How did Blackadder alter our perception of the war?

Since Education Secretary Michael Gove's outspoken criticisms of Blackadder and the show's treatment of World War I, more people are asking if our views of the conflict need revising


Read some newspapers and you’d be forgiven for believing that Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, creators of 1989’s Blackadder Goes Forth, are singlehandedly responsible for the modern-day view of the western front as an exercise in blood-soaked futility.


The series made its name and caused a storm of controversy by charting the doomed attempts of three soldiers – Captain Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), Private S Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie) – to escape the horror of the trenches.

Apart from the humour, what made Blackadder Goes Forth so memorable was its thinly veiled anti-war message. Elton and Curtis conveyed this through the soldiers’ relationship with their haughty, bumbling commanding officer, General Melchett (Stephen Fry) – who is utterly indifferent to their suffering – and the poignant climax to the show, when the men went over the top to their certain deaths.

The show certainly made its mark but it wasn’t well received by all historians, one of whom later claimed that it “consciously traded on every cliché and misremembered piece of history about the western front”.

Michael Gove made headlines last month when he said it was a “just war”, in order to combat German aggression. He criticised, “left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths by attacking Britain’s role in the conflict.”

Historian Niall Ferguson joined the debate by stating it was wrong for Britain to join the war. 


What do you think? Is it time for the war to be revised?