This is the first of a five-part series in which I will discuss and review the beloved BBC classic, Blackadder. Part one: The Black Adder. (Cue theme song)
The first series, The Black Adder, was set in the year 1485, at the end of the British Middle Ages, and is written as a sort of secret history of the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth field. This was the penultimate battle in The War of the Roses (not the one with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner), which was a civil war between The House of Lancaster and The House of York. In the actual battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor won and subsequently founded the Tudor dynasty. In Blackadder history, however, Richard III won, but was unfortunately decapitated by Edmund Blackadder, and subsequently the throne befell King Richard IV. Now, in this secret history Richard IV, who had been one of the princes that were being held in the Tower of London, just so happened to be Edmund Blackadder's father. The Black Adder follows the misadventures of Prince Edmund, his servant Baldrick, Son of Robin the Dung Gatherer, and Lord Percy Percy, Duke of Northumberland.
The series was created when Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis worked together on the BBC sketch comedy, Not the Nine O'Clock News, which had ended in 1982, a year before Blackadder was produced. This first series was given a substantial budget by the BBC, which allowed for extravagant location shoots such as Alnwick Castle in Northumberland and surrounding countryside, as well as a large cast of extras. The series was narrated superbly by Patrick Allen, who was finally given an on-screen roll in the final episode as Phillip of Burgundy or, "The Hawk."
Despite winning an International Emmy Award in 1983, the first series was poorly received by viewers. The characterizations of Blackadder and Baldrick were vastly different in the first series from what was to come in future series. But looking back on it, one can’t help but wonder if the Blackadder of the first series of the show was not the prototype of Atkinson’s most world-wide famous character, Mr. Bean. The similarities are definitely there.
Personally, I feel Brian Blessed saved The Black Adder from obscurity. Blessed was Richard IV, Blackadder’s father, and his portrayal of the character really gave viewers insight into the reason Blackadder turned out the way he did. He never remembered his own son’s name for a start and by the final episode, The Black Seal, Blackadder had fired his faithful servants, Baldrick and Percy, and rounded up a gang of the most evil men in the kingdom to overthrow his father. Of course, if you’ve seen the series, you know how it turns out. If not, you may want to pick it up on DVD. It’s not the best series of the show, but it’s definitely worth owning if you’re a fan of British comedy and an absolute must-have, as far as understanding the evolution of Blackadder over time.