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Blackadder’s Historical Record: 40th Anniversary – Tony Robinson Signed Edition (12 x 140 g Gold Vinyl) review

Demon Records maintain their clever boxset releases, this time revisiting the British iconic Blackadder as he moves through history, and what a valiant model of UK comedy it remains! While the humorous approach alters through the ages, it’s consistency enveloped in deep-seating sarcasm and quick one-liners that we know and love, and that nexus initially came to the small screen from the screenwriting pen of Richard Curtis and the comedic mind of Rowan Atkinson.

Blackadder’s Historical Record brings together twenty-four full-cast TV episodes onto 12 gold coloured 140g vinyl, and it’s a mighty collection. The set comes in a leather-style strong box, with a lid that lifts up, and within that it houses a dozen era-inspired inner sleeves for your records – with ace artwork for key characters from each season. There’s also a large 12” colour booklet that shows off all the cast, transmission and production credits that comes with a few notes from Sir Tony Robinson and, to round it all off, a signed print portrait of Baldrick himself, quite literally hand-signed by Tony!

Quality wise, this is a fine presentation and I found the transfer to vinyl really good. If you were wondering, the episodes are shifted from TV transmissions but it’s clear and crisp with only the odd visual gag being the difference to a radio play adaptation but, in an odd way, a lot of the older comedies used to be like this, and I know that because it’s how I discovered the likes of Monty Python. If you know Blackadder, there’s a large chance you’re picking this up because you know and love the imagination, and you might also be privy to certain moments of either comedy violence or Flashheart doing his thing, complete with slipping moustache.

Blackadder

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Blackadder found its groove in the second series and, interestingly, even Tony Robinson comments in the sleeve notes that although the first series has many great ideas – and there’s definitely fun bits amongst it – overall it never fully clicked together. For me, the opening gambit of Blackadder is one I’ve revisited the least, but I delved in out of curiosity, and it’s interesting as a reminder over how the characters changed. Atkinson’s portrayal definitely feels a little more Basil Fawlty in enunciation (and this isn’t a bad thing) and while later on in the life of old Slackbladder he revels in the darkness, at this point there’s a little more panic as he gets himself in predicaments, and even the tone and inflections come across a little John Cleese. So to speak.

For the positives, Series One graced us with Brian Blessed, and his booming tones, and like Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, it’s great to hear Miriam Margolyes and Jim Broadbent doing their thing. Oddly though, Robinson’s Baldrick isn’t the stupidest man in the world at this point (Tim McInnerny’s Percy is instead), and even his plans aren’t too crazy which is odd to start with but, fear not, his time will come! In reality, Series One could have been the end of everything but thankfully the Beeb gave them another go and those glimpses of hope are seen with the Queen of Spain’s Beard, and lines such as ‘Is there anything you Doctors haven’t tried to cure with leeches..?” in a moment of leech-discussion plus funny moments like this:

“So let me get this straight. You’re saying that something which you have never seen is slightly less blue than something else which you have never seen?”

Blackadder II

Series Two is where things changed, and in a big way. Instead of Atkinson co-writing, Richard Curtis teamed up with the on-trend Ben Elton who fresh off The Young Ones and had all the right energy for the chaos and comedy to come. Blackadder II is an incredible step up. Opening story Bells – containing Bob – is a legitimately legendary episode, where Atkinson’s more refined and shrewd Blackadder is fancying Gabrielle Glaister’s Kate, who’s pretending to be a boy and be called Bob, and all the comic scripts that come with that. It could easily be dated but it doesn’t, there’s a funny twist and play on every line and it fits even all these years later.

As briefly mentioned earlier, Blackadder II also has a few visual gags but I think it offers enough of a sense of what’s happening, even if you can’t literally see Edmund Blackadder’s facial expressions. It makes you realise how much of the screenplay is descriptive and sharp, and sometimes the feeling of the setup gives you what you need. You also notice that in this version on vinyl, certain inflictions on specific lines feel more prominent as well. Other stand out scenes include the roles of soothsayers, which are particularly entertaining, and who doesn’t enjoy a good grammar correction with the likes of “Yes it is, not ‘that it be’” from Blackadder to a crazed old loon.

Performances are sharp. The atmosphere is high in the era. The character commitment is solid. It’s very funny, and you even get some Flashheart from the wonderful Rik Mayall.

Lord Flashheart: Ah, Melchett. Still worshipping God? Last I heard… He’d started worshipping me!

Blackadder the Third

And then… Blackadder the Third, which introduces the Georgian Era to us, and another version of Edmund Blackadder, the significance of a cunning plan from Baldrick, plus – and so crucially – Hugh Laurie’s The Prince Regent! Of course, Edmund is now Butler to the latter and is at hand to either help or get something for himself from the arrangement.

This is another six episodes, in the good old days of limited series’ before they were even a thing, and they honed that central character idea with lesser main characters, but delved into the wealth of guest appearances from the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Chris Barrie, Stephen Fry, Miranda Richardson, plus Tim McInnerny pops in for a jolly halfway through, and Helen Atkinson-Wood as Mrs Miggins is more of a regular. Oh, and the lesser-spotted MacAdder, a Scottish take on that family character by Rowan.

Every episode title plays on the Jane Austen stylistics, and takes us through petty politics, Samuel Johnson’s ‘new’ dictionary, and a series of events involving people trying to kill off the Prince, alongside duels and general silliness. I think here there’s some slightly dated comedy in places but, again, there’s nothing too extreme because it’s so ridiculous, and everyone is a bit stupid, which is what makes it so amusing. We all get to revel in the absurd and appreciate that all the characters aren’t exactly ones to look up to, or the smartest in society. Highly enjoyable moments!

“A man may fight for many things: his country, his principles, his friends, the glistening tear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally I’d mud wrestle my own mother for a ton of cash, an amusing clock, and a sack of French porn. You’re on.”

Blackadder Goes Forth

And then Blackadder Goes Forth, rightfully the most revered series, one that takes on a very serious moment in history yet achieves it with an impressive amalgamation of understanding and gallows humour, if you will, plus it comes complete with a unique insight from Tony Robinson in the sleeve notes, regarding that famous end scene – one that’s sat with me since the day it aired, and it remains a powerful visual even on record.

Another six episodes with military related titles, from the likes of Corporal Punishment to General Hospital, this time Curtis and Elton delve into a time we’d seen on screen before in certain ways, but not with a very real connection to something still part of our lives today. Atkinson’s Blackadder is this time a Captain, and although they’re in the trenches, he’s eager to find a way out. Of course, every cunning plan and sneaky scheme never comes through, usually because of cross-communication or the incompetence of those around him, namely Hugh Laurie’s Lieutenant George and Private Baldrick. Not forgetting that laugh of Stephen Fry’s Melchett or Captain Darling – which was funny every time it was said – played by the fully returning Tim McInnerny – who here has an ongoing spat with Blackadder, due to their different ‘places’ within the war effort.

There’s also a clear anti-war message throughout, with the point being that some of those in charge (at the very top away from the trenches) might not have always had as much to give away as the way the frontline soldiers did, and this approach isn’t lost in the transfer. But throughout this, Curtis and Elton keep it sharp as well, stories above might be a little ludicrous but maybe it works because war is just as ridiculous as something silly, and if you can’t laugh in the face of the situation, then what can you try to laugh at – which is a very British sentiment deeply layered here.

For me, this is satire at its finest and I believe the impact of Blackadder Goes Forth still remains, and definitely speaks to the class system that this country (the UK) is still obsessed with, even if the politicians might tell you it doesn’t exist anymore. But, quickly back onto the comedy, there’s the superb episode with Melchett’s prize-winning pigeon, another misunderstanding over George dressed as a lady, the glory of ‘wibble’ (if you know, you know!) and not forgetting the outstanding Twenty Minuters moments with Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart, as well as an appearance from Ade Edmondson with a take on Baron Manfred von Richthofen – everything here is quite, quite glorious – all the way up to that unforgettable finale.

“Good luck, everyone.”

Summary

Overall, this is a lovely set and if you’re a fan of their version of history, then Blackadder’s Historical Record will be right up your street. I do like the gold vinyl approach, although they’re not quite fully lettered on both sides, with one side being like the picture on the sleeve, and the label with the episode title on the other side, but you can work it out, which feels like a small oversight but nothing too taxing. There’s also a misprint in my version in the notes with Lieutenant George listed in Blackadder the Third as Hugh Laurie, when of course that’s from Blackadder Goes Forth, and Mrs Miggins is definitely not Stephen Fry.

Those small issues notwithstanding, Blackadder’s Historical Record is an excellent assemblage and very much a favourite for anyone who loves the classic comedy, and wants to add it to their vinyl collection, much like a lot of older British comedy has always been. It’s intelligently blathering, more than occasionally bawdy but mainly oddly brilliant, and while I’d have liked some insight from Rowan, the addition of Tony Robinson who’s a genuine British icon in his own right, is hugely advantageous so… “History, here I come!”

Blackadder’s Historical Record is available to own now on Vinyl from Demon Records: https://amzn.to/3mh3wK7

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