Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Blackadder: Back and Forth

This clip is from the Millennium special episode of Blackadder, Blackadder Back and Forth, which was made by Sky and the BBC and shown at the Millennium Dome, and later on Sky.

Back and Forth was able to revisit some old favourites (Queen Elizabeth I) and go to some periods the original four series (and two specials) missed out, as Blackadder and Baldrick try to learn to steer a time machine built by Baldrick according to a design by Leonardo da Vinci (nice touch - if anyone could ever be capable of inventing a time machine, it would be Leo!).

Blackadder and Baldrick discover their distant ancestors guarding Hadrian's Wall from the Scots (which is inaccurate by the way - the Scots came over from Ireland later, Hadrian's Wall actually kept out the Picts. So any and all jokes about Scottish people - red-haired etc - are all out too).

My favourite joke No 1 - Blackadder wonders why they are trying to keep the [Picts] out by building a three foot high wall. Roman remains are not well preserved in Britain - villas are usually reduced to a few buried walls and mosaics. I haven't been to Hadrian's Wall, but I believe (from photos) that it has survived in a somewhat reduced state. I suspect the original wall was a little higher.

A typical Roman ruin in Britain - this is a villa near Gloucester, which we stopped off at after going to the annual cheese-rolling one year.

My favourite joke No 2 - Hugh Laurie appears in a very, very short skirt, then Stephen Fry appears in his pants. Basically, each man's tunic is shorter than the last. Luckily, Baldrick appears to be wearing the longest tunic.

Stephen Fry praises the others for practising their 'English' - like Chelmsford 123 (an old C4 sticom, posts on that to follow at a later date), the conceit is that 'English' is the local langauge of the Romano-British (actually 'British' would have been a Celtic langauge - see Dr Who post).

Fry's character is a distant ancestor of his General Melchett, from Blackadder Goes Forth (and , presumably, of Melchett from Blackadder II, though he is more similar to the General). He switches to speaking in Latin (yay!), pronounced in the modern way (vs as ws, hard cs) and explains that Rome is under attack and all the Emperor has done is poison his mother (based on Nero, who tried to drown his mother and then had her stabbed to death) and marry his horse (loosely from Caligula, who thought about making his horse a senator, but twisted over time - I'm planning to write a paper on that subject for the CA conference next year). He finishes with my favourite joke No 3 - converting WW1 General Melchett's favourite expression, 'Baaaa!' to 'Baaaaa-us!'

Then they're attacked by 'Scots', who are referred to as Rod Stewart's ancestors and look like extras from Braveheart. Sigh.

It's a shame Blackadder didn't do more in the Roman period - I think the political world of ancient Rome would be perfectly suited to his scheming and conniving. It would have ruined the forward momentum of the series though, and series 2, 3 and 4 are so good I wouldn't want them changed (and even series 1 has it's moments - Jim Broadbent's Spanish translator is genuis and the Archbishop of Canterbury episode is great). At least we have this clip, and anything that provides a slightly more entertaining way to revise Latin has got to be a good thing!

Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson, short skirts hidden by three foot high wall


  1. Great, now I'm going to be stuck with the oyster/moister rhyme from the closing song for the rest of the day. Not that it's a bad song, but bringing the concepts Baldrick and moist together is unsettling.

    I think there are parts of the wall which, if not at their full height, are at least considerably more than three feet high. Of course, those are rather remote, since the bits near to settlements were used as a quarry. There are also some restored bits, I believe. (Reminds me of a short I saw shown with Life of Brian with John Cleese about Roman soldiers on the wall.) The real problem with going back to the Romans for Blackadder is that it mucks about with the origin story, but it would be fun. As for Baldrick in a short skirt, by the time this scene rolls around, we've already seen his bare backside. But anything's better than his posing pouch in Blackadder's Christmas Carol.

    Speaking of Jim Broadbent, I saw Harry Potter last night and it took me forever to stop thinking "I am from Glasgooow" whenever I saw him. Another classics bit from the film: there is something written in what appears to be Latin on the cage with the birds outside the room of requirement. I think I saw the word DIVUS the first time it was shown, but I'm not sure.

  2. I didn't see that - I'll have to wait for the DVD to have a proper look!

  3. I don't think I've ever seen any Blackadder! Hugh Laurie should be a big draw... but I can't forgive Rowan Atkinson for Mr Bean... :s

  4. Oh you HAVE to see Blackadder! Rowan Atkinson is totally different here - I don't like Mr Bean either, but Blackadder series 2 3 and 4 are really different (series 1 is a bit more Mr Bean like, which is why it's the weakest series). I showed Blackadder to an American friend who'd only seen Hugh Laurie in House once, so she could see him with his posh English accent, and she suddenly screamed 'Mr Bean is talking!'

    I like series 4 the best, which is set in the First World War, but series 2 (Queen Elizabeth I) and 3 (Regency) are also very good.

  5. Definitely. Blackadder is Rowan Atkinson at his best: dry, acerbic, sarcastic, cutting. Most of the humor is verbal rather than physical. I personally prefer series 2, though if you want Hugh Laurie, then you need 3 or 4. But they're all good, even the Christmas show (which is actually very good) and the Cavalier sketch for Comic Relief.

  6. Atkinson seems to prefer playing idiots over anything else, and the characters he's been involved in creating (Mr Bean, Johnny English) are often like that. But I agree that he's actually much more effective playing the smart man frustrated by the idiots that surround him, and that is the crucial difference between Blackadder 1 and 2.

    However, I'd agree that 1 has a worse reputation than it deserves. This has a lot to do with the fact that the weakest episodes are the first and last. Ideally for a comedy show, you should be able to shift around the episodes so that the strongest are at the beginning and the end, but because of the way the first and last episodes of Blackadder 1 have been constructed, they can't be moved from those positions. There are stronger episodes, and I broadly agree with you which they are, but they get a bit lost in the middle. It's notable that 2, 3 and 4 are rather more flexible, and could in theory start with any episode except the final one.

    Factual correction: Chelmsford 123 was C4 (and yes, I know I agreed to get hold of it for you ...).

  7. Silly me, of course it was - I even asked them for a copy of the pilot for my proposed CA paper a couple of months ago! (They refused - they couldn't seem to understand that I can't get 4oD to work on my computer). This is what happens when I try to write blog posts quickly...

  8. Well I gave the box-set to a friend of mine as a birthday present last year, I guess I'll have to ask him to lend them to me! ;o)

  9. Oh yes, a Blackadder set in Rome would have been wonderful. Still, difficult to top series 2, I think!


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