Was there a real Blackadder?
The notion is madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of last year’s Mister Madman competition
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 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.
Claim your summer book + FREE access to HistoryExtra.com when you subscribe to BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed