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Whenever anyone feels compelled to compile a list of the all-time great UK sitcoms, the various iterations of Blackadder are more often than not justly placed near the top. The show boasted a unique format – each series was set in a different historical period, with different incarnations of Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and his partner-in-crime Baldrick (Tony Robinson) being the only constant.

Blackadder featured a revolving cast of comedy greats – the likes of Stephen FryHugh Laurie,Tim McInnernyMiranda Richardson and Rik Mayall all appear – but the show’s path to greatness was not an easy one, as we shall discover below…

The Black Adder (1983)
It’s widely accepted that the first series of Blackadder is by far the show’s weakest era. Written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, the initial six episodes fail to capture the characters and the razor-sharp dialogue that would later make the show such a hit. Filmed primarily on location with a large cast, The Black Adder is unique in casting Edmund as a buffoon and Baldrick as a wily character who frequently outsmarts his boss. It’s a set-up that doesn’t quite work, yet there’s still early signs of real promise.

Blackadder II (1986)
After a three-year break, Blackadder returned, with Ben Elton now joining the writing team. It’s debatable how much of the credit should go to Elton, but Blackadder II was a far superior beast to the show’s first incarnation. Gone was the weak and bumbling Blackadder of old, replaced by a suave, shrewd and witty character who served at the pleasure of the demented Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson).

Everyone has their favourite episodes from this era, but this writer’s own pick is the penultimate instalment, ‘Beer’, which sees Lord Blackadder engage in a drinking contest with the bombastic Melchett (Stephen Fry). Blackadder II also introduces the glorious Flashheart – played to over-the-top perfection by Rik Mayall. Perhaps this era’s only bum note is its conclusion – a misjudged final scene in which the central cast are killed off for the sake of a (rather lame) gag…

Blackadder the Third (1987)
Of course, Blackadder didn’t stay dead for long. A year later, he was back as the butler to the Prince of Wales during England’s Regency period. Though in this writer’s opinion not as strong as Blackadder II, the third series does contain a number of excellent guest spots from the likes of former series regular Tim McInnerny and Robbie Coltrane, who plays Dr Samuel Johnson (“Allow me to offer you my sincerest… contrafibularities!”).

However, the show’s third year ultimately belongs to Hugh Laurie, taking on his first major Blackadder role. Laurie is simply fantastic as the idiotic, foppish Prince Regent and frequently steals the show from right under Rowan Atkinson’s nose.

Blackadder the Third is also notable for its (relatively) happy ending – for once, Edmund escapes death and assumes the late Prince’s identity.

Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
And so we come to the final full series of Blackadder – and this writer’s favourite! Blackadder Goes Forth is Curtis and Elton firing on all cylinders, the grim situation that Edmund finds himself in – the trenches of the Great War – inspiring his cutting wit like never before. Each episode is a treat, but special mention must be made of Flashheart’s return in ‘private jet charter‘ – woof woof!

And of course, who can forget that magnificent final scene? The laughter stops as Blackadder, Baldrick, George and Darling are finally forced ‘over the top’ and give up their lives for their country – the war-torn landscape fading away, replaced by a beautiful field of poppies. Anyone who can watch the end of ‘Goodbyeee’ without at least a lump in their throat must have a heart of stone.

The Future
Of course, ‘Goodbyeee’ wasn’t the end of Blackadder. The series returned for a one-off short to celebrate the Millennium – the time-travel epic Back and Forth – but reaction to the special was somewhat mixed.

Ever since, there has been talk of a full-scale Blackadder revival. Rumoured settings for a fifth series included the Russian revolution, a World War 2 POW Camp and the 1960s – with Edmund cast as the frontman of a rock band and ‘Bald Rick’ as his drummer. As recently as last month, Rowan Atkinson claimed that another series is still “a possibility”.

Whether or not Blackadder returns to scheme, smirk and bully Baldrick once more, the show’s original run remains an example of classic British comedy. The ‘Ultimate Edition’ box-set contains all four series, as well as the ‘Back and Forth’, ‘Christmas Carol’ and ‘Cavalier Years’ special episodes, and is well worth your hard-earned cash! Catching up with Edmund, Baldrick, Percy, George, Melchett and all your other favourites on DVD? Sounds like a “cunning plan” to us…

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