|Blackadder Goes Forth|
Title screen of Blackadder Goes Forth featuring Rowan Atkinson.
|Format||sitcom, period comedy, military|
|Created by||Richard Curtis & Ben Elton|
|Theme music composer||Howard Goodall|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||6|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original channel||BBC One|
|Picture format||PAL 4:3|
|Original run||28 September 1989 – 2 November 1989|
|Preceded by||Blackadder's Christmas Carol|
|Followed by||Blackadder: Back & Forth|
The series placed the recurring characters of Blackadder, Baldrick and George in a trench in Flanders during World War I. The series was particularly known in its criticism of the British Army leadership during the campaign, and also referenced a number of famous figures of the age. In addition, the series is remembered for the poignant ending of the final episode.
The series won the British Academy Television Award for Best Comedy Series in 1989 and in 2000 was placed 16th by industry professionals in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute.
The series is set in 1917, on the Western Front in the trenches of World War I. Another "big push" is planned, and Captain Blackadder's (Rowan Atkinson) one goal is to avoid being killed. The series thus follows his attempts to escape the trenches through various schemes, most of which fail due to bad fortune, misunderstandings and the general incompetence of his comrades. The aforementioned comrades present themselves in the form of the idealistic Edwardian twit Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), and Private S. Baldrick (Tony Robinson), introduced as "the world's worst cook". The first initial "S" is taken from the first episode of Blackadder the Third, in which Baldrick says he can't remember his first name, but assumes it must be "Sodoff", as when he introduced himself to other children when he was growing up, they generally said "Yes, we know, sod off Baldrick".
Rather than the Germans, who remain unseen (apart from two exceptions), Blackadder's nemeses come in the form of his superior, the eccentric General Melchett (Stephen Fry) who rallies his troops from a French château 35 miles from the front, and his bureaucratic assistant, Captain Kevin Darling (Tim McInnerny). Blackadder treats Darling with special contempt; in particular, Blackadder is adept at using Darling's surname for maximum comedy value. Captain Darling's name was originally intended to be Captain Cartwright, until Stephen Fry remembered a boy at his school called 'Darling', whose name was a constant embarrassment to him.
The final episode of this series, "Goodbyeee...", is known for being extraordinarily emotional for a comedy — especially the final scene, which sees the main characters (Blackadder, Baldrick, George, and Darling) finally venturing forward and charging off into the fog and smoke of no man's land. (Melchett remains at his office but blithely orders Darling to fight with the others.) Blackadder's final line is poignant, offered after Baldrick claims to have one last cunning plan to save them from the war:
|“||Well, I am afraid it will have to wait. Whatever it was, I am sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman around here? Good luck, everyone.||”|
The series aired for six episodes broadcast on BBC One on Thursdays at 9.30pm between 28 September and 2 November 1989, appropriately ending nine days before Remembrance Day. The titles of the first five episodes, "Captain Cook", "Corporal Punishment", "Major Star", "Private Plane" and "General Hospital" are puns based on the pairing of a military rank and another word related to the episode's content. The final episode, "Goodbyeee...", was the title of a period song.
|4-1||Captain Cook||28 September 1989|
|When Field Marshal Haig unveils his new strategy to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin, Blackadder volunteers to be the Official War Artist.|
|4-2||Corporal Punishment||5 October 1989|
|Despite problems with communications, orders for another mission arrive and Blackadder breaches regulations by eating the messenger. Can the Flanders pigeon murderer avoid the firing squad?|
|4-3||Major Star||12 October 1989|
|Blackadder organises a variety show in the hope of being able to escape the war by performing at the London Palladium. However, problems arise after General Melchett falls for his "leading lady". Guest starring Gabrielle Glaister as Private "Bob" Parkhurst.|
|4-4||Private Plane||19 October 1989|
|Despite his loathing of Lord Flashheart, Blackadder joins the Royal Flying Corps in order to escape the trenches. Guest starring Rik Mayall as Lord Flashheart and Adrian Edmondson as Baron von Richthofen.|
|4-5||General Hospital||26 October 1989|
|George is injured and sent to the military infirmary, but Blackadder joins him when he is assigned to discover the identity of a spy in the hospital. Guest starring Miranda Richardson as Nurse Mary Fletcher-Brown and Bill Wallis as Sir Bernard Proudfoot-Smith.|
|4-6||Goodbyeee...||2 November 1989|
|Millions have died but the troops have advanced no further than "an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping". Now, at last, the 'final' big push looms, and Edmund is willing to try anything to avoid it. Guest starring Geoffrey Palmer as Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.|
The fourth series enlarged the cast from the third series to include Fry and McInnerny, who had appeared in guest roles in Blackadder the Third and had appeared regularly in Blackadder II. This cast appeared together in every episode of the fourth series, although the only episode to feature no guest appearances was Captain Cook. Miranda Richardson, who had played Elizabeth I in the second series, appeared in a guest role in one episode (as she had in the third series). In their guest performances, actors such as Rik Mayall and Gabrielle Glaister reprised characters they had played in earlier series. Other performers, such as Bill Wallis and Lee Cornes, who had played minor roles in prior series, appeared briefly again in the fourth series as well.
The theme melody was a variation on the Blackadder theme by Howard Goodall, here played by a military band (in this case the Band of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment) over opening title images of Blackadder and George parading their men past Melchett and Darling, while Baldrick plays the triangle. The music starts with the opening bars of "The British Grenadiers" before segueing into the familiar Blackadder theme.
In the closing credits, the full Blackadder theme plays over visuals of armed men marching on a parade ground. The titles are presented as static captions instead of being rolled as in the previous three series. The crew credits are also presented in pseudo-military fashion: for example, the designer is credited thus: "Dgr – 404371 Hull, C". Also of note is that the opening sequence is filmed in colour, while the closing sequence was treated in post production to appear grainy, streaky, and sepia toned in imitation of newsreels of the era. The credit sequences were filmed at the Colchester Cavalry Barracks, used by the Territorial Army for weekend accommodation.
"Goodbyeee..." had no closing titles, simply fading from the protagonists charging across no man's land under fire, to a field of poppies in the sunlight, a reference to the poem "In Flanders Fields". The music was also changed to a slow, echoey solo piano arrangement, finishing with three strong bass-drum notes, interposed with sound effects of gunshot, and later birdsong.
The series won the British Academy Television Award for Best Comedy Series in 1989. In addition, for his performance as Captain Blackadder, Rowan Atkinson won Best Light Entertainment Performance. In 2000, the series was placed 16th by industry professionals in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute. In 2004, championed by John Sergeant, the whole Blackadder series came second in the BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom with 282,106 votes, with the advocate citing the end of the final episode as a main reason for the series' success.
Blackadder Goes Forth is more satirical in tone than the previous three Blackadder series, taking the opportunity to present an anti-war message. The dialogue is marked throughout by satirical musings about the nature of the war, its origins, and the effects on the soldiers who suffered over its course.
Richard Curtis has said that the First World War was a particularly apt subject for a situation comedy. Before writing the series, the writers read a number of books about the war and found that
...actually, all the lead up to the first world war was very funny, all the people coming from communities where they'd never bumped into posh people...and all being so gung ho and optimistic...the first hundred pages of any book about the world war are hilarious, then of course everybody dies.
Rowan Atkinson stated during filming that despite the 20th century setting, the trenches were particularly apt for the Blackadder series:
We wanted a place and a time that could reproduce to a certain extent the claustrophobia and the sordidness of medieval England, and the best way to do that is to set it in the middle of a war.
In the episode "Corporal Punishment", Blackadder justifies the shooting for food of a carrier pigeon (which turns out to be Melchett's pet) by saying, "With 50,000 men killed a week, who's going to miss a pigeon?" This episode sees Blackadder being sentenced to death by firing squad for the said act (which Melchett is far more upset about than Blackadder's disobeying of orders), although he escapes following a reprieve, reflecting on the harsh punishments dealt to deserters under the laws of war.
The reputation of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (who appears in the show's final episode played by Geoffrey Palmer), whose orders are alleged to have resulted in hundreds of thousands of British deaths (particularly at Passchendaele and the Somme) are continually referenced and criticised by the characters. Blackadder himself describes Haig's attempts at an advance as no more than "another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin", his master plans as "everyone climbing out of their trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy" which he claims is to be repeated "until everyone is dead except for Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise Alan".
In Goodbyeee..., a scene parodies Haig's professional abilities by depicting the General playing with toy soldiers, which he sweeps nonchalantly from trench to trench, and then onto the floor while listening to Blackadder's plea to get out of the final push on the phone.
In "Private Plane", after receiving word that Blackadder and Baldrick may have been killed when shot down over German lines, Melchett tries to cheer George up by showing him a life-size model (measuring seventeen square feet) of land recaptured by the British ("It's superbly detailed - look, there's a little worm," remarks Darling). This is followed by Melchett asking "So the amount of land we've captured is?" After measuring it with a tape measure Darling reveals the amount to him. "So you see George, Captain Blackadder did not die horribly in vain after all", a commentary on the high human cost and small physical gains achieved by attacks in the middle years of the war. Later in the same episode, Blackadder describes the Great War as: "a war which would be a damn sight simpler if we just stayed in England and shot fifty thousand of our men a week."
The series also referenced a number of famous historical events of the war, such as the Christmas truce of 1914. Blackadder recalls the event: "Both sides advanced further during one Christmas piss-up than they did in the next two and a half years of war."
Many references are made to the popular culture of the era, as well as the previous series. The episode "Private Plane", sees the return of the character of Lord Flashheart and also an appearance of the famous flying ace Baron von Richthofen. A plot thread in the third episode, "Major Star" (featuring the return of Bob), involves Blackadder's dislike of the silent film star Charlie Chaplin, who he finds "as funny as getting an arrow through the neck, and then finding there's a gas bill tied to it". The final episode "Goodbyee" was the title of a popular song during the First World War. Bob can be heard singing a snippet of this song off-camera in the episode "Major Star". It also sounds similar to Queenie's "Byeee" in her letter to Ludwig (in the second series episode "Chains") in which she refuses to pay the ransom to release Melchett and Blackadder.
Atkinson stated in an interview with Michael Parkinson that the poignant ending of the final episode was in part written to counter the possibility of criticism that the subject was inappropriate for a comedy, but that no such criticism was received.