This is the fifth of a five-part series in which I discuss and review the beloved BBC classic, Blackadder. Part five: The extra bits. (Cue theme song)
Like many British programmes, Blackadder got involved in Comic Relief, which is a charity based in the UK that, according to their website, “strives to create a just world free from poverty.” Every year they do a fundraiser, involving loads of celebrities in order to raise money for their cause. It’s a huge deal in Britain and people from all over the country get involved, wearing red noses and doing silly things in order to raise funds.
On the back of the third series of Blackadder, a 15-minute Comic Relief special was made, called Blackadder: The Cavalier Years. It was set during the English Civil War with familiar characters, Blackadder and Baldrick, as servants of the doomed King Charles I (portrayed by Stephen Fry with all the mannerisms of the current Charles, Prince of Wales). The plot was, due to a misunderstanding between Oliver Cromwell and Baldrick, the King is arrested and sentenced to execution, leaving Blackadder to employ all his cunning to save him. Hilarity ensues when Baldrick inadvertently accepts the job of executioner. This special is a little gem; a short, but sweet example of the genius of the show.
Another popular staple in British television, is the Christmas special, an episode of a series written specifically for airing during the Christmas holiday. Typically sitcoms vie for this spot on British telly, as so many people are home watching television on both Christmas and Boxing day. And like other sitcoms before it, Blackadder joined the ranks of hilarious Christmas programming in 1988.
Like their special for Comic Relief, Blackadder's Christmas Carol was made between the third and fourth series of the show. In this special, Ebeneezer Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson, of course) is very much unlike his ancestors. He's pleasant and gentlemanly. In fact, he’s taken advantage of at every turn, especially over the Christmas period, when he’s feeling filled with the Christmas spirit. Like in the Dickens story, Blackadder is visited in the night by the spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane, who in this special, bears an uncanny resemblance to his future character of Hagrid in the Harry Potter saga), who turns up to show him how rotten his ancestors were and how his future incarnations would turn out if he remained the nice person he was. This visit leaves Blackadder with no doubt in his mind that there is everything to be gained from punching Baldrick in the face, and being rude and contemptuous to everyone who has taken him for a mug in the past. But when two strange visitors come calling, it brings into question whether his new outlook on life is the correct path to take after all. This was a great Christmas special and a hilarious addition to the Blackadder family.
Over a decade after the fourth and final series of Blackadder, the show finally returned to screens in 2001 with a one-off special, Blackadder Back And Forth, which once again reunited the complete original cast.
Set in the present day, Lord Edmund Blackadder is chatting over dinner at Blackadder Hall on New Year’s Eve, 1999, with his friends: Archbishop Melchett; Archdeacon Darling; Lieutenant George; and Lady Elizabeth. As a scam, Blackadder tells them he's built a time machine and wagers £30,000 that he can bring back any item they desire. So, with his faithful sidekick Baldrick, he’s climbs into the box that Baldrick himself built, and pulls out the items that each of his guests requested, already having had them stored there all along. Surprisingly though, the time machine actually works, and so we set off on an adventure through time.
The film was premiered by Sky, in their Skyscape theatre in London's Millennium Dome, during the year 2000 and it was a major success, stirring up rumours about a proposed fifth series that had been circulating for years. In the 2008 documentary, Blackadder Rides Again, Tony Robinson appeared to be very much open to a new series, while Tim McInnerny went on record saying he wouldn't do a fifth series, because he was too old and the public didn't want to see the characters old. Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson have both stated that it's best left alone, while Miranda Richardson is open to another series. And Hugh Laurie has had international success with his American television programme, House MD.
On the whole, I personally don't feel we need another series of Blackadder. I noticed that in Back & Forth, Miranda Richardson seemed to have little trouble recapturing "Queenie" and I've heard many fans complain that Rowan Atkinson was more like his character of Inspector Fowler in The Thin Blue Line (another show written by Ben Elton) than like Blackadder of years gone by. The show was perfect as it was and I love it too much to see it lose any of its greatness by trudging out another series. It’s one of those classic British sitcoms whose magic would be hard-pressed to recapture, even by the original cast; one of those shows that comes along once in a lifetime.
"Black Adder, Black Adder, with many a cunning plan
Black Adder, Black Adder, you horrid little man."
- Howard Goodall