Our favourite series from the legendary BBC comedy sitcom Blackadder, the second of four series first aired in 1986 on the BBC and was the turning point towards greatness. The pseudo-historical show began in 1983 with a big budget – it was also called the Black Adder, with Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh (Rowan Atkinson) being a snivelling, unlikable character.
Richard Curtis and Atkinson created the show whilst working on Not the Nine O’Clock News at the BBC, but the end result didn’t meet expectations. Reviews weren’t great, but after a three-year gap a second series got the green light.
Atkinson stepped down as writer and stand-up Ben Elton was drafted in as replacement. The improvement was immediate and we have arguably the ’80s very best comedy sitcom right here: Blackadder II.
The Black Adder is okay, but a clumsy attempt that needed refining. Frankly, we consider Blackadder II to be the real start for the series – it was a colossal step forward! We don’t make much of Ben Elton’s jabbering, manic stand-up routine, but as a writer he really is quite gifted and witty.
For Blackadder II, the anti-hero was transformed into a hyper-intelligent, suave, dashing, cynical, and gleefully Machiavellian character – Lord Edmund Blackadder.
Set in Elizabethan times (1558-1603), Blackadder (the great-grandson of Black Adder in series 1) is a member of London’s aristocracy – but is permanently broke. The series largely concerns his attempts to win favour with Queen Elizabeth I, played magnificently by Miranda Richardson.
The problem there is “Queenie” is batshit crazy and prone to manic bouts of infantile petulance, which includes a penchant for arbitrarily beheading people (even the ones she likes).
As such, there’s a certain tension to the show as Blackadder is always on the verge of being beheaded, not helped by his acrimonious relationship with the Queen’s slimy, sycophantic aid – Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry).
Blackadder lives alone in a house in London and appears to have few friends, largely due to his self-serving attitude. His stupid servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson) is ever-present, however, as is Edmund’s acquaintance Lord Percy (Tim McInnerny), who is an imbecile.
There you have it! With this simple set up, you get six fabulous 30-minute episodes which really delve into the madness of the Elizabethan era, whilst developing Blackadder as a classic character of dastardly wit. And the show is quite superb.
Queenie & Nursie
Occasionally, as the viewer we get to catch up with the Queen and her minder, Nursie, who make a formidable duo. The latter, although reduced largely to a bunch of erratic soundbites, was performed hilariously by Patsy Byrne.
Nursie has, simply put, lost her mind and seems to live in a delusional world where Queenie is still a baby. Her contributions throughout the series consist of surreal interjections and manic outbursts.
Queenie, meanwhile, is infantile, yet has a perverse lust for men and will regularly openly flirt with Blackadder, or others such as Lord Flasheart (who wouldn’t!? check out below), and Sir Walter Raleigh (Queen Elizabeth I, famously, never did marry, of course).
Her casual belligerence and mood swings mean she’s really quite terrifying, though, and her far-reaching menace sweeps across many of the episodes.
The much missed Rik Mayall also has a brief, and highly memorable, appearance in the series’ first episode Bells. Supposed to be Blackadder’s Best Man, he arrives late for the wedding and pretty much dominates over proceedings from there. There’s the legendary line:
"Thanks bridesmaid, like the beard!"
For that alone (which we believe Mayall possibly ad-libbed), the series deserve a bloody Oscar. It’s a line that can come in useful for so many situations.
Mayall was already a star after his appearance in two series of the landmark Young Ones BBC sitcom, and would later reappear as Lord Flasheart in series four of Blackadder. After this, he found more fame with comedy partner Ade Edmondson in Bottom, which was arguably the best comedy sitcom of the ’90s (at least from the shores of England).