In the UK we have a saying; It’s like Marmite. What this saying translates in to is that you either love or hate something with no middle ground. One British television show that sums up this saying is the 1980s vintage Blackadder. Through four seasons we saw a member of the Blackadder family, faithfully supported by a member of the hapless Baldrick family, plot and scheme throughout British history. The show barely survived its first season but nevertheless developed a small and loyal fan base. The show was often controversial, not just for the vulgarity of its jokes and characters, but for the way it viewed British history often poking fun at respected historical figures.
The last season of the show is largely considered to be the best. Set in the trenches of World War I it showed the absurdity of the conflict and how Victorian ideals that were still important to the upper classes was now hopelessly obsolete. However the last episode entitled “Goodbyee” after a popular World War I song is perhaps the most well known for two scenes in particular. The last scene sees the comedy fall away in dramatic fashion as they finally go up over the top and the viewer was left with a sense that none of them survived except Stephen Fry’s General Melchett who of course was 35 miles behind the front (a point repeated many times).
The other scene however happens just before in which the three main characters are sat around in the trench talking about how the war started. While it certainly has a comedic element to it the dialogue beautifully outlined the failure of pre-war international policy and how there were actually those who wanted a war on all sides. I remember being shown this in my A-Level History class at college because of its relevance and there is an important lesson for all here.
Private Baldrick: No, the thing is: The way I see it, these days there’s a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn’t a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: How did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?
Captain Blackadder: Do you mean “How did the war start?”
Lieutenant George: The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous empire- building.
Captain Blackadder: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganiki. I hardly think that we can be entirely absolved of blame on the imperialistic front.
Lieutenant George: Oh, no, sir, absolutely not.
[aside, to Baldrick]
Lieutenant George: Mad as a bicycle!
Private Baldrick: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich ’cause he was hungry.
Captain Blackadder: I think you mean it started when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary got shot.
Private Baldrick: Nah, there was definitely an ostrich involved, sir.
Captain Blackadder: Well, possibly. But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort not to have a war.
Lieutenant George: By Gum, this is interesting. I always loved history. The Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and his six knives, all that.
Captain Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.
Private Baldrick: But, this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?
Captain Blackadder: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
Private Baldrick: What was that, sir?
Captain Blackadder: It was bollocks.
Private Baldrick: So the poor old ostrich died for nothing then.