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Blackadder refers to four series and several specials of a British historical situation comedy television series on the BBC, featuring various generations of the Blackadder family tree. Each series centres on one generation of the Blackadders, each time played by Rowan Atkinson. Typically, Blackadder is a cunning, sly and ruthless mistreater of his servant, Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson, and is usually concerned with making money or grabbing power. The first series aired in 1983, and the last in 1989, but Blackadder has returned in an number of one-off episodes.

The Black Adder

The Black Adder was the first series of what would later become a comedy legend, but is rather different in style from the later series. Set in fifteenth-century England, the scripts of Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson imagine a different outcome to the Battle of Bosworth Field, which saw the end of the House of York with the death of King Richard III. Instead, 'Richard IV' (Brian Blessed) won the day, with his cowardly second son Edmund responsible for the accidental death of Richard III. Atkinson played Edmund - the self-styled 'Black Adder' - in a manner not dissimilar to his internationally-acclaimed later character, Mr. Bean. Baldrick was also rather different from what he would later become, being the cleverer one and not particularly unwashed. The line-up of three main characters was completed by Tim McInnerny as Percy, a nobleman even dimmer than Edmund.

Blackadder II

The second series aired in 1986, with a reduced budget and many changes, though Edmund, Baldrick and Percy remained. Blackadder II depicted their descendants in the reign of Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson). This Edmund, as Lord Blackadder, was a close associate of the Queen, in conflict with her advisor, Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry). From this point on, Blackadder would be highly intelligent and cunning, determined to get rich or at least save his own skin. Baldrick, on the other hand, became the stupid one, and also became well-known to viewers for his filthy appearance.

Blackadder the Third

1987's Blackadder the Third was set during the late eighteenth century. The Blackadders seemed by now to be descending the social class ladder, as this incarnation of Edmund was a lowly butler to the Prince Regent, the future George IV. Hugh Laurie starred as the dim-witted Prince, forever exploited by Blackadder, alongside Atkinson and Robinson.

Blackadder Goes Forth

The final series took viewers to the battlefields of World War I. Broadcast in 1989, Blackadder Goes Forth depicted Blackadder as a Captain in the British Army. McInnerny and Fry returned to leading roles alongside Atkinson, Robinson and Laurie, with the series poignantly but humorously dealing with the horrors of trench warfare.

Special episodes

A special 15-minute episode bridged the centuries between Blackadder II and Blackadder the Third, airing as part of the 1988 Comic Relief charity event. The Cavalier Years saw Sir Edmund Blackadder as a Royalist loyal to King Charles I (Stephen Fry) during the English Civil War. Notably, Fry based his performance on the mannerisms of the contemporary Prince Charles.

In 1988, a one-off Christmas special was broadcast, as a reworking of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. It upended the story by imagining Ebenezer Blackadder as a kind, gentle man who is persuaded by the visions of the past and future that for his descendants to survive and grab power, he must be as nasty as possible to everyone.

Blackadder returned as a modern-day figure in 1999, in another one-off entitled Blackadder: Back & Forth. This featured Blackadder travelling through time to meet various ancestors, at one point going back to the days of the Roman Empire.