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."

7 Massage Guns That Are on Sale Right Now

Jawku/Actigun
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10 Fascinating Facts About Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars in Fleabag.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars in Fleabag.
Amazon Studios

In just two short seasons, British sitcom Fleabag has made a lasting mark on television. The series centers around Fleabag, a 30-year-old Londoner—played by the effortlessly funny Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also created the show—who is caught up living a life of late nights filled with booze and promiscuity in the wake of her mother’s death.

At first Fleabag appeared to be a simple half-hour comedy following the often naughty exploits of its quirky main character. Yet, as the series progressed, it quickly proved itself to be a truly masterful piece of work with each episode adding more complicated layers and darker themes to which many viewers can relate. Here are some facts about the groundbreaking comedy.

1. Fleabag began as a one-woman stage play.

It’s hard to imagine what Fleabag might look like if it were stripped of all its chaotic characters and performed as a solo show, but that’s exactly how it started. Before there was a TV show, creator/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge staged Fleabag as a one-woman play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2013. The title character addressed the audience in an hour-long, sexcapade-filled monologue, which was generally met with praise by theater critics. The TV show was created soon after, and originally premiered on BBC Three in July 2016.

2. The title of the show refers to more than just the main character.

The title Fleabag comes from a nickname given to Phoebe Waller-Bridge by her family. “It was my family nickname as far back as I can remember,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. Speaking to This Morning in April 2020, Waller-Bridge also revealed a deeper meaning for the name choice (which is never actually spoken in the show).

“A fleabag motel is something that's a bit rough around the edges,” Waller-Bridge explained. "I wanted to call her that because I wanted her persona and her outside aesthetic to give the impression that she was completely in control of her life, when actually, underneath, she's not."

3. Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-founded a theater company before penning Fleabag.


L to R: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Vicky Jones, and Tuppence Middleton at London's Soho Theatre.
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

In 2007, several years before Fleabag was born, Waller-Bridge was fed up with not being able to find work, despite having graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art two years earlier. So she co-founded her own theater company, DryWhite, with her best friend Vicky Jones. DryWhite paved the way for Waller-Bridge’s 2008 debut stage performance in Roaring Trade at London’s Soho Theatre, which led to two other successful plays—Crashing and, of course, Fleabag—both of which were created by and starred Waller-Bridge, and both of which were turned into television series. DryWhite is still going strong today, bringing fresh talent out in new productions every year.

4. Isobel Waller-Bridge, Phoebe's sister, composed the Fleabag soundtrack.

The badass guitar chords played after every episode of Fleabag are composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge, Phoebe’s very talented sister. Isobel earned a bachelor's degree in Music at Edinburgh University followed by a master's degree at King's College London then additional study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Isobel has firmly established herself in the music world. Like her sister, Isobel has received several awards, including Best Composer at the Underwire Film Festival. She also composed the chorused background music for Fleabag’s second season, which perfectly fit the religious theme. Her impressive work can be heard on her SoundCloud.

5. The fourth wall breaks in Fleabag aren’t just there for comedic effect.

Fleabag’s hilarious fourth wall breaks actually serve a deeper purpose for the character, which is realized by the end of season 1. Fleabag, who is deeply suppressing grief from the loss of her mother and best friend, uses these breaks to escape her troubled reality.

By season 2, the fourth wall breaks became less of a crutch as the character became more engaged in her real life and even fell in love. By the end of the show (spoiler!), Fleabag retires from the audience altogether as she decides to face her reality going forward.

6. The “Hot Priest” role was written specifically for Andrew Scott.

Waller-Bridge worked with Irish actor Andrew Scott years before she cast him to play the role of The Priest—a.k.a. “The Hot Priest”—in Fleabag’s second season. Speaking to IndieWire in 2019, Waller-Bridge praised Scott’s acting style, saying, “there’s something really dangerous about how truthful he is as an actor … he just comes with so much complexity that your characters instantly become interesting.” Waller-Bridge wrote the part once Scott agreed to it and their perfectly tragicomic love story was born.

7. Had Andrew Scott turned the part down, a second season of Fleabag might never have happened.

Waller-Bridge was so set on getting Andrew Scott to sign on to play The Priest that she admitted a second season might not have happened if he had said no. She told IndieWire:

"Religion was already a theme in my mind from very, very early on, but I didn’t know how to distill that until I had decided on The Priest. I worried it would be too much of an obvious sort of comedy idea, that Fleabag, who you can’t imagine has ever stepped foot in a church before, that she should come up against a man of the cloth. It seems almost too comedic, too sitcom.

"But then the moment I imagined Andrew Scott in that role, and making this man complex and three-dimensional, and sort of a match for Fleabag, then I was like ‘I’ve got the show now.’ It’s all about these two and how they affect each other’s lives. I called him up before I’d even written it to see if he’d be interested in doing it, and I pitched him the idea because I think if he’d said no, I don’t know if I would have actually been able to write that part."

8. The Priest notices something about Fleabag that no other character in the show is able to see.

Andrew Scott in Fleabag (2016)
Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Amazon Studios

Fleabag often breaks the fourth wall mid-conversation with characters to address the audience, until she is eventually caught in the act of doing it by The Priest—much to her, and the viewer's, surprise. Whenever things get too intense for Fleabag, she switches off, which is something the Priest notices almost right away. In a 2019 interview with IndieWire, Waller-Bridge discussed the significance of this moment between the two characters: “[S]peaking to the audience concerns the theme of loneliness, and I think that he’s able to recognize that because he’s actually able to see her.”

9. Fleabag had an alternate ending.

In 2019, Waller-Bridge revealed to The Guardian that there was an alternate ending for Fleabag, but she remained tight-lipped on what it was. At the beginning of season 2, Fleabag tells audiences this is “a love story” which, despite ending rather tragically, remains hopeful by the end as Fleabag leaves audiences behind to move forward in her own life. So Waller-Bridge can keep her alternate ending—the one viewers saw was perfect.

10. No, there will not be a third season of Fleabag.

Sian Clifford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in 'Fleabag'
Sian Clifford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag.
Hal Shinnie/Amazon Studios

Though Fleabag dominated the most recent awards season, winning two Golden Globes (including Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy) and six Emmy Awards (including Outstanding Comedy Series), Waller-Bridge has made it clear that there will not be a third season. Even after the second season won so many awards, Waller-Bridge said, “I haven’t changed my mind about season 3. It feels more and more about being the right decision. [These awards shows] are just beautiful goodbyes."