“Written by Ben Elton” used to carry a big cachet in the years after Blackadder, the smash hit sitcom he wrote with Richard Curtis.
Since then the comedy writer has enjoyed a fairly hit and miss career with the goodish (The Thin Blue Line) competing with the not-so-good (The Wright Way).
But the BBC is hoping that it may have another Blackadder 2 on its hands with a new Tudor-set Elton comedy Upstart Crow starring David Mitchell as Shakespeare.
Rather tellingly, BBC director general Lord Hall introduced the comedy at today’s launch of the BBC Shakespeare season by stating that this was as close as [Elton] has got to ruffs and pantaloons since Blackadder.”
Set at the start of William Shakespeare’s extraordinary career, the series will focus on both Will’s family and professional life and includes the surprising stories of where many of his ideas came from.
He is a smart cookie who “always thinks the best of people” says executive producer Gareth Edwards. And this can sometimes get him into trouble.
Also featured are his wife Anne (Liza Tarbuck), his father (played by Harry Enfield) and extended family, his servant Bottom (Rob Rouse) his friends Kate (Gemma Whelan) and Marlowe (Tim Downie), his theatrical troupe, and his rival Robert Greene (Mark Heap).
His relationship with his wife is loving if a little fractious at times, and he always ends each episode having a fireside chat with her, I am told.
Elsewhere he finds the inspiration for Romeo from an unlikely source, mislays a nearly treasonous masterpiece, gets tricked into a very embarrassing pair of tights and meets three witches who predict great things for him.
As a dad he has quite a normal relationship with his daughter Susanna, played by Raised by Wolves star Helen Monks.
“At one point he reads passages of Romeo and Juliet and she tells him that if she spoke like that to her mates they would chuck her in the pond,” says Edwards.
Elton says: “I have tried very hard to think myself into Shakespeare’s creative world, writing only with a small chicken feather and not changing my underpants for a year.”
“I’m delighted to be playing England’s greatest bard at this difficult time for bards everywhere,” added Mitchell. “You just try getting work as a bard these days. It’s virtually impossible.”
All very funny. Here’s hoping Elton has found the right way with this one.
Upstart Crow will air on BBC2 in the spring