A Look Back at the Black Adder - The First Series of the Iconic Sitcom

While working together in the 1980s on Not The Nine 0'Clock News, Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson wrote The Black Adder - an ambitious, big-budget medieval sitcom. So, why is it the forgotten Blackadder series?

Then called The Black Adder rather than just Blackadder, the show differed from the traditional Blackadder formula in many ways. The first, and probably most obvious, is the fact that The Black Adder in question is stupid, and Baldrick is, if not the clever one, then certainly the smarter of the two.

He, Percy (just as stupid as he was in Blackadder II) and Black Adder wake up late and miss The Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Black Adder then accidentally chops the head off his uncle, Richard III, (played by Peter Cook), this unfortunate development leads to Black Adder's father (Brian Blessed) becoming King. This makes Edmund Prince and the trio christen him 'The Black Adder' after his previous suggestion of 'The Black Vegetable' is rejected.

There are a lot of Shakespearean quotes and parody in this series, particularly in the first episode, which is a sort of one giant Richard III and Macbeth parody. It even includes three witches, who tell Edmund that he will become King. Ironically, Ben Elton (who later went on to write the Shakespeare sitcom Upstart Crow) wasn't involved in this series at all - it was solely a collaboration between Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson. Rowan Atkinson later confessed he had doubts about the first series:

'The first series was odd, it was very extravagant. It cost a million pounds for the six programmes [which] was a lot of money to spend...It looked great, but it wasn't as consistently funny as we would have liked.'

Richard Curtis admitted that further doubt had been expressed when the producer John Lloyd came up to him on set and asked him what Black Adder's character actually 'was' and how Atkinson should play it. Richard Curtis then said that, despite writing some funny gags for the character, he realised that he had 'no idea how Rowan Atkinson was supposed to play his part.'

After the show aired in 1983, it received an International Emmy, a rarity for British sitcoms. However, despite this, Michael Grade (the controller of BBC1 at the time) did not want to recommission the show, and Rowan Atkinson didn't want to write a second series either.

It remained in limbo for three years before Ben Elton came on board. Richard Curtis had contacted him after the success of The Young Ones with thoughts that they should perhaps do a sitcom about the band Madness together.

But then the idea was abandoned, and the decision was made to remake The Black Adder instead, but do it as an entirely studio based sitcom . The first Black Adder being filmed on location, was hugely expensive, and was one of the reasons the show was almost axed completely.

However, a lot more elements of what we think of when we recall Blackadder are present here than you might first realise: the theme tune; cameos from Rik Mayall; Jim Broadbent (using a very similar accent to his Blackadder's Christmas Carol's Albert); and, as previously mentioned, Percy (played by Tim McInnerny) who is pretty much the same as he is in Blackadder II, there's even a mention of turnips!

The Black Adder in this is really more of an if-Mr-Bean-could-speak type performance; it's fine, but it isn't nearly as compelling as his cunning successors.

So, is this series rightly forgotten? Well, it's certainly different. To my mind it conjures up more of a Monty Python and The Holy Grail or Ripping Yarns type vibe, probably due to the vast amounts of location filming around castles. Hugh Laurie (who wasn't in the series but reflected on it for a Blackadder documentary) described it as:

'Sort of loose, kind of big and sprawling, it looked incredibly extravagant. It was exciting to see people doing anything comic outside an ordinary sitting room with a sofa and two chairs.'

And he's exactly right. Even though now it comes out as the most dated of the four Blackadder series, it has its fans. When I was younger, I remember not even being aware of it - it was never repeated, and still isn't something you see on UKGold much, if at all.

That's a shame. Blackadder is undoubtedly one of the greatest British sitcoms of all time, so we mustn't forget its humble beginnings!

Written by Rhianna Evans

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