Blackadder destroyed my life
The sit-com ‘Blackadder’ was one of the most loved and respected comedy series in the UK. But not for the former BBC’s chief medical officer whose life was made a complete misery – thanks to Blackadder.
What was not known at the time by creators Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis but their ‘I have a cunning plan’ character was of the same name as the BBC’s head medic, Dr Eric Blackadder who died last year.
The married Doctor, had previously told of how they struggled to order taxis and book restaurants as businesses thought the calls were hoax; while the Blackadder’s were subject to late-night drunken calls demanding to speak to Baldrick.
The Doctor petitioned the then director-general Alasdair Milne to get the comedy retitled, and even spoke to lawyers – but they told him he had no copyright over his name. Dr Blackadder recalled how he first knew his name was being sent up in the comedy series when BBC colleagues started teasing him in the management dining rooms. He said: ‘The banter went on for months and I remember asking my secretary to see if she could find out if my name was being used in television.’ In 2001 Producer of ‘Blackadder’ John Lloyd denied there was any intent to embarrass Dr Blackadder. He explained the name was ‘entirely fictional…a coincidence’
Speaking to The Scottish Sun as details of her late husband’s will and personal nightmare were further revealed, Jean Blackadder said: ‘I can say from the bottom of my heart that the side-effects have all been adverse. We started off with a respectable name but all of this has changed our lives. ‘Always serious-minded, Eric wasn’t terribly impressed with the Blackadder series, which he found adolescent in humour. The fact it came to occupy so much of our time was a complete bore.’ However, all the tremor did not seem to effect Dr Blackadder’s career, who went on to become the chief medical adviser at Bupa, dying in March last year at the age of 87, leaving £1.4million to his family.
Those that remember the Children’s TV programme ‘Magic Roundabout’ (BBC 1965 -77) narrated by Eric Thompson (father of Emma Thompson) may be surprised to know that ‘Zebedee’ one of the main characters in the show was also the surname of an ordinary man living in London. He got constant phone calls shouting ‘Bung … bung’ down the phone and people saying to him in the street ‘time for bed’.
There is a funny side to all of this but not if you’re the recipient of the constant banter. Celebrity comics who have a well-known catchphrase continually get shouted at in the street. Harry Enfield recalled being on holiday in Cornwall, walking along the sea path, a middle aged gentleman shouted up to him ‘You don’t want to do it like that .. you want …’ Harry had enough and turned on him. Shouting how original he was, and he was the thousand person who had said that to him. Later he felt sorry for the guy. The same style of situation was fictionally portrayed in ‘Father Ted’ with Ted coming across Richard Wilson (‘One foot in the Grave’) filming a scene and suggesting to Dougal he go up and say ‘I don’t believe it’ to him. What resulted was what many celebrities would like to do. Comedy impressionist Bobby Davro confessed ‘I met Richard Wilson in a service station once, I stood behind him and said ‘I don’t believe it’– he turned round and told me to piss off… although when he realised it was me he laughed. I know he hated that legacy more than anything else, literally everywhere he went he got that phrase regurgitated to him. It was the bane of his life, I just had to do it to wind him up.’
One must remember that our performers are being paid to bear these names and phrases. They have a choice, yet the above members of the public are innocent parties.
In the eighties, while signing up an American couple for Cable TV and asking their name. The lady replied ‘Hamburger. Mr & Mrs Hamburger’. Then she said. ‘Have your laugh … send it up.’ Expecting what she normally in counted. Responding ‘No I’m not like that! I wouldn’t say anything … PAUSE … Tell me, how do you spell Hamburger? Is it with or without ketchup?’
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.