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Was there a real Blackadder?

The notion is madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of last year’s Mister Madman competition

Tony Robinson as Private Baldrick and Rowan Atkinson as Captain Blackadder
Published: October 6, 2021 at 8:47 am
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There was no family line of Blackadders running from a long-lost history after the battle of Bosworth to the First World War, sighing their way through Baldrick’s cunning plans and avoiding thingy-shaped turnips.


Creators Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson didn’t choose a real historical figure as the basis of their main character, but did pluck a real name at least. The surname has been around since the 15th century, when the first series was set, and there is a Clan Blackadder in Scotland, too (much to the delight, surely, of Blackadder’s cousin MacAdder). The name Baldrick is even older.

  • Read more: Medieval names – what were people called in the Middle Ages?

Yet as part of the First World War's centenary commemorations, a fascinating discovery was made: there was a Captain Blackadder in the trenches. Robert John Blackadder, of the North Scottish Royal Garrison Artillery, fought at the Somme, where he won the Military Cross.

What’s more, a real Private Baldrick was found – James was killed, aged 23, at the battle of Messines in 1914 – as well as a Lieutenant George.

Like his namesake, played by Hugh Laurie, Athelstan Key Durance George was educated at Cambridge and didn’t make it through the war. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of a General Melchett. Baaaah!


This article first appeared in BBC History Revealed


Jonny Wilkes
Jonny WilkesFreelance writer

Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York.


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