A long-awaited Blackadder reunion floundered after a senior broadcasting executive said there should be more “baking” in the show, the comedy’s producer has revealed.
John Lloyd, who also brought QI, Not the Nine O'Clock News and Spitting Image to our screens, said discussions over a first new Blackadder series in 25 years stalled when commissioners came up with a cunning plan - the historical comedy should become more like The Great British Bake Off.
Speaking at a Sky Arts launch of a new series of The South Bank Show, in which Melvyn Bragg profiles the veteran producer, Lloyd revealed: “A particular controller/commissioner rang me up and said ‘John, you’re a genius, we’d like to do the new Blackadder’. I said ‘great’.
“Then they said ‘what are your ideas?’ ‘I don’t know, you just called me up. Are you going to give me a commission?’
“‘No, no, you’ve got to tell us your ideas and then we’ll tell you what we think of it.’ ‘Hang on, I thought I was a comedy genius, will you trust my ideas?’ ‘No, you’ve got to tell us your ideas and we’ll tell you what we think of it.’”
Lloyd explained the commissioning logic that subsequently unfurled: “Blackadder, that’s a bit dark isn’t it? How about Greyadder…no, Whitesnake, that’s what we should call it! It shouldn’t be about history because people don’t like history…it’s called Whitesnake and it’s about baking. No, baking’s been done so…frying.
“It’s a panel game about frying called Whitesnake with Stephen Fry in it.”
A frustrated Lloyd told the executive: “But I wanted to do a sitcom with people you’ve never heard of?” He was told: “No, we’re the commissioners thank you very much, we’ll tell you what we want. If you don’t want it, we’ll get someone else to do it.’ This is honestly the way it works.”
A Blackadder feature film has instead been mooted but Lloyd said: “I think to be honest we should leave it there because it’s very difficult to top where it was.”
Citing the new Dad’s Army film starring Bill Nighy, Lloyd said: “For Christ’s sake, there’s a whole universe out there. Does everything have to be a retread of something else?”
Lloyd, who described the current state of television comedy as a “thoroughgoing disaster” which could “sink” the BBC, attacked Michael Gove, who accused the First World War-set Blackadder Goes Forth of peddling “myths” about the conflict.
“I honestly wonder whether the Secretary of State has seen Blackadder at all,” Lloyd said. “The central situation is based on Alan Clark’s book Lions Led By Donkeys and Clark was one of the most right-wing historians. I can’t think of a more classically British patriotic scene than when the characters finally do their duty and go to what we must assume is their deaths.”
Lloyd said he was delighted that Blackadder continues to be used as a teaching aid in schools. “The idea that it is some sort of propaganda weapon is truly sad and pathetic. It’s a brilliant teaching tool because it gets kids laughing and paying attention and then teachers ask them ‘What do you think? Was it really like that?’”
Daniel Radcliffe, author Kate Atkinson and playwright Abi Morgan are among the figures profiled in the new South Bank Show series, revived by Sky Arts after ITV axed the strand. Bragg promised the series would “inform, educate, and entertain”, consciously adopting the Reithian mantra which once guided the BBC.
Sky Arts was now one of the “big beasts” of arts broadcasting, challenging the BBC, argued Bragg, who welcomed a pledge by Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, to place arts programming back at the heart of the corporation with new investment.
Classic shows from the ITV archive will be updated in a new series of South Bank Show Originals. New interviews with leading figures and contemporaries will place profiles of Francis Bacon, Iggy Pop, Pavarotti, Ingmar Bergman and Sylvie Guillem and Paul McCartney in a fresh context. The South Bank Show returns on Sky Arts on 22 May.