Comedy with Real History; Blackadder and Baldrick Laughed and Plotted Their Way from the Middle Ages to Britain's Future. Marion McMullen Checks out Three Decades of Sex, Lies and Historical Mishaps

Article excerpt

Byline: Marion McMullen

IT ALL began 30 years ago with a cunning plan... The first incarnation of Blackadder launched on TV screens three decades ago and saw Rowan Atkinson in the Middle Ages and sporting an unflattering pudding basin haircut as Prince Edmund - the Black Adder - Duke of Edinburgh.

"The most gripping sitcom since 1380" declared the series which saw Tony Robinson as Baldrick and Tim McInnerney as Lord Percy, Blackadder's sidekicks with Brian Blessed as his dad, King Richard IV.

Filmed at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill writer Richard Curtis wrote the first six episodes with Rowan Atkinson and the closing credits also proclaimed: "With additional dialogue by William Shakespeare."

The first Edmund was a snivelling coward and the runt of the royal litter and it is said Atkinson and Curtis came up with the idea for the comedy during work on Not The Nine O'Clock News.

Edmund's fortunes had improved by the reign of the Virgin Queen. Doublet and hose transformed Edmund into a smooth-tongued charmer and a devious royal courtier who needed all his wits about him to stop Miranda Richardson's precocious Elizabeth I from chopping off his head on a whim.

Ben Elton took over scriptwriting duties with Curtis and Blackadder's adventures quickly became compulsive viewing.

Edmund's fortunes were on the wane by the 19th century Regency era and Mr E Blackadder was now part of the royal household working for foppish numbskull Prince George.

"If you want something done properly, kill Baldrick before you start," was Blackadder's philosophy.

The opening credits each week saw him checking out the titles of some of the intriguing volumes on the bookshelves. The best-sellers included The Blackadder's Progress, From Black Death To Blackadder, Landscape Gardening by Capability Brownadder, The Blackadder Of Calcutta and The Blackobite Rebellion.

Episodes went by names like Nob And Nobility, Dish And Dishonesty and Sense And Senility.

Blackadder Goes Forth has been voted the second best British sitcom of all time - beaten by Only Fools And Horses - and saw Captain Edmund Blackadder and Private Baldrick in the First World War trenches on the Western Front along with Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny) and Stephen Fry as General Melchett.

"If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through," insisted Melchett.

While Blackadder's view was "We're in the stickiest situation since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck on a sticky bun. …