Before Rowan Atkinson: The Original Blackadder

In 1983, the great comic actor Rowan Atkinson brought us Blackadder, a serial about a witty man surrounded by idiots throughout English history. It begins with depicting Atkinson as a scheming member of the royal court in the Fifteenth Century. Then he was a member of the court of Elizabeth I, then a butler to the Prince Regent during the Napoleonic Wars, and an army officer during World War I.

Blackadder is truly great comedy. If you haven't seen it, you should do so.

But Atkinson's Blackadder wasn't the first. Paul Gallagher of Flashbak tells us that the name first appeared as the title of a 1951 British children's adventure novel. In this novel by John Keir Cross, the Blackadder was a villainous spy who conspired with Napoleonic France to conquer Britain. Gallagher writes:

The story tells of two boys, Cathro and de Rohan uncovering a cunning plan for the French to invade England with the help of Simon Blackadder–a devious spy who pretends to be a smuggler to cover his nefarious activities. […]

He was thirty-five when the story unfolds, and had been an active participant in the great French Revolution, when he had been an associate of Marat and Robespierre–and had been “a fanatical informer and assassin of the aristocrats”. Blackadder is described as being consumed by “a fearful and continuous hatred” of England, and he threw himself into the war between English and the French, campaigning with Napoleon in Italy. But as he soon discovered, Blackadder made a better spy than soldier.

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