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2 September 2014
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The Black Adder

The Black Adder

Thanks to Not the Nine O'Clock News, in the early 1980s Rowan Atkinson had become one of the brightest talents in TV comedy and it was a natural step for him to move from sketch performing to starring in his own sitcom.

He and producer John Lloyd had talked about making a historical comedy and together with Richard Curtis they devised the story of The Black Adder.

At its heart was the ingenious concept of telling a forgotten but 'true' version of history, specifically the events after the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field: when most textbooks would claim the Tudor dynasty began.

Turning convention on its head, Atkinson and Curtis's script portrayed the supposedly hunchback and child-killing Richard III as a brave and kindly king (played by Peter Cook), who is accidentally killed by Edmund Plantagenet (Atkinson) after the battle.

Baldrick, Percy and the Black Adder

While the king's ghost stalks his killer, his nephew Richard, Duke of York, takes the throne and becomes Richard IV (1485-98).

Edmund, one of the new King's two sons, becomes Duke of Edinburgh and Warden of the Royal Privies, although even his own father can barely remember his name (is it Edgar? Osmond? Edna?)

Attended by faithful acolyte Lord Percy and his manservant Baldrick, Edmund decides to toughen his image by taking a new title, The Black Adder (after briefly considering The Black Vegetable), but in reality he is a snivelling wretch of a noble and unlike later series is actually slower-witted than Baldrick.

However, as the series develops he begins to show more of the cynical, cowardly scheming that characterises later Blackadder incarnations and in the last episode he concocts a plot to steal the throne for himself.

Miriam Margolyes

He even technically achieves his goal for thirty seconds, before joining his family in drinking a fatal dose of poisoned wine, leaving Henry Tudor a vacant throne and the chance to rewrite history.

The clever historical conceit heavily influenced the scripts for the first series, which aimed more at pastiching period epics and Shakespeare (who gets a credit for 'additional dialogue' thanks to a liberal sprinkling of quotes) and with its considerable budget for a sitcom, much of it was shot on location.

While it won fans and an International Emmy, the show was in jeopardy until new BBC One Controller Michael Grade commissioned a second series, albeit with studio recordings and a tighter budget.

The rest was not only History, but surely the most hilarious telling of it ever on British TV.

Cast

Rowan Atkinson
Edmund Blackadder
Tony Robinson
Baldrick
Tim McInnerny
Percy
Brian Blessed
King Richard IV
Elspet Gray
The Queen
Robert East
Prince Harry of Wales

Crew

Rowan Atkinson
writer
Richard Curtis
writer
Martin Shardlow
director
John Lloyd
producer

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