Paul Baker on 'Blackadder Goes Forth'

Paul Baker, a supporter of the Trust, comments:

Many of you will remember the iconic last few minutes of the final programme of Blackadder Goes Forth.

It is unusual for all (but one) of the main characters in a comedy, to die.  After some debate, the writers and cast realized that it had to be all or none, and it could not be none. 

So the men who have spent six episodes in a trench are now about to go over the top.  Hugh Laurie says "I'm scared, Sir", and the tone suddenly but effectively changes from comic to tragi-comic.  Captain Darling could be straight out of Journey's End.  He laments that he will never work for Pratt & Son, keep wicket for the Gentlemen of Croydon and marry Doris.

The last segment shows the men waiting for the whistle, emerging into no man's land, and collapsing to the ground as they are shot.

I've been listening to the autobiography of Tony Robinson (Baldrick).  As he relates it, the final day of filming at a BBC television centre was way behind schedule.  They had just ten minutes on a new 'no man's land' set, which they were appalled to find was mainly painted polystyrene.  They had time for just one take.  At 10 pm on the dot the Electricians would pull the plug.

The take was quite unconvincing.  As the characters fell to the polystyrene ground, they visibly bounced. All involved went home feeling frustrated and depressed.  There was no opportunity for a re-shoot.

Months later, when the episode was broadcast, they were overjoyed.  The ending had been transformed in the editing suite - using slo-mo, draining colour, adding mist, and then, as the men had all fallen, returning to colour and a field of Flanders poppies, all to the sound of a drumbeat and a sober piano version of the Blackadder theme.  Visually, it still doesn't bear much scrutiny, but that no longer matters.  This quite unexpected , but totally convincing, moment of reality takes your breath away.