Captain Blackadder Really Did Fight in World War I
But this Blackadder didn’t have a cunning plan to avoid combat
This story originally appeared on June 26, 2014.
BBC’s Blackadder is one of the funniest historical T.V comedies ever. The four series, which ran from 1983 to 1989, follow the conniving, cowardly Edmund Blackadder and his sidekick Baldrick through various epochs.
The final series, Blackadder Goes Forth, is set in 1917. It features Captain Blackadder, a British Army officer on the Western Front, who did his sneaky best to stay alive while everyone else seemed madly determined to get killed.
But guess what? There really was a Captain Blackadder who fought in World War I. And a Private Baldrick, a Captain Darling and a Lieutenant George—the latter supporting characters in the BBC show.
The British military genealogy site Forces War Records discovered the coincidence.
“We were uploading new information onto our database when we came across a Captain Blackadder,” explained Dominic Hayhoe, CEO of Forces War Records. “As fans of the television show, we wondered if we could find the military records of the other fictional characters’ namesakes.”
Some of the similarities are remarkable. Like the fictional Blackadder, the real officer, Acting Capt. Robert John Blackadder of the Royal Garrison Artillery, served in the British Army before the war, was a bachelor and fought in France.
Pvt. James Baldrick served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Capt. John Clive Darling was with the 20th Hussars, while Lt. Athelstan Key Durance George fought in the Dorsetshire Regiment.
“Both Lt. Georges went to Cambridge, rowed for their college, were unmarried, joined the Army as commissioned officers and, it would appear, were of good family stock,” the Forces War Record site noted. “They were also both pilots who could draw extremely well.”
In other ways, the real characters surpassed the fictional ones. Unlike the chicken-hearted—or in his own mind, eminently sensible—T.V. soldier, the real Capt. Blackadder won a Military Cross. While the fictional Captain Darling clung to a rear-area staff job, the real Capt. Darling fought at Mons, the Marne, the Aisne and Ypres … and won the Distinguished Service Order.
Two of them paid the ultimate price. The real Baldrick was killed in action, as was Lt. George. But the real Blackadder and Darling both survived the war.
And what of the show’s General Melchett, the archetypal block-headed World War I flag officer? “The only person we haven’t been able to track down, so far, from World War I is a General Melchett,” Hayhoe said. “According to the military records we have, he makes an appearance in World War II.”