12 Things You Might Not Know About Blackadder Goes Forth

BBC
BBC

by James Hunt

Set largely in the trenches of World War I, Blackadder Goes Forth might be the most popular of the four seasons of Blackadder, not least of which is because of a now-legendary emotional final scene which paid tribute to the soldiers who gave their lives during the conflict. But while those final moments are seared into the collective memory of comedy fans worldwide, there's still a lot about them—and the rest of Blackadder Goes Forth (which is currently streaming for American audiences on Hulu)—that you might not know.

1. THE WRITERS AND ACTORS ARGUED. A LOT.

One of the things everyone working on previous series of Blackadder said they enjoyed was the camaraderie of the show, so it may have been a shock to all involved when things started to get tense on Blackadder Goes Forth. The established cast—which featured several comic writer-performers, including Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Rowan Atkinson—were more prone to question and alter the script, which writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton felt was unproductive.

Tony Robinson, who played Private Baldrick, later claimed that "the writers felt we were unilaterally altering the script for the worse" and that "by the end, they felt we had run away with it."

2. CAPTAIN DARLING WAS NAMED BY STEPHEN FRY.

Of course, the spirit of collaboration wasn't completely absent from the series. Originally given the rather bland name of "Captain Cartwright," it was Stephen Fry who suggested giving Tim McInnerny's character the surname Darling, taking the name from an old classmate. It was initially resisted for being a one-joke idea, but if you've seen the series you'll know they eventually got a lot of mileage out of it.

3. TIM MCINNERNY AGREED TO RETURN FOR A FOURTH SEASON, BUT ONLY IF HE WAS A NEW CHARACTER.

After Blackadder II, Tim McInnerny found that his popularity as Lord Percy was weighing uneasily on his career as a dramatic actor. After staying largely absent during Blackadder The Third, he returned for Blackadder's Christmas Carol, and Blackadder Goes Forth, on the condition that he be allowed to play a character who was not related to his earlier incarnation.

4. BLACKADDER'S ATTEMPT TO FEIGN MADNESS WAS BASED ON ROWAN ATKINSON'S ACTUAL BEHAVIOR.

In the final episode, Goodbyeee, Blackadder attempts to feign madness by wearing underpants on his head and sticking two pencils up his nose. This plan was based on Rowan Atkinson's habit of sticking pencils up his nose to entertain his castmates during read-throughs and script editing sessions.

5. A LOT OF GOATS WERE NAMED AFTER PRIVATE BALDRICK.

The popularity of the series within the British Armed Forces meant—according to producer John Lloyd, at least—that at one point, half of all regimental goats had the name Baldrick. "You can see why," Tony Robinson, who played the private, told The Sun in 2017 of the character's popularity, who was knighted in 2013 for public and political service. “He is an every man and most armies, by and large, are comprised of every men who have to act on the whim of a senior person they think is more stupid than they are. A lot of regimental goats are called Baldrick.”

Further evidence of the show's popularity can be seen from records of the first Gulf War, during which many British camps in Iraq were named after characters from the series.

6. DARLING'S NERVOUS TIC WAS REAL ... BUT NOT INTENTIONALLY.

As Captain Darling, Tim McInnerny affected a nervous tic in his eye—but the six-week rehearsal and shooting schedule meant that he performed the gesture so often that it eventually became involuntary. It took a further two months for him to rid himself of it, and for some time he feared it would never disappear.

7. A LAWYER'S NAME HAD TO BE CHANGED TO MEET ADVERTISING RESTRICTIONS.

In the second episode, Corporal Punishment, the brilliant lawyer Blackadder attempts to summon to defend him is named Bob Massingbird—though if you watch the remastered edition you can see that the name has been dubbed over the footage. Originally, the character is referred to as Bob Moxon-Browne, which was the name of one of Rowan Atkinson's friends, who was also a lawyer. It was changed at the last minute when it was decided that, due to Blackadder's personal endorsement, it technically qualified as advertising, which is restricted by the non-commercial BBC.

8. THE SERIES USED FOOTAGE FROM A CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER MOVIE.

Since the show was set in World War I, appropriate footage of aerial dogfights (seen in the episode Private Plane) was hard to come by. The footage used actually comes from a 1976 British/French war film called Aces High, which starred Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Plummer, and John Gielgud. The film tells the story of a single week for the Royal Flying Corps squadron, with notable emphasis on the high death rate of pilots.

9. THE FINAL SCENE WAS CREATED BY ACCIDENT.

A scene from 'Blackadder Goes Forth'
BBC

Call it a happy accident, creative serendipity, or just good luck, but the series was never intended to conclude with the much-lauded final scene as it aired. Originally, the intention was to show the cast gunned down and end, as previous seasons had, with their deaths. But at the time a combination of factors meant that the footage of the final scene was so bad that it was almost unusable. By slowing down what little they had and cross-fading to a field of poppies, the production was able to create a new ending which quickly became one of the most famous and powerful conclusions to any sitcom ever.

"The tone is just right," David Sims wrote for The A.V. Club of the series's final moments. "We don’t see them brutally cut down with machine gun fire (the set they’re running across is hardly pristine and the decision was made to cut away from it as quickly as possible), but the field of poppies is such a quietly devastating image in its own right."

10. THE FINAL CLOSING THEME WAS RECORDED IN AN EMPTY GYM.

While it's now easy to produce certain production effects using a simple digital filter, the haunting echo on the piano-based arrangement of the theme tune which closes the season wasn't created through digital trickery. Instead it was produced by musician Howard Goodall recording a piano played in an empty gymnasium.

11. THERE WAS ORIGINALLY A TWIST ENDING.

We've noted that the original ending scene was different from the one that aired, but it also contained an interesting twist. Although the cast fell to the ground dead, it was then revealed that Blackadder only feigned death as he gets up and sneaks away, leaving his fallen comrades behind. This version of the final scene is available on the remastered DVD collection as part of the documentary Blackadder Rides Again. A further epilogue scene was cut before it was filmed, and would've featured Blackadder as an old man and grandfather who had survived the war.

12. THE SERIES WAS SO GOOD, IT HAD TO END. BUT A REVIVAL HAS BEEN TEASED.

Rowan Atkinson in 'Blackadder Goes Forth'
BBC

In many ways, the high quality of Blackadder Goes Forth was its undoing. The feeling among the writers and cast was that any fifth Blackadder series would be critically savaged if it failed to match the high bar set by the fourth season. It was felt by most of those involved that a fifth series would be a no-win situation, creatively speaking. And when the series's long-time producer John Lloyd left the BBC, that seemed to provide the final nail in the coffin.

Still, the series's original creators and cast have often teased the idea of a fifth season. “I do think a new series of Blackadder is [in] the cards,” Robinson told The Sun in 2015. “I have spoken to virtually all the cast about this now. The only problem is Hugh [Laurie]’s fee," he joked. "He’s a huge star now—or so he’d like to think.”

Just last year, Atkinson said that he was "extremely nervous" to speculate that a new season could happen, and while he stated that "There are no plans to do anything," he did share what a fifth season might have looked like. "There was a plan 20 years ago that got nowhere which was called Redadder, which I quite liked," Atkinson said during the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival.

"It was set in Russia in 1917 and Blackadder and Baldrick were working for the Tsar," he continued. "They had blue stripes around their caps and then the Revolution happened, and Rik Mayall unsurprisingly was playing Rasputin. And after the Revolution they are in exactly the same office and they have red caps. And it was quite a good idea and it was filmic in scale."

Josh Trank Wouldn't Mind Erasing Fantastic Four From Film History

Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ben Rothstein, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It’s not every day that you hear a director talking about wanting to completely erase one of their projects from film history. But when the topic of the 2015 box office bomb Fantastic Four comes up, director Josh Trank isn't mincing words. The director tweeted that he would “gladly” donate to a GoFundMe page to have his failed adaptation erased from the cinematic history books.

It's no secret that Fantastic Four is a sore subject for Trank. The production was plagued with rumors that there was a bit of friction on set, particularly between the director and star Miles Teller. Even once the film had wrapped, reports about the troubled production plagued Trank, and eventually led to him parting ways with Disney, for whom he was supposedly developing a standalone Boba Fett movie. (It didn't help that Fantastic Four tanked at the box office and even won a Razzie for Worst Picture).

The topic of starting a GoFundMe page for the film started after Trank responded to fans rallying for a page to get the rat at the end of Martin Scorsese's The Departed digitally erased. When asked if he would support a page to get rid of Fantastic Four, Trank seemed to oblige (though he has since deleted the tweet).


It’s no secret the previous Fantastic Four movies have had little success, but now that Disney and Fox are joining forces, the series could be entering into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe now these superheroes will finally get the movie they deserve.

Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The theater owners and exhibitors attending the ShoWest convention in February 1989 had a lot to look forward to. In an attempt to stir their interest in upcoming studio releases, major distributors were showing off stars and footage: Paramount led with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Columbia had Ghostbusters II. But it was Warner Bros. that caused the biggest stir.

In addition to Lethal Weapon 2, the studio had Tim Burton’s Batman, a straight-faced adaptation of the comic, and Michael Keaton—who slipped into a screening of some early footage—was no longer being derided as a poor casting choice. Then, in the midst of all this star power, the studio brought out a 35-year-old actor-writer-director with a shock of orange hair and an Australian accent.

The man had never appeared in a feature film before, much less starred in one, but Warner was gambling that his forthcoming comedy about a Tasmanian Albert Einstein who invents rock music and runs into Thomas Edison would be a hit. It had already become the sixth highest-grossing film in Australia's history, besting both E.T. and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

The man’s real name was Greg Pead, but Warner Bros. introduced him as Yahoo Serious, Hollywood’s next big comedy attraction.

 

To understand Warner’s appetite for an unproven commodity like Yahoo Serious, it helps to recall the peculiar preoccupation American popular culture had with Australians in the 1980s. Energizer had created a hit ad campaign with Mark “Jacko” Jackson, a pro football player who aggressively promoted their batteries in a series of ads; meanwhile, Paul Hogan parlayed his fish-out-of-water comedy, Crocodile Dundee, into the second highest-grossing film of 1986. (Serious would later bristle at comparisons to Hogan, whom he referred to as a “marketing guy” who sold cigarettes on Australian television.)

Born in Cardiff, Australia on July 27, 1953, Serious grew up in rural bush country and mounted car tires at a garage in order to pay his way through the National Art School. When he was expelled for illustrating the school's facade with satirical jokes that the faculty didn’t find particularly funny, Serious moved on to direct Coaltown, a documentary about the coal mining industry, and pursued painting.

Serious would later recall that the desire for a larger audience led him away from art and into feature filmmaking. ''It hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” Serious told The New York Times in 1989. “I remember having a cup of coffee and I went, 'Well, look, there is a giant canvas in every little town everywhere around the world. And on this giant canvas there are 24 frames of image on that screen every second and it's the most wonderful living art form.'” It was around this same time, in 1980, that Serious changed his name.

To get a feel for the language of film, Serious sat through repeated viewings of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; he aspired to have the kind of total autonomy over his movies that directors like Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed.

In 1983, Serious was traveling along the Amazon River when he spotted someone wearing a T-shirt depicting Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. The image is now pervasive, appearing on posters and other merchandise, but it seemed unique to the performer, who was struck by the idea that Einstein was once young and never took himself too seriously. And the concept for Young Einstein was born.

 

Serious's idea, which transplanted Einstein to Tasmania and imagined encounters with Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and the atomic bomb, took years to assemble. He borrowed camera equipment and sold his car to help finance the film; he shot an eight-minute trailer that convinced investors he was capable of making a feature. His mother even cooked meals for the crew on set.

In order to maintain creative control, Serious gave up profit participation in Young Einstein, which he starred in, co-produced, co-wrote, and directed. When the film was released in Australia in 1988, it made an impressive $1.6 million at the box office and drew the attention of Warner Bros., which likely had visions of a Crocodile Dundee-esque hit. American press had a field day with Serious, who appeared on the cover of TIME and was given airtime on MTV.

Critics and audiences weren’t quite as enamored. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that "Tedious Oddball" would be a more appropriate name for the film's creator. In his one-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, "Young Einstein is a one-joke movie, and I didn't laugh much the first time." In the U.S., Young Einstein grossed just over $11 million, a fairly weak showing for a summer comedy. It was bested in its opening weekend by both Ron Howard’s Parenthood and the Sylvester Stallone action-grunter Lock Up.

 

Although American distributors quickly cooled on Serious, Australia's enthusiasm for the filmmaker didn’t dampen. When Serious released 1993’s Reckless Kelly, a fictionalized account of outlaw Ned Kelly, it made $5.4 million in Australia—three times as much as Young Einstein. Serious took a seven-year sabbatical, then returned with 2000’s Mr. Accident, a slapstick comedy about an injury-prone man who tries to thwart a scheme to inject nicotine into eggs. Meeting a tepid critical and financial reception, it would be his third and (likely) final film.

At roughly the same time Mr. Accident was released, Serious took issue with upstart search engine Yahoo!, alleging the site was piggybacking on his popularity. He filed a lawsuit, which was quickly dropped when he failed to prove the URL had damaged him in any way.

Yahoo Serious attends an event
Paul McConnell, Getty Images

The amused headlines stemming from that incident were the last examples of Serious capturing attention in America. Having completed just three films, no other projects have come to fruition; Serious launched a website detailing some of his background and to air some of his Yahoo!-related grievances.

Now 65, Serious currently serves as founding director of the Kokoda Track Foundation, an Australian aid organization dedicated to improving the living conditions of Papua New Guineans. The board’s website lists him as Yahoo Serious, which is the name he claims that all of his family and friends have called him since he changed it in 1980.

“You can choose every aspect of your life,” Serious once said. “Why not your name?”

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