One and Not Done: Blackadder’s Unaired Pilot

One and Not Done is a new series on the site where we discuss the pilots which were picked up and given a full series.

The first series of the Blackadder has some fans, with over eight people proclaiming it as their favourite, but the majority agree that the show didn’t really find it’s feet until the second series when Edmund became much more of a bastard. The Blackadder of series one was somewhat a fey individual, a bit useless and rubbish, and it’s hard to particularly like the character. What’s surprising is that it could have been all very different, as this pilot written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson is set in the 16th century, supposedly during the Elizabethan Era in the same way the second series was (though a certain amount of liberty has been taken with historical facts) and the cast was changed between the making of the pilot and the series, with Philip Fox playing Baldrick, John Savident is the King, and Henry Prince of Wales is performed by Robert Bathurst.

Rowan Atkinson, Elspet Gray, Tim McInnerny and Alex Norton all play their original roles, but one of the big differences is that Blackadder is far more like the character we know and love of the second, third and fourth series. He makes for a far more interesting and likeable lead, I’ve never got on with the first series simply because Blackadder is often so limp, and though Atkinson is the master of the silly voice his attempts here grated. The episode was later slightly rewritten as the second episode of the first series, Born To Be A King, and in both episodes the plot revolves around a celebration which Edmund is organising but it doesn’t go well when acts start pulling out and then Edmund’s lands in Scotland are given away to Dougal McAngus and Edmund’s predictably appalled. Murder’s instantly on his mind, and he creates a play called “The Death of a Scotsman” as a way to kill off McAngus, but when the latter drinks too much and reveals that Edmund’s brother may be an illegitimate child the plan is changed.

It was a good idea to replace Philip Fox with Tony Robinson as he’s all rather wooden in the pilot and Tony Robinson is clearly a much superior comic actor, but I’m not convinced that they made the right decision when it comes to John Savident. I’m fond of Brian Blessed, who isn’t, but he’s a bit too over the top and shouty and Savident is much more subtle which for me works far better within the context of the story. The opposite applies with Robert Bathurst, he’s far dafter than Robert East and reminds of Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of George in Blackadder The Third, but it works effectively so it’s a shame the role was recast in this instance as well. And somewhat inexplicably Tim McInnery is better in the pilot than he is in the series, his Percy is much stupider and funnier in the same way he is in the second series, but at least they realised this and changed him back in to a character who was far more amusing.

The pilot itself is still a patchy affair, it has some great jokes – when Edmund complains about the purity of his mother he says “She daren’t even look downwards in case she notices her own breasts” along with “My father only got anywhere with her because he told her it was a cure for diarrhoea”, and though it’s sub-Shakespearean word play the following exchange “We must be sure this villain is well hung / I care not if he is well hung as long as he is hung well” made me smile, but then maybe I’m easy to please. But a lot of the time the lines elicit the odd smirk but little more than that and like the first series as a whole it’s far from essential viewing. That said, the pilot is certainly more entertaining than Born To Be A King, if only because Atkinson’s performance is so appealing, Robert Bathurst is a joy to watch, and the whole thing feels slightly less pantomime-esque without Brian Blessed’s grandiose performance. Only one line in Born To Be A King is funnier than those found within the pilot, when Edmund mentions he owns an “Autographed miniature of Judas Iscariot”, but other than that it’s definitely the lesser piece.

Alex Finch.

Related Links:
You can watch the unaired pilot here.
And you can watch Born To Be A King here.
If you’re a Blackadder fan The True History of the Blackadder: The Unadulterated Tale of the Creation of a Comedy Legend by J.F. Roberts is an essential read.

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