24 December at the Blackadder Inn in Bethlehem, the opening scene features an exchange in the foyer between Blackadder and Baldrick about getting a turkey for the “most important night in the history of this hotel”.

In the next scene, Baldrick is in the kitchen with a turkey which starts to remonstrate with him about being plucked and eaten.

Later, Joseph arrives looking for a room. Blackadder offers him Baldrick’s lodgings.

BLACKADDER: How about I offer you this young man’s room?

JOSEPH: That sounds excellent.

BLACKADDER: Yes. It’s not that excellent – less of a room, more of a manger.

“It wasn’t a huge script, there were massive amounts missing,” explains Roberts. “It’s the rough workings of a comic genius.”

The author said he wanted to write the history of Blackadder from the point of view of a “devoted fan”, to mark the 30th anniversary of the first pilot episode of The Black Adder.

The book was written with the co-operation of writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, producer John Lloyd and the cast and crew.

Roberts’s previous book was The Fully Authorised History of ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’.

But what did Roberts think of the talking turkey scene in Curtis’s re-discovered script?

“In the Blackadder universe there are ghosts and witches, so there could have been talking turkeys – why not?”

“If they had made Blackadder in Bethlehem, it would have been very off-the-wall.”

Britain’s Best Sitcom added

Back in 2004, the BBC broadcast a series that wanted to find ‘Britain’s Best Sitcom’. The British public voted by phone and text during 2003 to decide on the top 100. With the results in, the top 10 were produced and a celebrity advocate of a sitcom was chosen to put their case to the public to ultimately decide on what would be the greatest sitcom.

John Sergeant states why ‘Blackadder’ is his favourite sitcom.

You can read his statement and watch the episode here.

Never seen Blackadder footage and Pilot episide snippets to be broadcast

Hot news just in Blackadder fans; the forthcoming TV documentary Blackadder Rides Again (Christmas Day BBC1 10:30-11:35) will feature some never-before-seen footage…. Here’s what you can expect..

  • A small sequence from the Pilot Episode that has never been broadcast on TV
  • One or two deleted or extended scenes from Series 1
  • Some “clean” footage from the various title sequences of series one (i.e. without the captions)
  • One of the specially shot trailers for Blackadder II (although it’s not best quality) *could be what I have on YouTube
  • Some studio footage from Blackadder Goes Forth
  • Blackadder Goes Forth rehearsal footage
  • The raw footage of the “over the top” sequence from the final episode
  • And a little, tiny glimpse of some backstage stuff from Blackadder Back And Forth
  • There’s also some rare photos I believe

It’s all there to tell the story of the show, so the clips are really there to illustrate what’s being said. Sadly the quality of the studio recording footage from “Potato” wasn’t good enough, so it couldn’t be featured.

Also, my appearance is towards the end of the programme and leads in to the big question of will there be a fifth series.

Blackadder Rides Again broadcast on Christmas Day

ust found out that Blackadder Rides Again will be broadcast on BBC1 on Christmas Day at 10:30pm.

Oh, and just found out that I’m going to be in it… I’ve only got a small part but it still requires me to sign a release form.

Consider me excited!