Friday, June 3, 2011

Blackadder of Dibley: Brief Thoughts on Blackadder and the Vicar of Dibley

I have been a devotee of British television since the 1970s when I began watching--religiously--Upstairs Downstairs on American Public Television. Recently, thanks to time off from school and no summer teaching for the first time in years I have been watching a lot of British television on DVD. In the last several weeks, I watched the classic BBC programmes Tutti Fruiti (1987), Blackadder (1982, 1983, 1986-1989, 1999) Vicar of Dibley (1994, 1996-2000, 2004-2007), the Worst Week of My Life (2004-2006) series four of ITV's Lewis, and series six of the superb ITV show Foyle's War (2010). I have just set off on an Ab Fab marathon. Poor Saffy.

Watching Blackadder and Vicar of Dibley in succession has foregrounded the many similarities between these two classic situation comedies. Both are, of course, in part, the brain childs of British writer Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill). In many ways the vicar of Dibely, the Reverend Geraldine Granger (Dawn French) is a double of the Blackadder himself, Edmond Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), after the first series anyway. Curtis (or was it his Blackadder writing partner Ben Elton) once commented that Edmond is, to some extent, an intelligent and cynical twentieth century man plopped down in the surreal worlds of Mediaveal, Elizabethan, Regency, and Great War England and Great Britain. Vicar of Dibley's Geraldine similarly is a late twentieth century woman, intelligent and cynical, plopped down in the surreal pastoral intellectually stunted world of the rural and pastoral village of Dibley. As such both are, to some extent, latter day versions of Green Acres (CBS, 1965-1971) with its Manhattan lawyer Oliver Wendell Holmes (Eddie Albert) plopped down into the surreal, irrational yet rational world of Hooterville.

Edmond and Dawn are not the only doubles in Blackadder and Dibley. Baldrick (Tony Robinson) from Blackadder and Alice Springs Horton (Emma Chambers) from Dibley are also doubles of each another. Both are generally dim but occasionally insightful. And both oftentimes drive their masters, Baldrick is Edmond's servant or underling, Alice is Geraldine's verger, to violence, verbal and physical.

These are just a few of the similarities I see in Blackadder and Vicker of Dibley. There are, of course, others--both are intentionally structured around a series of sketches. And there are also, of course differences, different times, different places, difference in the degree of parody and satire. What these similarities tell us about authorship and genre in television is, I think, quite a lot.

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