The Black Adder had been a new sort of sitcom for the BBC. It was vastly intelligent, deliciously wicked, boldly black-hearted and very expensive indeed. The trouble was, nobody seemed to understand or like it. The public didn't respond well when it was first shown, and the BBC bosses were keen to put the apparent mistake behind them.
But then, in 1984, Michael Grade came to the rescue. A newly appointed BBC controller, he agreed to commission a sequel – but a sequel so cheap that nobody would mind if, to use Blackadder's own words, it turned out to be "at home to Mr Cock Up".
Making it happen
Blackadder II was very, very (very) different to the original. Its tightened budget meant there was no room for costly location shoots. Instead, like most sitcoms, it was to be filmed in just a couple of recurring sets (such as the Queen's throne room). In addition, Rowan Atkinson – who'd helped write the first series – decided to relinquish his pen for the sequel. Instead of going solo, Curtis approached Ben Elton, whose success with The Young Ones had made him flavour of the month with just about everyone.
It was Elton who suggested changing Edmund from a skulking worm of a man to a Machiavellian schemer with a weary disregard for the buffoons around him. This also meant downgrading Baldrick from the clever servant of the first series to – in Elton's words – "the stupidest person in the history of human beings". (And he would get even more staggeringly foolish in the two later series.)
Look, it's him off that thing!
Blackadder II possesses what could very well be the greatest celebrity cameo in the history of all things. We refer of course to the appearance of former Doctor Who Tom Baker as Redbeard Rum, a sea captain whose longtime lack of female companionship – and complete lack of seafaring knowledge – make him a deranged liability to everyone around him. He appears in the episode "Potato", which also features Simon Jones as Sir Walter Raleigh. Simon Jones being the chap who played Arthur Dent from the TV adaptation of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and you thought he'd never done anything else).
The cunningest episode?
To pick a "greatest episode" from Blackadder II is a difficult and painful duty indeed, since the whole series is as uncommonly excellent as Percy is uncommonly foolish.
But perhaps the stand-out chapter is "Money" – the one in which Blackadder is expected to pay back a loan to the ghastly baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells. Edmund's excuse ("I've gone and lost my wallet") doesn't quite cut it, and he's forced to embark on a series of very cunning plans to raise the cash – including, most memorably, pimping out Baldrick to lovelorn sailors. (He proves surprising popular actually.)