Blackadder the Third

While his predecessor had to deal with a near-psychotic Elizabeth I, Blackadder the Third had problems of his own with the Prince Regent – a man who by his own admission was as thick as a whale omelette. But why did Richard Curtis pick this particular period of history – and why is Lord Percy nowhere to be seen?

Blackadder The Third

The background

Following the huge success of the Elizabethan Blackadder II, the BBC were eager to commission a new series set in a later historical period (a complete turnabout by the execs, who almost axed the whole thing after the low viewing figures for the first series).

Writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton immediately latched onto Regency England, despite the fact that this period is rather less well known to the general public, and consequently less "sexy" (to use Ben Elton's word) than the Elizabethan era. But Curtis and Elton felt it was rich with potential. After all, the Prince Regent came to power because his father, George III, was stark raving bonkers. It positively cried out for the Blackadder treatment.

Making it happen

Curtis and Elton originally intended to maintain the central Blackadder trio of Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson and Tim McInnerny by casting the latter as the loopy Prince Regent. But McInnerny unexpectedly turned down the role – having played Lord Percy in the first two series, he was reluctant to play yet another foppish aristocrat. The part was therefore given to Hugh Laurie, who'd made a cameo appearance in Blackadder II.

Curtis and Elton's take on the Prince was actually based on the popular perception of the man in his own time. He really did have a reputation as an extravagant and greedy fop, and the first episode of Blackadder the Third was inspired by the contempt the Prince really did generate among MPs.

Look, it's him off that thing!

There are cameo appearances a-plenty in Blackadder the Third. Perhaps the most memorable star turn is Robbie Coltrane's – he dominates one episode playing the eminent writer and wit, Dr Samuel Johnson. But coming a close second is Stephen Fry, who makes a splendidly pompous Duke of Wellington.

But that's not all. Chris Barrie – he of Red Dwarf and The Brittas Empire – has a small role as an obnoxious French revolutionary, ex-Young Ones star Nigel Planer plays a mincing aristocrat, and the political hack in the first episode is played by the late Vincent Hanna, a real-life current affairs journalist.

The cunningest episode?

We've already mentioned Robbie Coltrane's startling performance in the series, and it is indeed his very episode – Ink and Incapibility – which we must dub the best of the lot. It's a highly literary farce, with Blackadder facing execution by Dr Johnson after the manuscript of the latter's famous Dictionary is accidentally tossed into the fire.

Baldrick then comes up with what Blackadder describes as the "worst and most contemptible plan in the history of the universe" – namely, to re-write the Dictionary from scratch. It proves difficult, though Baldrick does try to help with his definition of a dog ("not a cat"). The whole episode is perfect – so perfect, in fact, that even the worst pedants can overlook the fact that the real-life Dr Johnson actually published his Dictionary, and indeed died, many years before the Regency period.