Blackadder – The Untold Story

This BBC Radio Times article written by John Lloyd and appeared in the 26 September – 2 October 1987 issue of “Radio Times”.

Few people know the ‘Blackadder the Third’, like its predecessors, is not an original script but an adaptation of an ancient set of journals, ‘The Blackadder Chronicles’. Sir John lloyd, loafing Professor at the University of Camelot, argues their place in history is generally taught as a series of lists: of battles, of kings and queens, of great men and women.

Everything I know about history, for example, firts snugly into three pages of my Filofax. Rarely does the true history of a whole nation or a race come down to us, carefully documented detail for detail, and readily available in Penguin. One thinks of Herodotus’s Histories; of the Dead Sea Scrolls, of Pepys’s Diaries. One thinks, with more enthusiasm, of Sigourney Weaver caught in a monsoon in a silk dress in The Year of Living Dangerously. But it’s on the video recorder in my study.

The great books of the past can be counted on the fingers of one packet of thin chocolate-covered biscuits. There are 46 of them. Some scholars dispute this, but they are wrong. There’s no one who knows more about chocolate fingers than I do. And among the classic books of history the name of the Blackadder Chronicles springs, unfortunately, to mind. ‘Unfortunately’, because it is (a) long, (b) dull and (c) utter tosh from beginning to end.

It is catalogue of breathtaking exaggerations, thunderous libels and outrageous lies. Blackadders take credit for everything from the Battle of Trafalgar to the invention of sliced bread. We are asked to believe ‘ that a Blackadder invented penicillin the Wednesday before Sir Alenander Fleming, but threw it away because he didn’t think that name was catchy enough. A Blackadder writes that he reached the South Pole, not only before Scott but even before Roald Amundsen. He claims to have been there when they arrived one after the other some days later, but wasn’t spotted because he was wearing a white summer suit. He adds that he was unable to admit to the publicly because ‘it’s just not the kind of thing we Freemasons boast about’.

To add injury to insult, throughout the Chronicles we are subject to long-winded tirades where the various authors furiosly insist on absolving themselves from any blame for such events as the crash of the R101, the Indian Mutiny, the loss of the American colonies or the sinking of the Lusitania. Since no such involvement had ever occurred to one, one can only assume that all these things were in some way the fault of the Blackadder in question. From the Battle of Hastings, 1066, to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, 1924, Blackadders have unerringly backed the loser.

Though The Blackadder Chronicles begin in the tenth century, the name does not appear until the 14th century when Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh, took the sobriquet ‘the Black Adder’ for use during his hideous nocturnal activities. His original choice of name – ‘the Black Vegetable’ – was rejected by him as being ‘too frightening’.

There is a theory that that Blackadders are descended from an early prototype of man called ‘Homo Non-Erectus’. But this is nonsense. Homo Non-Erectus died out for two very obvious reasons. Perhaps it would have been better for all of us if whoever it was that planted the Blackadder seed had done the same. Because the whole family has made a spectacular cock-up of 1,000 years of opportunity. They have managed to pooh-pooh every invention and make sarcastic remarks about every creative genius from Galileo to Jeffrey Archer.

Consider for example, Baron de Blackadder (1187-1217). He was one of only three barons in England not to sign the Magna Carta. The other two failed to attend the ceremony because they were shot, roasted and eaten by Friar Tuck in mistake for deer; Blackadder because he ‘couldn’t see the point in it’. But while it is the case that Blackadders have missed of the great events of history, it can be said that members of the line were present at at least some memorable historical events.

The Crusades, for example. It was Sir Edmund de Blackadder who led the disastrous 23rd crusade (over August Bank Holiday Weekend 1972) which ended in ignominious defeat when the broadsword in his attache case set off the beeper at Tel Aviv airport. In the early 1940s, Edmund T. Blackadder Jr had the distinction of working on the Manhattan Project for the Allied governments in New York. The purpose of the Project was, initally, to find ways of ending the war as loudly as possible. Blackadder shared an office with Sir Dilwyn Rhys Whys, the Welsh nobody. Two offices down the corrider, Oppenheimer shared with Enrico Fermi. Within three weeks Fermi and Oppenheimer had discovered the atomic bomb; Blackadder and Sir Dilwyn had discovered the minuscule holes in the sides of Biros.

The history of the Baldrick family recurs repeatedly throughout the Chronicles. There is even a family tree. It tells the pathetic tale. Over 3,000 names, and every one of them the same. Even, as far as one can tell, the women. And where is he now, this last sad ambassador of his line? Two years ago I though I glimpsed a baldrick dressed in a frilly mob cap doing a walk-on in a PG Tips commercial. Baldricks have had a bit of a bad aeon, on the whole. They have been dismembered in history’s great battles, not been invited to history’s, run over by great advances in transport, trampled on in the great gold rushes. Practically the family’s only claim to fame is the hand of an early Baldrick appears under the rear left hoof of the horse of Sir Guy de Honfleur. And the greatest achievement of the Blackadder dynasty? A dinner party in Chelsea in 1968, where the present Edmund Blackadder had the distinction of being the first man to scoff at flared trousers.

The current programmes are adapted from Volume XIV of the Chronicles, covering the period 1760-1815. The fortunes of the Blackadder in question have sunk to the point where he is merely the butler to the Prince of Wales, the son of George III. The fortunes of the Baldrick in question have not sunk. He has stayed where he is. Right at the bottom.

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