Black to the Future – Interview with Tony Robinson
This article was originally published in the January edition of Skyview, the SKY TV subscribers magazine in the UK.
Blackadder returns to celebrate the millennium in a new film, showing at Skyscape.
Alex Hunt talks to Tony Robinson, who found fame as the long-suffering Baldrick.
When Blackadder and Baldrick went over the top to meet certain death at the end of 1989’s Blackadder Goes Forth series, it seemed as though we had seen the last of caddish Edmund Blackadder and his smelly, turnip-obsessed sidekick Baldrick. But now, 10 years on, they’re back and in a specially commissioned film, Blackadder Back And Forth.
The film will be screened at Skyscape, the Dome’s entertainment venue, hosted by Sky. And Sky viewers who are unable to visit the Dome can see the film when it has its first TV broadcast on Sky in 2001.
A national institution
Since Blackadder last hit our screens, Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson has enjoyed a varied TV career that includes presenting the archaeology series Time Team. Yet it is for his role as Baldrick that Robinson is destined to be best remembered. Not that he has any problem with that. “I’d like to look at Baldrick as something wonderful that enabled my career to shoot off in different directions,” he says.
When the role of Baldrick was offered to him in the early Eighties, he was an unemployed actor, left wondering if the big time had completely eluded him. “My impression is that every vertically challenged actor in London turned down the part of Baldrick before it got to me,” he recalls. “In the original pilot, the Baldrick part was extremely small, about eight lines. But the character grew from there. Of course, I had no idea that he would become a national institution.”
“It took me a long time to realise just how successful the series was. Then it hit me – Baldrick had become this little comedy god. People would send me turnips through the post. Believe me, I’ve tried every turnip recipe known to man.”
In the latest rib-tickling film, we catch up with the Blackadder gang on New Year’s Eve 1999 at a dinner party given by Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), during which Baldrick unveils his latest cunning plan: a time-travel machine constructed out of old cereal packets. Amazingly, the thing works, and Baldrick and Blackadder are whisked back in time for meetings with the likes of Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare and Robin Hood, as well as a family of less-than-friendly dinosaurs that are repelled by a pair of Baldrick’s famously smelly underpants.
“People naturally assume that working on something like Blackadder is a barrel of laughs,” says Robinson. “But it was a lot of hard work and it was very serious, That said, it was enjoyable. And the most enjoyable part of it was working with that team of actors again. It took me a long time to feel like I was a real part of the team. I was an outsider in that I hadn’t come out of Oxford or Cambridge like most of the others. But as I was working on this new one, I realised that I’d become an honorary member of the gang.”
When the film was first mooted, Robinson says that he had no hesitation about stepping back into Baldrick’s whiffy boots.
“Both Rowan and I have always said that we’d be happy to do another Blackadder. The only problem was getting the cast together. All of us were off doing wildly different things. One evening, I was filming on a pretend Hadrian’s Wall just outside Guildford for Blackadder. At the end of that day’s filming, I was driven up to the real Hadrian’s Wall to start excavating for Time Team!”
Luckily, it all worked out in the end. The film boasts an all-star line-up including Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rik Mayall, Colin Firth and even Kate Moss. As for the future, Robinson won’t rule out further Blackadder episodes. As he reflects on how Baldrick has transformed his life, he can hardly resist a big, satisfied grin.
“One of the most extraordinary things has been how much people identify with the character. It’s wonderful to be part of something that’s stepped out of being a sitcom and become embedded deep in the nation’s psyche. You’ve got to be bloody lucky to have that happen in your life.”
Thanks to Nick Bradshaw, editor of Skyview for granting permission to republish the article.