The Complete Blackadder Goes Forth Debate
A row broke out in early 2014 when some politicians and academics attacked schools for showing Blackadder Goes Forth as history and condemned the Blackadder view of the First World War – doomed youth, led to deaths by donkeys, in a futile conflict – as wrong
In an article in the Daily Mail in January 2014, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote:
The war was, of course, an unspeakable tragedy, which robbed this nation of our bravest and best. But it’s important that we don’t succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict in the last 70 or so years. The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.
He went on to complain of: ‘Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths by attacking Britain’s role in the conflict’.
The item made the national news and led to heated discussions in the media between supporters and opponents of Gove’s view.
In May, in a special event in association with Bristol 2014, the Bristol Festival of Ideas showed the complete Blackadder Goes Forth and hosted a live debate with historians Stephen Badsey, Jeremy Banning, and Kate Williams on its relevancy, accuracy and impact.
You can listen to an audio recording of the debate here.
First broadcast in 1989, Blackadder Goes Forth was the fourth and final chapter of the chronicles of the Blackadder dynasty, bringing the story into the twentieth century and into a much darker period of history. It’s 1917 and Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is now a captain in the British Army at the Front, commanding gallant-but-dumb Lieutenant George St Barleigh (Hugh Laurie) and the even dumber Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson). There can barely have been a less likely setting for comedy than the trenches of the First World War. Writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton mixed the lighter jokes with a gallows humour in the face of a tragic and harrowing story. Edmund Blackadder was now a more noble and sympathetic character than his ancestors, and his efforts to evade his inevitable fate provided not only countless laughs but also a sense of the futility of war. The bold and highly poignant final scene when Blackadder and his men finally do charge into No-Man’s-Land which famously dissolves into an image of the same field filled with poppies was extremely powerful. It is often voted one of television’s greatest moments.