Blackadder is the generic name that encompasses four series of an acclaimed BBC One historical sitcom, along with several one-off instalments. The first series was written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, while subsequent episodes were written by Curtis and Ben Elton. The shows were produced by John Lloyd, and starred Rowan Atkinson as the eponymous anti-hero, Edmund Blackadder, and Tony Robinson as his sidekick/dogsbody, Baldrick.
In 2000, Blackadder Goes Forth ranked at 16 in the "100 Greatest British Television Programmes", a list created by the British Film Institute. Also in the 2004 TV poll to find "Britain's Best Sitcom", Blackadder was voted the second best British sitcom of all time, topped by Only Fools and Horses. It was also ranked as the 20th Best TV Show of All Time by Empire Magazine.
Although each series is set in a different time era, all follow the fortunes (or rather, misfortunes) of Edmund Blackadder (played by Atkinson), who in each is a member of an English family dynasty present at many significant periods and places in British history. Although the character starts as being quite unintelligent in the first series and gradually becomes smarter and more perceptive through each passing generation (while decreasing in social status), each Blackadder is a cynical, cowardly opportunist concerned with maintaining and increasing his own status and fortunes, regardless of his surroundings. In each series, Blackadder is usually a cynical (almost modern) voice puncturing the pretensions and stupidity of those around him, and what might — through modern eyes — be seen as the more ludicrous and insane follies of history (from the medieval religious witch-hunts and the petty whims and insanities of various British monarchs to the bloodshed and horror of World War I).
The lives of each of the Blackadders are also entwined with their servants, all from the Baldrick family line (played by Tony Robinson). Each generation acts as the dogsbody to their respective Blackadder. They decrease in intelligence (and in personal hygiene standards) just as their masters' intellect increases. Each Blackadder and Baldrick are also saddled with the company of a dim-witted aristocrat whose presence Blackadder must somehow tolerate. This role was taken in the first two series by Lord Percy Percy (Tim McInnerny), in the third series by Prince George, Prince Regent, and in the fourth by Lieutenant George, the latter two played by Hugh Laurie (see George (Blackadder character)).
Each series was set in a different period of English history, beginning in 1485 and ending in 1917 (with one 1999 special set in the then-present day) comprising six half-hour episodes. The first series, made in 1983, was called The Black Adder (set in the fictional reign of 'Richard IV'). This was followed by Blackadder II in 1985 (set during the reign of Elizabeth I), Blackadder the Third in 1987 (set in the reign of George III), and finally Blackadder Goes Forth in 1989 (set in the trenches of the Great War).
In addition to these, three specials were also made: Blackadder: The Cavalier Years (set in the reign of Charles I) appeared as a 15-minute insert during the 1988 Comic Relief telethon; Blackadder's Christmas Carol (mostly set during the reign of Queen Victoria with some scenes taking place in the locations of the second and third series, as well as another many centuries hence) was a 45-minute Christmas installment, broadcast the same year; and Blackadder: Back & Forth was a 30-minute film originally shown in a special cinema at the Millennium Dome throughout 2000, and later transmitted by Sky and the BBC. A pilot episode was recorded in 1982, but has never been shown on television in its entirety, although a brief clip was shown in the 2008 documentary Blackadder Rides Again. It is notable for Baldrick being played by Philip Fox. Its plot was re-used for the episode "Born to be King" in Series 1. Although DVD releases have never included the pilot, copies are known to circulate online.