''History has known a great many bastards but it has been
chronicled by almost as many,'' writes J.F. Roberts, by way
of introduction to The True History of the Black
This was the premise for the ''Blackadder'' television
series, which ran for four seasons between 1983 and 1989 - 24
episodes in all - plus several other one-off specials.
For their first series, the original writers, Richard Curtis
and Rowan Atkinson, conceived a sweeping comedy saga, set
immediately at the end of the Wars of the Roses, in which
they declared that particular history was a fiction, created
by Henry Tudor to justify his usurpation of the throne and
later cemented into the British psyche by that master
propagandist William Shakespeare.
That first series was almost the last. It was outrageously
expensive to make and the BBC bridled at a second series
until producer John Lloyd convinced his superiors it could be
made in a traditional studio sitcom format, at far less cost.
They relented, the series survived and the rest is history -
of a sort.
In a monumental undertaking (it took me more than a fortnight
to plough through it) Roberts has set out to record the
series' origins and history and to delve into the life of
every major actor in it. The sheer amount of information is
overwhelming and the minutiae, in copious footnotes and
asides, is sometimes discouraging. I wondered whether we
really needed to know, for example, that producer Lloyd
''never slept with Pamela Anderson'' during their time on Not
the Nine O'Clock News.
For all that, it is an excellent piece of research,
complemented by four sets of colour plates (one for each
series) and several script out-takes, not all of which made
it to screen. The several appendices include an outline for
an unrecorded Christmas story special, penned by Curtis, in
which the Black Adder appears as a Basil Fawlty-like
Bethlehem inn-keeper (Baldrick is Manuel).
There is an extensive bibliography, videography and
audiography, and cast listings and broadcast dates for each
episode. Perhaps it is best considered as a reference work
for fans of the series, rather than a solid read. For that
purpose, the nine-page index may be considered a valuable
Gary Newton is a Dunedin subeditor.