Blackadder star Sir Tony Robinson in Michael Gove WW1 row
- 5 January 2014
- From the section UK Politics
A row has erupted between Sir Tony Robinson and Michael Gove after the education secretary claimed "left-wing academics" were using Blackadder "to feed myths" about World War One.
Sir Tony, who played Baldrick in the BBC series, said Mr Gove was essentially "slagging off teachers".
But Mr Gove said Sir Tony - a left wing activist - was "wrong" and he had not been attacking teachers, just "myths".
The row comes ahead of centenary commemorations for the outbreak of WW1.
The final series of Blackadder - set in the trenches of WW1 - depicts Britain's military leaders as cowards and buffoons, in common with earlier fictional accounts of the conflict such as the 1960s musical farce Oh, What a Lovely War!
Mr Gove told the Daily Mail on Thursday, that people's understanding of the war had been overlaid by "misrepresentations" which at worst reflected "an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage".
"The war was, of course, an unspeakable tragedy, which robbed this nation of our bravest and best," wrote Mr Gove.
"But even as we recall that loss and commemorate the bravery of those who fought, it's important that we don't succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict."
He added: "The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles - a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.
"Even to this day there are left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths."
Some scenes in Oh, What a Lovely War! were based on historian and Conservative politician Alan Clark's revisionist history of WW1, The Donkeys, which is credited with starting the trend for unflattering portrayals of WW1 top brass.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Sir Tony, a former member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, said: "I think Mr Gove has just made a very silly mistake; it's not that Blackadder teaches children the First World War.
"When imaginative teachers bring it in, it's simply another teaching tool; they probably take them over to Flanders to have a look at the sights out there, have them marching around the playground, read the poems of Wilfred Owen to them. And one of the things that they'll do is show them Blackadder.
"And I think to make this mistake, to categorise teachers who would introduce something like Blackadder as left-wing and introducing left-wing propaganda is very, very unhelpful. And I think it's particularly unhelpful and irresponsible for a minister in charge of education."
The actor and Labour activist said it was "just another example of slagging off teachers," adding: "I don't think that's professional or appropriate."
But a spokesman for Michael Gove hit back at his comments.
"Tony Robinson is wrong. Michael wasn't attacking teachers, he was attacking the myths perpetuated in Blackadder and elsewhere," said the spokesman.
"Michael thinks it is important not to denigrate the patriotism, honour and courage demonstrated by ordinary British soldiers in the First World War."
Earlier, shadow education secretary and TV historian Tristram Hunt also criticised Mr Gove's "crass" comments.
In an article in The Observer, the Labour MP wrote: "The reality is clear: the government is using what should be a moment for national reflection and respectful debate to rewrite the historical record and sow political division."
In October, BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, who has written a book to tie in with the centenary of the start of WW1, criticised schools for relying on episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth to teach pupils about the conflict.
The following month, Conservative defence minister Andrew Murrison, a former Royal Navy surgeon, said: "We risk disconnection from a defining event of our time and an opportunity, perhaps, to balance the Oh! What A Lovely War/Blackadder take on history, that has sadly been in the ascendant for the past 50 years."