First shown on BBC1 on 15 June 1983 The Black Adder (later series were known as Blackadder something or other), was a collaboration between the Beeb and the Australian Seven Network. The writing was done by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson who, of course, was also cast in the lead role. I remember watching the first episode with my Dad – it was a Wednesday night so Mum must have been out a Ladies Club meeting. Looking back now, it seems that it was unusual to be sitting there with Dad, though I’m sure it’s my memory playing tricks. After all, he was usually in on a Thursday night when many of the big TV hitters of the 80s were on.
But anyway, enough of such personal musings. What of The Black Adder? Well, as far as the rest of the cannon goes it can run a little lame, it’s perhaps not as well written, not as pithy as subsequent series. Not quite as self-satisfied, other critics might say. I do think that it relies more heavily on the actual situations rather then the clever word play which does rather characterise later series, especially Blackadder the Third.
It starts with the Foretelling and imaginatively weaves in bits of Shakespeare – “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse…” with the more contemporaneous stuff. Of course things can’t follow the Bard too closely, so although Richard III is killed, that dastardly Henry VII can’t quite get his hands on the crown just yet as Richard IV, brilliantly-oafishly portrayed by Brian Blessed, steps up to the plate to continue the Plantagenet line for just a while longer.
Atkinson’s portrayal of Edmund the Black Adder is very much different to the three subsequent series. This first incarnation is very much the snivelling wretch. None of his (or rather Baldrick’s) schemes come off and even the Lord Percy seems to have something more about him (though not that much more). Best moment for me is the whole set of machinations in the fourth episode, The Queen of Spain’s Beard, surrounding Edmund’s desire (surely the wrong word) to avoid his marriage to the Spanish Infanta. Chief amongst these machinations is the bit when Baldrick is dispatched to the her bedchamber in order to relieve her of her virginity so that the marriage can’t happen (well she has to be a virgin). Then of course we have the revelation that Edmund won’t have to marry her after all as England is now at war with Spain…