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Blackadder in Bethlehem: ‘Lost’ Christmas special from 1988 revealed

  • @matildbattersby

We’ve seen Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder going forth in the First World War, ruffed-up and ruffled as a courtier to Elizabeth I and trussed up in a wig as a stroppy Prince Edmund in the middle ages. But a ‘lost’ episode due to be revealed this week presents the character as we’ve never seen him before: Edmund Blackadder the Bethlehem innkeeper.

The unfinished script was written as a Christmas special in 1988 by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton but was never filmed. The story featured Blackadder’s haphazard servant Baldrick (played in the long-running series by Tony Robinson), some of the more comical moments in the nativity story, the Three Kings, and a talking turkey.

Cult historical comedy Blackadder was on our screens for most of the eighties, with four series between 1983 and 1989 and a number of subsequent one-off specials. Multi-millionaire Atkinson, best known for playing Mr Bean, co-wrote the first series with Ben Elton, but went on make feature films including Johnny English.

Blackadder Back and Forth was the last special to hit our screens in 1999, but the series has remained popular in the intermittent decade. So much so that historian Jem Roberts decided to pen a history of the historical series, The True History of the Blackadder.

She wrote the book, which promises to be “the very first in-depth examination of a British institution like no other” with the help of Curtis and Elton, producer John Lloyd, Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed and Atkinson himself.

The script for Blackadder in Bethlehem was given to Jem by Curtis during an interview. "My jaw dropped when I saw I was holding a lost Blackadder script," Roberts told the Radio Times. "He [Curtis] wrote on the script that one of the reasons it didn't get used was because it was a strange cross between Fawlty Towers and Life of Brian."

"He didn't think he was going to make it compare to either of them. That's his reason for it never getting any further than it did."

The True History of the Blackadder will also “relate the full tale of how seventies alumni of three great universities- Oxford, Cambridge and not Hull, but Manchester – discovered the chemistry to build a timeless comic masterpiece”. It is published on 11 October.