A new sketch by Richard Curtis is going under the hammer to help Book Aid International – and 30 other writers are backing the charity too.
Their adventures spanned five centuries and featured mad royals and barking army generals, not to mention at least one giant turnip. Now, at last, the sardonic Edmund Blackadder and his eternally stupid manservant, Baldrick, are making a comeback. Of sorts.
A new sketch featuring the hapless duo, in the handwriting of Richard Curtis, is one of the star lots at an auction next month aiming to raise funds for the charity Book Aid International, which was backed by The Observer’s 2005 Christmas appeal with a donation of £100,000.
Curtis, who co-wrote the hit Eighties comedy with Ben Elton, is among more than 30 authors and illustrators whose specially produced handwritten work is to go under the hammer.
All were given the phrase ‘between the lines’ to inspire them. Another star contribution comes from JK Rowling, who has excited Harry Potter fans by designing a family tree for the character Sirius Black which is expected to fetch up to £50,000.
DBC Pierre, winner of the Man Booker Prize for Vernon God Little, Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, actress Joanna Lumley and playwright Tom Stoppard have also contributed manuscripts to the event, supported by Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Book Aid International supplies more than half a million books each year to some of the world’s poorest countries, mostly in Africa.
Blackadder, which starred Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson, ran for four series and was revived with a special, Blackadder Back and Forth, for the new millennium. There has since been constant speculation about a comeback. The new sketch, ‘Blackadder Between the Lines’, is apparently set in the Elizabethan era of Blackadder II. Fittingly for the charity, Baldrick attempts to impress his master by reading a book, but Blackadder points out that the book is upside down and written in ancient Greek. ‘I thought it looked a bit funny,’ admits the world’s most stupid turnip lover.
Fans’ appetite for a return of the characters to television may have been whetted, but Curtis, 49, admitted it is unlikely. ‘When we gave up, there was a thought that one day, when we were old and angry with the young world, we might bring Blackadder back to rail against the modern world,’ he told The Observer. ‘But I fear it’s unlikely. Hugh Laurie is now a major American TV star, Stephen Fry is a poet, Rowan’s a racing driver and Tony Robinson is an archaeologist. But never say never.’ Curtis, a co-organiser of last summer’s Live8 concert, spelled out why he was supporting Book Aid International. ‘Education and information are clearly absolutely key in the battle to get out of poverty,’ he said. ‘World governments made a promise in 2000 to get primary education for every child – that promise has been reiterated with some extra money at the G8 last year, but until the promise is kept, every little bit helps.’
The charity auction takes place on 21 February and is hosted by Bloomsbury Auctions. Other authors to donate lots include Iain Banks, Maeve Binchy, Sebastian Faulks, PD James, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, Lynne Truss, Jacqueline Wilson, Colin Dexter, David Mitchell, Dick King-Smith, Eoin Colfer, Frederick Forsyth, Louis Theroux, Sebastian Barry, Cathy Kelly, Babette Cole, Joanna Trollope, Sue Townsend and Sir Tim Rice.
Between the lines: three different takes
Blackadder: What are you doing?
Baldrick: I’m reading, sir.
Blackadder: What is it?
Baldrick: It’s a book, sir.
Blackadder: Yes, I can see it’s a book. Which book?
Baldrick: I’m not entirely sure, sir.
Blackadder: You might find it easier if you had it the right way round.
Baldrick: Thank you, sir.
Baldrick turns the book upside down. Blackadder has a look.
Blackadder: And if it was in English, not ancient Greek.
Baldrick: I thought it looked a bit funny.
Blackadder: It is the Iliad by Homer – so it is not the slightest bit funny. But am I to surmise, reading between the lines, Baldrick, that you do not actually know how to read?
Baldrick: No, sir, not a word.
Blackadder: So why were you sitting with a book in your lap when I entered the room?
Baldrick: I was hoping to impress you, sir.
Blackadder: It would take more than you knowing how to read to impress me.
Baldrick: Really, sir?
Baldrick: How much more?
Blackadder: Let me put it this way. If I came into the room – and William Shakespeare was on his knees begging you to help him finish his next play, and Queen Elizabeth was on her knees giving you a blow job, I would still not be impressed.
Baldrick: Why not, sir?
Blackadder: Because I know you to be the lowest creature ever created by God and every time he looks down and sees you, he hits his forehead with his fist and shouts – ‘Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I totally and utterly fucked up that time.’
Baldrick: In which case, I will never try to impress you again.
Blackadder: Good decision. Now, what in the hell did I want you to do? I’ve completely forgotten… oh, yes, I remember.
Baldrick: What, my lord?
Blackadder: I want you to take this scroll to Ben Elton and ask him to do a rewrite on this scene – Richard Curtis can’t think of a punchline…