Rowan Atkinson ‘wouldn’t let anyone else be funny on Blackadder’
The funnyman's insecurities drove him to ensure nobody was as funny as he was, a co-star reveals
Rowan Atkinson’s performance as Edmund Blackadder is regarded as one of television’s great comedy creations.
However, according to a former co-star, Atkinson went to some lengths to ensure he was the funniest person in the show.
Tom Baker, the Doctor Who actor, appeared in the second Blackadder series as a larger-than-life sea captain named Redbeard Rum. Baker played him with wild-eyed relish, delivering lines such as: “I’m a bluff old cove with no legs and a beard you could lose a badger in.”
Recalling the experience, he told Radio Times: “Rowan Atkinson was so anxious – he wasn’t very fun to work with. He took me aside the first afternoon of recording and he said: ‘You know, Tom, I’ve very experienced in this and the part you’re playing here, this sea captain, I think you’re actually doing too much. I think he should be as boring as you can make him.’
“So, we then had the final run-through, and I did this boring routine, and the producer came down and said: ‘What’s going on, are you ill?’ I said: ‘No, no, no, I’m just taking in the notes from your boss.’
“And he then said: ‘Tom, he does that every week. He gives those same notes to the visitors every week.’ Weird, isn’t it? A comic genius and yet he has these anxieties.”
The episode was broadcast in 1986 with Atkinson playing Lord Edmund Blackadder, courtier to Elizabeth I, in the series that made his name.
Atkinson was unavailable for comment.
The actor, who returns to television this week in a Comic Relief update of Four Weddings and a Funeral, rarely gives interviews. But in a rare discussion about Blackadder more than a decade ago, he admitted that the atmosphere on set “occasionally got a bit frosty and negative”.
He said: “I don’t enjoy work generally. Not because I’m lazy; it’s just all so stressful and worrying. I have always worried about things more than I should.
“I loved doing Blackadder because there was a fantastic sense of shared responsibility; there were half a dozen very able performers so there was a great sense of sharing the worry. But I always feel that whatever I do, I could do better. I suppose it’s perfectionism.”
Baker, 85, made his comments in an interview with David Walliams, who told him that the Redbeard episode of Blackadder “is one of the funniest half-hours of comedy I have ever seen in my life”. Baker replied: “Oh, yes, it was an incredible performance. Some people were amazed I ever worked again.”
To a certain generation, Baker remains the definitive Time Lord. The actor said he is often amazed by the dedication of fans he meets at Doctor Who conventions: “I remember a chap at one of those conventions saying to me: ‘You gave me a Jelly Baby when I was eight years old and I’ve still got it.’ I fell about with laughter.
“And then he pulled out a little box and opened it up. And sure enough, inside was this hideous lump of gelatine with my initials on it, where I’d apparently signed it. I didn’t recognise the writing, but I realised I was in the presence of a very benevolent lunatic.”
– © The Daily Telegraph