Blackadder the Third (1987, Mandie Fletcher)

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Note: The on-screen title is actually styled Black Adder The Third.

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Regulars: The series is set in Regency London (more or less…) and Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is butler to the king’s eldest son. In other words, each time we move on in history, our lead character falls lower down the social pecking order. However, he’s still as manipulative, selfish and cruel as his 16th-century ancestor. And he still has a servant called Baldrick (Tony Robinson), whose first name might be Sod-off. The only other significant regular character is the empty-headed Regent, Prince George (Hugh Laurie) – in effect, he’s the result of combining Blackadder II’s fruit-loop Queen and simpleton Lord Percy into one character. The manageress of the local coffee shop, Mrs Miggins (Helen Atkinson-Wood), also appears in every episode but only in the final instalment does she get much to do.

Notable guests: Episode one – a vote-spoofing story that’s sometimes been repeated on the day of a UK General Election – has BBC political reporter Vincent Hanna playing a Regency equivalent of himself. Denis Lill, meanwhile, appears as an arrogant MP who dies while the Prince is talking to him, while Geoff McGiven is one of the election candidates: Ivor ‘Jest-ye-not-madam’ Biggun of the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party. Episode two has Robbie Coltrane as a theatrical Samuel Johnson. Also in that episode, Jim Sweeney, Lee Cornes and Steve Steen play poets Coleridge, Shelley and Byron. After series two, Tim McInnerny had dropped out of the show, but he guests here as episode three’s initially idiotic Lord Topper; Nigel Planer from The Young Ones plays his colleague, Lord Smedley. In the same story, a pre-Red Dwarf Chris Barrie is a sadistic French revolutionary. In episode four, Kenneth Connor and Hugh Paddick play lovey-dovey thespians David Keanrick and Enoch Mossop. Co-writer Ben Elton also has a cameo as an anarchist bomber. Blackadder II’s Miranda Richardson returns for a guest spot in episode five – one of her character’s two alter egos is written a bit Queen-like, so Richardson affects a high-pitched voice to mask the similarity – and Warren Clarke plays her father. And finally, another former regular, Stephen Fry, crops up in the final episode playing a bombastic Duke of Wellington.

Best gags:

Episode one: Dish and Dishonesty (17 September 1987). The new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, wants the Prince Regent to pull his weight – so Mr Blackadder comes up with a plan…
* Pitt the Younger looks about 14 and says he’s taken office during his exams.
* Sir Talbot Buxomly MP is, says Blackadder, in favour of “flogging servants, shooting peasants and extending slavery to anyone who doesn’t have a knighthood.”
* Blackadder: “I shall return before you can say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’.”
* The rotten borough where the by-election will be held, Dunny-on-the-Wold, is described as “half an acre of sodden marshland in the Suffolk Fens with an empty town hall on it. Population: three rather mangy cows, a Dachshund called Colin, and a small hen in its late 40s.”
* When the PM mentions his brother, Blackadder wonders if he’ll be Pitt the Toddler, Pitt the Embryo or Pitt The Glint in the Milkman’s Eye.
* “As a reward, Baldrick, take a short holiday. [Beat.] Did you enjoy it?”

Episode two: Ink and Incapability (24 September 1987). When Dr Samuel Johnson finishes his long-awaited first dictionary of the English language – after a decade of dedicated work – Baldrick accidentally burns the only copy and Blackadder has to write a new one overnight…
* Blackadder says the new dictionary is the most pointless book since How To Learn French was translated into French.
* Dr Johnson’s wordy, thesaurus-rich dialogue is a treat. For example, “I celebrated last night the encyclopaedic implementation of my premeditated orchestration of demotic Anglo-Saxon!”
* Dr Johnson says the dictionary has taken 10 years. Prince George: “Well, I‘m a slow reader myself.”
* Blackadder amuses himself by making up new words while talking to a flustered Dr Johnson – contrafibblarities, anaspeptic, phrasmotic, pericombobulation, interphrastically, pendigestatery, interludicle, velocitious and extramurialisation.
* Baldrick burns the dictionary – ie, the big papery thing tied up with string.
* The Prince says he’s as happy as a Frenchman who’s just invented self-removing trousers.
* Baldrick is ordered to steal a new copy of the dictionary. He fears he’ll go to hell if he steals. So Blackadder threatens him: “Eternity in the company of Beelzebub and all his hellish instruments of death will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me and this pencil.”
* George and Baldrick’s attempts to help write a new dictionary. The latter’s definition of ‘dog’ is ‘not a cat’.
* Blackadder’s dream sequence: “Baldrick, who gave you permission to turn into an Alsatian?”
* Prince George gets hold of the dictionary – which wasn’t actually burnt after all – and underlines all the rude words.

Episode three: Nob and Nobility (1 October 1987). With everyone swept up in Scarlet Pimpernel fever, Blackadder says he’ll go to France himself and snatch an aristo…
* Mrs Miggins says, “Bonjour, monsieur,” so Blackadder asks her what she’s on about. “It’s French.” “So’s eating frogs, cruelty to geese, and urinating in the street.”
* Blackadder kicks the cat in anger, then explains the hierarchy as the cat pounces on the mouse and the mouse bites Baldrick on the behind.
* In the throws of his French obsession, Prince George calls his servant ‘le Adder Noir’.
* To get out of accompanying Blackadder on a daring raid to France, Lord Topper says, “I’ve just remembered, my father’s just died!”
* Blackadder describes Baldrick’s outfit as if he were a fashion model: “Baldrick is wearing a sheep’s-bladder jacket with matching dung-ball accessories. Hair by Crazy Meg of Bedlam. Notice how the overpowering aroma of rotting pilchards has been woven cunningly into the ensemble…”
* “Baldrick, when did you last change your trousers?” Defiantly: “I have never changed my trousers.”
* After an emotional farewell with his master, Blackadder doesn’t go to France – but rather hides in the kitchen for a week.
* The Prince spends a whole week trying to put his trousers on unaided.
* Blackadder says the Scarlet Pimpernel is the most overrated human being since Judas Iscariot won the AD 31 Best Disciple competition.
* Having unknowingly taken a suicide pill, Smedley explains its sequential effects – depression, anger, forgetfulness, jumping into a corner, and death – while he’s experiencing them.
* In his invented story about his fictional trip to France, Blackadder claims he has hung from the wall of the Bastille by the larger of his testicles.
* Topper goes to punch Baldrick, but Tim McInnerny so obviously misses that a whooshing sound effect has been dubbed over the action.

Episode four: Sense and Senility (8 October 1987). To improve his standing with the public, Prince George hires two actors to help rehearse a speech…
* Prince George shouts down the stairs to the servants’ quarters, saying he wants to leave. “Coming, sir!” replies Blackadder. “Fast as I can!” He then asks Baldrick to stick the kettle on.
* Prince George visits the theatre and thinks the on-stage antics are real.
* After an anarchist throws a bomb into the royal box, George assumes he was trying to kill Blackadder.
* When he spots the actors in Mrs Miggins’s coffee shop, Blackadder sarcastically mimes having to fight his way through the non-existant crowd of admirers.
* When told that Caesar in Julies Caesar was played by an actor, Prince George reckons that Brutus will be miffed when he finds out he killed the wrong man.
* Simply to irritate the superstitious actors, Blackadder deliberately says “Macbeth” six times in just over a minute (and three more times before the episode’s over), meaning they have to perform a silly ritualistic dance.
* Blackadder bemoans the fact he always wins the Who’s Got the Stupidest Master prize at the Butlers Guild’s Christmas party.
* Prince George’s attempts at a speech: a wild and loud roar followed immediately by a deadpan, dry delivery of the text.
* When Blackadder leaves in a huff, having quit, Baldrick calls after him without malice, “Goodbye, you lazy, big-nosed, rubber-faced bastard!”

Episode five: Amy and Amiability (15 October 1987). Prince George is stoney broke, so decides to marry for cash – meanwhile, a highwayman called the Shadow is terrorising and thrilling the population of London…
* Blackadder says he feels like a pelican: “Whichever way I turn, I’ve still got an enormous bill in front of me.”
* Blackadder tells Prince George he’s as “poor as a church mouse that’s just had an enormous tax bill on the very day his wife ran off with all the cheese.”
* When Blackadder suggests the Prince marry for money, George says, “Marry? Never! I’m a gay bachelor, Blackadder. I’m a roarer, a rogerer, a gorger and a puker.”
* Searching for potential brides for Prince George, Blackadder finds 262 princesses in Europe: 165 are over 80, 47 are under 10, and 39 are so mad they all married the same horse last week.
* “There’s no need to hammer it home.”
* Prince George dictates a letter to be sent to his intended bride: “Tally-ho, my fine, saucy, young trollop! Your luck’s in! Trip along here with all your cash, and some naught night attire, and you’ll be staring at my bedroom ceiling from now till Christmas, you lucky tart! Yours with the deepest respect, etc, signed George. PS: Woof-woof!” Blackadder asks if he can change one detail: the words.
* When Blackadder meets Amy Hardwick and her father, he says to Mr Hardwick: “I can see where your daughter gets her ready wit. Though, where she gets her good looks and charm is perhaps more of a mystery.”* Blackadder’s wooing advice for Prince George: “Poetry first, sausage later.”
* Blackadder tells Baldrick to hire a horse. “Hire you a horse?” he replies. “For ninepence? On Jewish New Year in the rain? A bare fortnight after the dreaded horse plague of Old London Town? With the blacksmiths’ strike in its 15th week and the Dorset Horse Fetishists Fair tomorrow?” (It’s basically an ornate gag to explain why we never see a horse on screen.)
* When Blackadder decides to flee the country, he says he’ll send for Baldrick once he’s settled in Barbados. “You’ll stand out as an individual. All the other slaves will be black.”

Episode six: Duel and Duality (22 October 1987). Blackadder’s cousin, the Scot McAdder, shows up in London – at the same time that Prince George angers the Duke of Wellington…
* Baldrick applied to be a village idiot and got down to the final two, but he lost out to the other candidate by showing up for the interview.
* “We’re about as similar as two completely dissimilar things in a pod.”
* Blackadder says his cousin, McAdder, is as mad as Mad Jack McMad, the winner of last year’s Madman Competition.
* Prince George has slept with Arthur Wellesley’s two nieces. “I spent a night of ecstasy with a pair of Wellingtons and I loved it!”
* Baldrick’s cousin Bert has told him that “all portraits look the same these days, ’cause they’re painted to a romantic ideal rather than as a true depiction of the idiosyncratic facial qualities of the person in question.” Blackadder suggests that Bert has a better vocabulary than Baldrick.
* Angry with Baldrick, Blackadder threatens to cut him into long strips and then tell the prince he walked across a very sharp cattle-grid while wearing an extremely heavy hat.
* In order to trick Wellington, the Prince and Blackadder swap clothes and pretend to be each other. Baldrick is confused, while Wellington repeatedly physically attacks who he thinks is a servant. (Fry really goes for comedy partner Laurie!)
* Wellington’s official report on the war in Spain: “We won.”
* Mrs Miggins gleefully slags off the Prince, who’s eavesdropping on her, but Baldrick knows he’s there. “I think it must be next door you’re wanting,” he says loudly, “strange woman whom I’ve never seen before, Mrs Miggins!”
* Blackadder offers McAdder enough cash to buy the Outer Hebrides: 14 shillings and sixpence.
* When told that his duel with Wellington will be with cannon, Blackadder has to read the instruction book.

Best episode: Ink and Incapability. Not only does it have an entertaining plot, but the whole script sings with the comic potential of the English language.

Cunning: In Dish and Dishonesty, Blackadder has a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel. The following week, Baldrick says he has a cunning plan. But before he can explain, Blackadder says he reckons it’ll be the stupidest thing he’s heard since Lord Nelson’s famous signal at the Battle of the Nile: “England knows Lady Hamilton’s a virgin. Poke my eye out and cut off my arm if I’m wrong.” (Baldrick’s idea? Write an entire dictionary overnight.) In episode three, when Baldrick proudly claims Blackadder won’t need his suicide pill, Blackadder says, “Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words ‘I have a cunning plan’ marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?” (His plan is to do nothing until they’ve been executed; then they can escape.) In episode five, Baldrick comes up with a cunning plan to solve Blackadder’s financial problems: become a dashing highwayman. And in the final episode, Baldrick says he has a cunning plan to get Prince George out of his feud with Wellington: get someone else to fight him in a duel. After tweaking the plan, Blackadder also refers to it as cunning, as does McAdder.

History: The series plays fast and loose with real chronology, throwing in people and events from a half-century spread. This allows it to make comedic hay with, for example, both Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (published 1755) and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Historical figures who actually appear include writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), George III (1738-1820), Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), soldier-cum-statesman Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Lord Byron (1788-1824) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), and of course the Regent, Prince George, who later became King George IV (1762-1830). Real-life figures who get mentioned include outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734), PM William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), biographer James Boswell (1740-1795), playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), naval genius Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and mistress Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859), fashion leader Beau Brummel (1778-1840) and inventor George Stephenson (1781-1848). Episode three’s conceit is that Emma Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel character (from a 1905 stage play) really existed. Episode five is spoofing robbers such as Dick Turpin (1705-1739), and also uses a devise from Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. Every episode is titled in the alliterative style of Jane Austen’s first two novels, Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813).

The Cavalier Years: On 5 February 1988, Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day telethon featured a 15-minute Blackadder special. Set during the English Civil War (specifically November 1648 and January 1649), it features Rowan Atkinson as royalist Sir Edmund Blackadder; Tony Robinson as his servant, Baldrick; Warren Clarke as Oliver Cromwell; and Stephen Fry as a very modern-Prince-Charles-like King Charles I. The studio set used for Sir Edmund’s house was the (redressed) kitchen from Blackadder the Third. At one point, Baldrick says he has a cunning plan to save the King. It involves His Majesty wearing a fake head (a pumpkin with a face drawn on it) for his execution. When Baldrick admits the rouse is not one-hundred-per-cent convincing, Blackadder says “It’s not *one*-per-cent convincing!”

Review: After the success of series two, it was a brave move to abandon a successful setting and shift forward to a new era. And the group of characters has been notably reduced. Ignoring Mrs Miggins – which is more or less what the writers do! – the regular cast has gone from six people to three. Thankfully, the comedy has not suffered. Not only are there a succession of great guest appearances but also new regular Hugh Laurie is *fantastic* as the naive and dim Prince. Meanwhile, the simile count in the dialogue has skyrocketed. And there’s a number of postmodern gags about this being a sitcom: some footage is played in reverse to get a laugh, while Blackadder mentions the ‘unconvincing grassy knoll’ of an exterior-done-indoors set and fantasises about the future, when episodes of his life will be acted out at 9.30 by some heroic actor of the age. Terrific stuff.

Eight hot, orangey things under the stony mantelpiece out of 10

Blackadder II (1986, Mandie Fletcher)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Regulars: The setting has moved to a different historical era, but the three leads are still in place. Edmund, Lord Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is a Machiavellian nobleman who lives in Elizabethan London and knows the queen. Like his 15th-century ancestor, he has a retinue of two: faithful dogsbody Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and fellow peer Lord Percy Percy (Tim McInnerny). Unlike the earlier Edmund, this one’s clever as well as conniving. The action often moves to Richmond Palace, where we see three new regular characters. Queen Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson) is a spoilt, petulant, child-like woman with violent mood swings. She’s always accompanied by her former nanny Nursie (Patsy Byrne) and the Lord Chamberlain, the toadying Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry).

Notable guests: In the opening episode, Gabrielle Glaister appears in the show for the first time – she plays Kate, a peasant woman who masquerades as a boy called Bob to get a job working for Blackadder. The same episode also features Rik Mayall in a swashbuckling cameo. His Lord Flashheart – a mixture of Errol Flynn, Captain Jack Sparrow and Alan B’Stard – is on screen for just 161 seconds, yet Mayall steals the episode lock, stock and barrel. Episode two features Bill Wallis as Ploppy the Jailor and Holly De Jong as Lady Farrow. The third episode has Simon Jones as an effete Sir Walter Raleigh and a barnstorming Tom Baker as useless – and legless – sea captain Redbeard Rum. Ronald Lacey is unrecognisable from Raiders of the Lost Ark as episode four’s odious Bishop of Bath and Wells. In the same story, Downton Abbey’s Lesley Nicol is in one scene as potential house-buyer Mrs Pants, while Philip Pope appears very briefly as renowned painter Leonardo Acropolis. Miriam Margolyes appears again, as episode five’s uptight Lady Whiteadder. And finally, Hugh Laurie plays two characters in this series: he’s an innuendo-obsessed boozer in episode five, then a speech-impaired master of disguise, Prince Ludwig the Indestructable, in episode six.

Best gags:

Episode one: Bells (9 January 1986). A destitute woman called Kate poses as a boy and starts working for Lord Blackadder. And he falls in love with her new persona, ‘Bob’…
* Needing money, Kate’s father suggests she becomes a prostitute. “Please go on the game! It’s a steady job and you’ll be working from home!”
* Blackadder asks if Percy’s new girlfriend is Jane ‘Bury Me In a Y-shaped Coffin’ Harrington.
* Every single time Rowan Atkinson says the word Bob.
* Nursie’s anecdote about a boy with no winkle.
* The doctor misunderstanding what Blackadder means by “my manservant”.
* “‘Yes, it is,’ not ‘That it be’. You don’t have to talk in that stupid voice to me. I’m not a tourist.”
* Nursie reveals that her real name is Bernard.
* Baldrick dressed as a bridesmaid – beard and all. Percy doesn’t recognise him and starts flirting.
* Rik Mayall. Everything Rik Mayall does. Smirks to camera, maniacal laughter, vulgarity, violence… He *owns* it.

Episode two: Head (16 January 1986). After the Lord High Executioner dies, Blackadder is given the job – but soon kills the wrong person…
* Blackadder tries to teach Baldrick how to count, which is a struggle. “To you, Baldrick,” he says at one point, “the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people…”
* Melchett’s shortlist of potential new executioners: just Lord Blackadder.* Blackadder meets his two new subordinates: Mr Ploppy and Mrs Ploppy – no relation.
* Baldrick reiterates that they’re “not at home to Mr Cock-up.”
* Blackadder has to impersonate Farrow. He puts a bag on his head, deepens his voice and pretends to have lost an arm so Farrow’s widow won’t twig. When he thinks she’s about to rumble him, Blackadder calls for Baldrick to come and help – and he arrives *just* as Lady Farrow is about to give her ‘husband’ a blowjob.

Episode three: Potato (23 January 1986). Sir Walter Raleigh has returned triumphant from a fortune-making voyage, so Blackadder resolves to out-do him…
* Percy says Mrs Miggins from the local pie shop is bedridden from the nose down.
* Melchett offers Blackadder a potato as if it were a cigarette.
* The Queen’s wandering monologue about her dreams: “And then I dreamt once I was a sausage roll…”
* “You have a woman’s hand, my lord!”, etc, etc.
* Rum accuses Blackadder of being a “lapdog to a slip of a girl.” Blackadder: “Better a lapdog to a slip of a girl than a… git.”
* The Queen’s self-written poem: “When the night is dark/And the dogs go bark. When the clouds are black/And the ducks go quack…”
* Melchett gives Blackadder a map for his voyage: it’s blank, so Blackadder will have to fill it in as he goes.
* “Oh, Sir Walter, really!”
* Speaking of a girlfriend, Percy says he’d “even touched her once.” Blackadder: “Touched her what?”
* “So… You don’t know the way to France either?”
* In a scene of Blackdder, Baldrick, Percy and Rum all arguing, Tom Baker is audibly just saying, “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.”
* Upon returning from the cannibal-infested south seas, Blackadder says the late Captain Rum was a third-rate sailor but a first-rate second course.
* Nursie wears Rum’s beard.
* When Melchett says he likes the wine Blackadder’s brought back to England – which is actually Baldrick’s piss – Blackadder assures him there’s an inexhaustible supply.

Episode four: Money (6 February 1986). Edmund must pay off a debt to the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells…
* Blackadder says his father blew the family fortune on “wine, women and amateur dramatics.”
* Because his friend is in financial difficulties, Percy says he has some money hidden away. However, Blackadder admits he’s “seen it, pinched it, spent it.”
* In the midst of all his stress over cash, Blackadder has to keep travelling all the way to Richmond when summoned by the Queen. She’s only called for him to amuse herself. (Blackadder deadpans that he’s glad he’s wearing a corset because he thinks his sides have split.)
* Baldrick suggests that Blackadder go on the game to raise some money. Blackadder makes a tiny adjustment to the plan – cut to Baldrick down the docks and holding a sign that reads ‘Get it here’.
* Baldrick’s first punter wants to be talked to like a child, but then asks, “Now then, how much do you charge for a good, hard shag?”
* Nursie warns the Queen that Mr and Mrs Spank may pay a visit to Bottyland.
* Percy uses alchemy to create gold. Then Blackadder points out that it’s green, whereas the colour of gold is traditionally gold.
* Mr and Mrs Pants come to view Blackadder’s house when he wants to sell it. “You’ve really worked out your banter, haven’t you?” says the husband, impressed. “No, not really,” replies Blackadder. “This is a different thing. It’s more spontaneous and it’s called wit.” He then tells Mrs Pants that the house has “the very latest in front-wall, fresh-air orifice combined with a wide-capacity gutter installation below.” She asks, “You mean you crap out of the window?”
* Percy wears a broach made of “pure green”. Blackadder says it looks like he’s sneezed.
* The sight of Percy in his sadomasochism gear when Blackadder stages a scene to compromise the Bishop.

Episode five: Beer (13 February 1986). Blackadder’s puritanical and rich relatives, the Whiteadders, invite themselves round – on the same night that Blackadder’s hosting a drinking party…
* “Get the door,” orders Blackadder. Baldrick returns with it in his arms. “Baldrick, I would advise you to make the explanation you are about to give… phenomenally good.”
* When Blackadder fires him, Baldrick says he’s been in the family since 1532. “So’s syphilis,” says Blackadder.
* Nursie complains about the hungover Melchett’s “great and fruitsome flappy woof-woofs”.
* Blackadder needs some of Baldrick’s blood. Baldrick offers to cut off an arm. “No, a little prick should do,” says Blackadder.
* Baldrick and Percy get the giggles after finding a turnip shaped like a thingy. Baldrick says it’s ironic because he has a thingy shaped like a turnip.
* Lady Whiteadder slaps people if she doesn’t like what they say. Or if they have luxuries such as chairs.
* The fake breasts Blackadder and co wear while drinking. When he later forgets to remove his pair of what Lady Whiteadder calls “the devil’s dumplings”, he pretends they’re earmuffs.
* The Queen turns up to the party – but she’s in disguise, so Blackadder hides her in a cupboard.
* Lady Whiteadder says cold is God’s way of telling you to burn more Catholics.
* One of the revellers tells Blackadder it’s a “great booze-up” and Lady Whiteadder demands to know what he means. Blackadder has a think, which lasts a tantalising 16 seconds, then explains slowly: “My friend is a missionary, and on his last visit abroad he brought back with him the chief of a famous tribe. His name is Great Boo. He’s been suffering from sleeping sickness, and he’s obviously just woken. Because as you heard: Great Boo’s up.”
* A drunk Blackadder says he has an ostrich feather up his bottom because “Mr Ostrich put it there to keep in the little pixies.”

Episode six: Chains (20 February 1986). Blackadder and Melchett are kidnapped and held for ransom by a sadistic German prince called Ludwig…
* Baldrick says he heard an amusing story the other day. Blackadder says, “Oh, good,” then walks off.
* Blackadder is kidnapped in exactly the manner he’d just been ridiculing as being an obvious kidnap attempt.
* Held prisoner, Blackadder gets frustrated that the guard can’t understand him. “All right,” he says, defeated. “Let’s start with the basics. English is a non-inflected, Indo-European language derived from…”
* The Queen laments that Blackadder has vanished. “Like an old table,” agrees Percy. “Vanished, Lord Percy. Not varnished.”
* The prison guard and Blackadder play charades so the former can call the latter a “bastard son of a bitch.”
* “Oh, it’s a scythe!”
* Ludwig’s odd emphasis on certain words: “Please accept my apol-ogg-ees,” and so on.
* Ludwig reveals he used to pose as a waitress that Blackadder knew, Big Sally. “But I went to bed with you, didn’t I?” says Blackadder.
* While chained up, Melchett suggest a word game to kill the time. Blackadder challenges him to rearrange the words ‘face’, ‘sodding’, ‘your’ and ‘shut’.
* The Queen has a fancy-dress party and attends as her own father, Henry VIII.
* Ludwig claims he will wreak his “re-veng-ee”.
* Blackadder tells the Queen that life without her would be like a blunt pencil: pointless.

Best episode: Tough call. Maybe Beer, but all are hilarious.

Cunning: When Blackadder visits a wise woman in episode one, she says there are three cunning plans to solve his problem: kill Bob, kill himself or kill everyone. In episode four, Blackadder tells Baldrick he has a plan so cunning you could clean your teeth with it.

History: In reality, Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603. The series also namechecks explorers Christopher Columbus (c1450-1506) and Sir Francis Drake (c1540-1596), Lord High Chancellor Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Queen Mary I (1516-1558), revolutionary Watt Tyler (died 1381), priest Martin Luther (1483-1546), Anne of Cleaves (1515-1557) and Cardinal Thomas Woolsey (1473-1530). Sir Walter Raleigh (c1554-1618) appears in Potato. The final episode is spoofing the Spanish Inquisition. In the opening ep, cross-dressing gags suggest Shakespearean conventions, and the Bard himself is mentioned by name a couple of times. In Beer, the Queen paraphrases the troop-rousing speech the real Elizabeth I gave on 9 August 1588 at Tilbury (“I have the body of a weak and feeble woman,” etc).

Review: After series one, the team made some huge changes. The setting was shifted up by a century or so; the lead character was made cleverer and more rakishly sexy; and out went the expensive location filming. (Other than the credit sequences, only one scene in the whole series was shot outside BBC Television Centre.) Perhaps most significantly, Rowan Atkinson stepped down from the role of co-writer and was replaced by Ben Elton, who was hot from The Young Ones and other key comedy shows of the era. It’s maybe a shame the studio sets have gone from spectacularly impressive to spectacularly pokey – seriously, Queen Elizabeth’s throne room is *tiny* – but most of these alterations help the show a great deal. Blackadder’s actions and dialogue are significantly funnier, and that’s because he’s both smarter and crueller – and Rowan Atkinson is world-class at razor-sharp sarcasm. Baldrick’s character has been shifted less. He’s not quite an imbecile, rather a man who’s had all his dignity and drive removed, but the master-and-servant dynamic is better now. Meanwhile, new regular Miranda Richardson is just knockout as the Queen. It’s a stunning performance: bonkers, deranged and amazingly inventive. In fact, all the ‘second level’ characters are much better than their series-one counterparts. (Percy continues to feel unnecessary, sadly.) There’s also notably less plotting than in The Black Adder – most episodes are set-up, gag, gag, gag, climax. Comedy rules. And there are more flashes of Young Ones-style cartoon violence, which can only be a good thing.

Nine tongues like an electric eel out of 10