Published February 2nd 2001
By James MacGregor
Step Forward The Real (Unhappy) Blackadder
It started in the BBC mandarins’ dining room in 1982, the moment the broadcasting corporation’s chief medical officer entered. There were a lot of stifled guffaws and an atmosphere of "nudge, nudge you’re up for a bit of a shock" seemed to prevail.

Dr Eric Blackadder was puzzled. "The banter went on for months and I remember asking my secretary to see of she if she could find out if my name was being used in television," the Scots physician says.

The truth became apparent in 1983 when Dr Blackadder and his wife Jean, were invited to watch a preview of a comedy starring Rowan Atkinson. "We were invited to the Greenwood Theatre and wined and dined with the cast," Dr Blackadder says. "Then they sat us down in front of a large television screen and ran through the first two episodes and watched my reaction very closely."

The doctor’s wife said she was appalled by the TV Blackadder’s exploits, which included accidentally decapitating his great uncle Richard III during the Wars of the Roses, then trying to bring him back to life by replacing his head back on his body and pumping his uncle’s arms vigorously.

Dr Blackadder took legal advice and tried to persuade Alasdair Milne, a friend, who was the Director General of the BBC, to re-name the show. "I spoke to the BBC solicitors, but was told that I had no copyright in my name," Dr Blackadder says. The following year, 1984 Dr Blackadder left the BBC. He moved on to become group medical director of BUPA, but his entwinement with the comedy series was just beginning.

As the popularity of the show increased, so did the problems resulting for Dr Eric Blackadder from having a popular comic character share his family name.

The telephone at the Blackadder family home would ring late at night, with strangers calling, drunkenly demanding to speak to Baldrick, the dung eating man-servant of the TV series. Dr Blackadder’s wife resorted to keeping a referee’s whistle next to their telephone to drown abusive calls.

Restaurants refused to accept reservations and shop assistants sniggered. A telegram the Doctor’s son was attempting to dictate for his parents’ wedding anniversary was refused acceptance by a Post Office clerk.

Although some people may be amused by the similarity of names, the Doctor and his wife are not numbered among them. Jean Blackadder says, "I can say from the bottom of my heart that the side-effects have all been adverse. We started off with a respectable name, but all of this has changed our lives."

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