Sir Tony Robinson on reviving Blackadder's Baldrick for Comic Relief
Sir Tony Robinson tells Radio Times magazine about his delight when Richard Curtis asked him to grab his turnip to become Blackadder's Baldrick one more time.
This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.
Legend says King Arthur will return in this country’s hour of need; instead, we have Baldrick, the turnip king of Blackadder, awoken just as the root vegetable has entered the national conversation. Because this Red Nose Day, for the first time since 1999’s Blackadder: Back & Forth, Baldrick and his alter ego Sir Tony Robinson will again concoct a supremely cunning plan.
And, as it turns out, the quarter-witted lackey’s resurrection for a forthcoming Comic Relief sketch was inspired by a meeting at this year’s Radio Times Covers Party. Or, to be more precise, a meeting that didn’t take place.
A trio of Blackadder alumni – Robinson, and co-writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis – were present to collect commemorative covers for Blackadder Goes Forth, Friday Night Live and Comic Relief respectively. For the 76-year-old actor, presenter and author, the night was both an opportunity to celebrate Blackadder and catch up with his old friends.
“The party was at Claridge’s hotel and it was rammed. I could see Richard on the other side of the ballroom and planned to meet him after the formal part of the evening. But when I later went to where he’d been, I couldn’t see him anywhere.”
Curtis, it turned out, had literally chickened out. “The next morning, I had a fulsomely apologetic email from Richard saying, ‘Sorry I couldn’t stay. I had a text from Emma [Freud, his partner] saying there was a chicken in the oven.’”
But there was more to the email than a dinner update; attached was what Robinson calls “a lovely present”.
“He said, ‘I’ve just written a story for Baldrick – how would you feel about performing this on Comic Relief?’ I read it and texted him straight back – ‘Try and stop me.’ What’s remarkable is the way Richard was able to pick up the voice and rhythms of Baldrick straight away, having not written him for practically 25 years.”
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I ask if Curtis felt so bad about racing home for dinner that he’d written the scene overnight. “That seemed to be the implication, but I don’t know for sure,” he replies. What we can be sure of, I suggest, is that the RT party was the impetus for the character’s revival. “Absolutely,” he agrees.
Details of the finished sketch are scantier than Baldrick’s hygiene regimen, though Robinson does reveal the outline. “Baldrick reads a bedtime story – Cinderella – to put the entire nation to sleep,” he says.
And he also notes this is a different Baldrick, whose undoubtedly ratty clobber is described as a “cross between series two and series three”. I ask if this means Robinson will be wearing a new costume. “It will flipping have to be,” he replies, before sharing a startling encounter with his own Blackadder history.
“I was bushwhacked in New Zealand by [Lord of the Rings film director] Peter Jackson. I was there making a documentary and he very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me. Halfway through the interview he said, ‘By the way, I’ve got something to show you.’ We went into another room and there was a tailor’s dummy fitted with Baldrick’s Blackadder II costume. He’d bought it because he’s a big fan of the series. Then he said, ‘Try it on,’” Robinson laughs. “As you can imagine, it didn’t quite fit.”
Robinson and Baldrick, though, remain the perfect fit – and his enthusiasm for the much-abused dogsbody is undiminished. He calls this unexpected outing “terribly exciting”, particularly as it’s for a good cause: “To do this for Comic Relief, a charity I’ve had a close relationship with from its beginnings, has made it doubly good.”
And we should relish this while we can – because it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a reunion. “Everyone’s always said if we made another series, however good it was, people wouldn’t be in the same headspace they were when they saw the original,” explains Robinson. “We couldn’t re-create it.”
But what about Baldrick’s current headspace? When I ask Robinson what a modern Baldrick would be doing, he gives an answer far beyond the realms of possibility.
“He would have been prime minister for two weeks and cocked it up so much, he would have been quietly removed. Of course, that could never happen in real life – but it could in Baldrick’s world.”
Red Nose Day returns to BBC One on Friday 17th March.
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