BBC
BBC

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."

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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