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.
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.
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."