The Black Adder was a television show broadcast in four series by the BBC. The first series, The Black Adder, takes place at the end of the 15th century and was first broadcast in 1983. The second series takes place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and was broadcast in 1986. The third series is set in the reign of King George III (the bloke what lost America) and was broadcast in 1987. The fourth and final series takes place in 1917, on the Western Front in World War I and was first broadcast in 1989.

The series were written by Rowan Atkinson (series 1), Richard Curtis (all) and Ben Elton (series 2, 3 and 4).

The episodes are:

In addition to the twenty-four regular episodes, there were two specials, "The Cavalier Years" (which I've seen) and a Christmas Special (which I haven't). "The Cavalier Years" takes place at the tail end of Charles I's rule.

[Editor's Note, 6/1/2002: adjusted some links.]

[Editor's Note, 13th June 2002: corrected details of who wrote which series.]

[Editor's Note, 11th March 2007: Corrected the titles of the latter three series.

The Black Adder
Edmund (Rowan Atkinson) is the weedy second son of a macho medieval king (Brian Blessed). Tired of being forgotten about, he decides to dedicate himself to evil, taking on the soubriquet, "The Black Adder" (his first choice was "The Black Vegetable", but his cunning manservant Baldrick (Tony Robinson) advises him against it). Throughout the series, Baldrick comes up with a number of cunning plans to secure the throne for Edmund, but each of these is ballsed up by the idiotic Edmund and his dopish friend Percy (Tim McInerny). This series was written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, "with additional dialogue by William Shakespeare".

Blackadder II
Edmund Blackadder (Atkinson again, of course) is a nobleman and favorite of the demented and homicidal Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson). His closest companions are his manservant Baldrick, who in this series is close to brain-dead ("For you Baldrick, the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people, wasn't it?"), and his foppish friend Percy. In this series, Blackadder is more convincingly evil, and is constantly occupied in various ruthless schemes to curry favour with the Queen, and to avoid having his head removed on one of her whims. The Queen's other sycophants include Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry), who is Blackadder's arch-enemy. This series features guest appearances by Rik Mayall as Captain Flasheart and Hugh Laurie as a vengeful German master of disguise. This was the first series written by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis (the team who wrote all subsequent series).

Blackadder the Third
Edmund Blackadder is a professional butler with ideas above his station, in the employ of George, the Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie), who is ostensibly ruling the country, because his father, George III, is as "mad as a balloon". The Prince is, in his own words, "as thick as a whale omelette", and is mostly interested in sleeping, eating and girls, when he can get them. Blackadder is assisted by Baldrick, who again is barely sentient, and has developed a great affection for turnips. Blackadder doesn't seem to have any particular game plan in this series, apart from striking it rich, either by rigging an election, publishing a novel or impersonating the Prince among other schemes. This series features guest appearances by Robbie Coltrane (as Samuel Johnson) and Stephen Fry (as the Duke of Wellington).

Blackadder Goes Forth
Despite his ancestor in the previous series ending up assuming the identity of the Prince, in this series Edmund Blackadder is a career soldier, a captain in the British Army. His peacful life of supressing colonial rebellion is shattered by the outbreak of World War I, and he finds himself installed in a trench near Flanders. The troops under his command include his batman Baldrick and Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), an inbred public school yahoo. Blackadder's objective in this series is very clear: avoid at all costs "going over the top" to certain death. To this end, he is engaged in a constant battle of wits with Captain Darling (Tim McInerny), staff officer to the insane General Melchett (Stephen Fry). His luck runs out in the final episode, when he and his troops can no longer avoid advancing on the enemy, and leave their trenches to certain slaughter. This series features guest appearances by Rik Mayall, reprising his Captain Flasheart role as a philandering flying ace, and Jeremy Hardy as a camp prison guard.

I will add Blackadder's Christmas Carol later.

To add to the above, it's worth noting that the first series - entitled, as ryano notes, 'The Black Adder' - was something of a false start, albeit an interesting one, rather akin to 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'. In its favour, 'The Black Adder' was expensive and good-looking, with the addition of lots of location footage shot on film in the snowbound wastes of Northumberland.

Against it, it wasn't particularly funny (Ben Elton was not yet part of the writing team), and the 'group dynamic' had not yet been worked out - Edmund Blackadder was vain and pompous, but lacked any of the guile present in his later incarnations, Baldrick was a shrewd manipulator, and none of the other characters made much of an impression. Rowan Atkinson is generally known for playing vain, bumbling fools, and thus this characterisation should have worked - unfortunately, in a dramatic context it was impossible for an audience to root for a cringing buffoon, and thus the character was more annoying that amusing.

As with the BBC's own 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy' of two years before, the ratings weren't high enough to justify the prodigious expense. Somebody obviously had faith in the idea, however, as the programme was allowed to continue with major format changes - subsequent series were studio-bound, snappier, and used contemporary historical events as a means of satirising the present day, rather than as set-dressing. The title character became a canny manipulator, and much funnier because of it. 'Blackadder' eventually became a national institution and staple of satellite and cable tv marathons, running from 1983 to 1989 in bi-annual six-episode batches.

As with 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' and 'The Day Today', a certain caste of British society can reliably recite several entire scenes and many dozens of quotable lines. "I have a cunning plan", "A cluster of colourblind hedgehogs - in a bag", "I think the phrase rhymes with 'Clucking Bell'", and I must stop.

The Cavalier Years

This single episode addition to the Black Adder (or Blackadder) series takes place during the time of theEnglish Civil War.

The Cavaliers was the name given to supporters of the King against the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell.

Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is one of the former, best friend to King Charles I (Stephen Fry), who is about to lose his head. It is my understanding that Mr. Fry's characterization of the King is an immpersonation of the current Prince Charles. "They will never find a man to execute you," says Blackadder. "Oh," the King replies, "that is really such a shame, when so many young would leap at a chance like this..."

Blackadder hides the King in his home until Cromwell's men show up looking for him. Cromwell himself interrogates Baldrick, who does well, denying the King's presence, until Oliver asks for a cup of tea. "Yes, sir. But don't use the purple cup. It's the King's."

Hope springs eternal for Blackadder, who visits the King, and assures him that they'll never find a man willing to execute him.

Of course, there is always ONE man who will take the job--up step S. Baldrick (Tony Robinson), whose 'brain is like the four-headed, man-eating haddock fish beast of Aberdeen.' 'How so?' 'It doesn't exist.'

Threatened with an axe, he comes up with a cunning plan. Blackadder is not thrilled: "Your family's history in the department of cunning is about as good as Stumpy Oleg McNoleg's personal best in the Market Harborough Marathon!" Baldrick suggests that they disguise a pumpkin as the king, then cut it off instead of his head.

Taking on the role of executioner himself, Blackadder again secretly visits the King, and swears to save his life. But in the absence of a better plan, he is forced to go with the pumpkin. The ruse fails, and Blackadder is forced to do the deed for real.

We next see him in his home, cradling the infant Charles II in his arms, gently, lovingly, until Cromwell's men show up and he tosses the thing at Baldrick. Blackadder pulls off his wig, revealing a short, blonde, Puritan haircut underneath, and turns Baldrick in as the Royalist swine.

The episode feels a bit underdone compared to those in the other series, which are absolutely brilliant. But it remains a valuable part of the collection nonetheless, and as one of the least well known additions, deserves a place among its brothers!

There was also a special released for the Millennium, "Black Adder Back and Forth". Basic plotline:

Edmund is having a party for the Millennium, to which the usual Black Adder posse is invited. During the course of the meal, Edmund claims he has invented a time machine, and wagers £10,000 that he can retrieve any item from any period of time for any of the guests. The bet made, he enters his 'time machine' - which, deviously, has a secret trapdoor leading to his basement, which is full of old, antiquated junk. However, Baldric has built the time machine from plans by Leonardo Da Vinci, and it actually works. WACKY HIJINXS ENSUE as the duo travel to various points in time, rather predictably screwing up history.

Very enjoyable, and certainly full of dark humour, but like so many remakes I found it not quite up to the standards set by the rest of the series. Perhaps some things are best left alone.

Although I agree that the later series are better than the first, I must say that it was the episode "The Archbishop" that got me hooked. The two lines (I know these aren't exact), "I hope that something slightly unpleasant happens to you, like an onion falling on your head," followed by, "May you be turned orange in hue, and may your head fall off at an awkward moment," had me laughing for a good hour.

Some significant changes were made between the first and later series. Most important, I think, are the changes to Edmund Blackadder himself. Rowan Atkinson stopped using that high voice and made fewer silly faces, and the character himself became smarter and more sarcastic. Baldrick got stupid, and honestly I can take him either way (though I think his stupidity was excessive in parts of the third series, particularly Ink and Incapability). Percy did not really change; he was still an airheaded fop.

In Blackadder the Third, we lost Percy and got George instead, who was similar in his stupidity but somehow funnier about it. Then in Blackadder Goes Forth, Geroge stayed, but Tim McInnerny returned as a new character, Kevin Darling. Darling was very different from Percy; instead of the brainless yet loyal fop, he was quite cunning and semed to enjoy watching others suffer (particularly Edmund).

Flashheart (Lord in II and Squadron Commander Lord in Goes Forth) is also worthy of note. I'm still trying to figure out why I didn't like him in "Bells" and yet "Private Plane" is one of my favorite episodes ever. It could just be that the character worked better when he got a whole episode, instead of just showing up as a Deus ex machina to whisk away Edmund's bride. It could be that the WWI pilot's uniform suited him better than Elizabethan garb. Maybe he just got better lines ("Hey girls, look at my machinery!"). I also like the fact that Edmund didn't like him; I think it made for a more interesting dynamic.

Oh yes: Black Adder's Christmas Carol. At the beginning, Edmund is the opposite of his usual self: so generous he ends up with nothing, and nice to everyone. Then he is visited by the Christmas Ghost (Robbie Coltrane, and I'm quite sure whoever suggested him for Hagrid has seen this), who got the wrong house while out trying to convert the misers. He tries to praise Edmund's generosity but mentions how rotten his ancestors were, so Edmund wants to see some examples. Unfortunately, the ghost is limited to showing Christmas scenes, and it seems Edmund always won out then. The icing on the cake is the future scenes, in which the evil Edmund becomes King of the Universe or something, but the good Edmund is Baldrick's slave. So the current Edmund decides to be evil, and in fact does suffer for it, because Queen Victoria intended to give him a huge reward for being so generous, but he slammed the door in her face.

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