Having marked its 40th anniversary in the summer, Blackadder, one of Britain's favourite television sitcoms, has now been remastered and restored for a high definition Blu-ray release. Packed full with never-broadcast out takes, rare interviews and assorted other archive footage, we spoke to the box set's producer, Richard Latto, about how he pulled the jaw-dropping 7-disc Blackadder - The Complete Collection together.
The set is clearly a massive undertaking, a real labour of love. How did you get involved, how long did it take, and can you give an overview of the process?
After the tremendous success of The Young Ones release last year [which Richard also produced], we immediately started talking about doing an anniversary set for Blackadder to mark its 40th anniversary, as we knew that was coming over the horizon. It's been a long process of gathering as much material as possible, checking the rights situation, and also contacting contributors not involved in the previous commentaries to see if we could add some additional ones. It was a long list of assets and tasks, but I'm delighted we were able to include so many previously untold stories and rare pieces of footage. I saw someone online say "I was in two minds whether to upgrade to this new boxset, but when I see the effort and passion that has gone into it to provide so many new elements, I was sold". That makes it all worthwhile and when making choices I always prioritise what I'd love to see on there as a fan.
There's a huge amount of unseen material in the set. Where was it stored, how did you find it, and why hadn't any of it been released previously?
This is where we have to be incredibly grateful to the BBC employees at the time who kept their own copies. I'm delighted that we've been able to feature all the studio recordings we were able to locate within private collections, especially as they have never been officially released to the public before. The benefit of a Blu-ray boxset is the added space within each disc and that meant we could include a lot more content than when compared to the previous DVD releases of the series.
Can you tell us about the task and trouble of locating the original film for Millennium special Back And Forth? Something so relatively modern, one would have hoped was well stored and catalogued?
This was a real challenge. For a long time no-one knew where to find any film assets and the only available copy was the standard SD version. In the end I spoke to so many people, including one of the projectionists from the Millennium Dome, where it was originally shown. Eventually it was the special's producer, Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, who put me in touch with the right contact at the production company who insisted on a manual search of all available storage units. In the end we found a selection of film elements - including one of the 70mm prints that was used at the Dome, plus 35mm negs and prints featuring various shots - that all together meant a proper true-HD film-scan was possible for the entire feature. I also insisted that there should be an option to watch this special 'with or without' the laughter track [controversially added for its first BBC television transmission] and am pleased that is now available for fans to decide which version they wish to enjoy.
What did you learn from your work on previous releases, particularly in terms of how old material is presented?
I had a lot of positive feedback with the presentation of the film elements on The Young Ones' Blu-ray release. So I adopted a similar approach for this set. All the surviving film for the first two series is presented in their own dedicated compilations, raw and full-frame. Considering how much extra material was shot and not included for the first series, that one is a very lengthy feature.
How do you make calls on what to upgrade and how? Is it simply reconstructing every last frame in every last asset, from whatever the highest quality source is?
Yes it's basically this - although the company handling the restoration advise on the best approach. I was delighted to be able to secure the film elements for Back And Forth as mentioned above, so that's available in true-HD and not just a SD upscale.
Did you enjoy full editorial control? Did you have to make any concessions, or cut anything for either taste or contractual reasons?
We left no stone unturned - if it was possible for us to include something, it's on there! Some of the studio rushes were trimmed, as occasionally there is a pregnant pause lasting more than 30 seconds and I'm not sure anyone would enjoy the view of a camera pointing at a wall for that long.
Is there anything that surprised you in the new/unseen extra content?
There is so much previously unseen material in this box set. Particular highlights include the longer garden film sequence from the second series. There are huge scenes from the first series that look gorgeous in the film rushes too - such as the abandoned opening for Episode 3, The Archbishop, which is also very funny.
Do you have a personal highlight that you're particularly keen for other fans to see?
I really like the interview in Ye Olde Cunning Clip Compendium with Rowan and Tony on an edition of Open Air. They are so chatty and relaxed, and it's lovely to see their natural rapport with each other. I hope people enjoy that mix of interviews as many have never been repeated or officially released before.
On Blu-ray for the first time, plus all new extras!
Starring Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Duke Of Edinburgh, with Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Brian Blessed as King Richard IV, Tim McInnerny as Percy, Elspet Gray as the Queen and Robert East as Prince Harry. Plus Peter Cook as Richard III, Miriam Margolyes as Princess Maria, and Rik Mayall as Mad Gerald.
Starring Rowan Atkinson as Lord Blackadder with Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Tim McInnerny as Lord Percy, Miranda Richardson as Queenie, Stephen Fry as Lord Melchett and Patsy Byrne as Nursie. Plus Rik Mayall as Flashheart, Tom Baker as Captain Rum, Ronald Lacey as the Bishop, Miriam Margolyes as Lady Whiteadder, and Hugh Laurie as Ludwig.
Blackadder The Third
Starring Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder with Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Hugh Laurie as The Prince Regent and Helen Atkinson-Wood as Mrs Miggins. Plus Robbie Coltrane as Dr Samuel Johnson, Chris Barrie as a French revolutionary and Stephen Fry as the Duke of Wellington.
Blackadder Goes Forth
Starring Rowan Atkinson as Capt. Edmund Blackadder, Tony Robinson as Pte. S Baldrick, Stephen Fry as Gen. Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, Hugh Laurie as Lt. The Hon George Colthurst St. Barleigh and Tim McInnerny as Capt. Kevin Darling. With Rik Mayall as Squadron Commander Lord Flasheart, Adrian Edmondson as Baron von Richthoven, Miranda Richardson as Nurse Mary and Geoffrey Palmer as Field Marshal Dougie Haig.
Also includes the specials Blackadder's Christmas Carol and The Cavalier Years, plus 25th anniversary documentary Blackadder Rides Again.
Blackadder Back & Forth is also included, newly remastered in HD from the original film, and available to watch optionally with or without a laughter track.
These episodes have been restored and remastered using the existing film where available, with any standard definition content professionally upscaled during the process.
First released: Monday 4th December 2023
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