When I was 15 and bored in a GCSE Russian lesson, I started chatting to a friend of a friend about what was pretty much my only topic of conversation: how much I loved Rowan Atkinson. “Yes”, said Han, “I love him too”. There was an almost audible click in the air and we have been best of friends ever since. When two like-minded people meet, they can be capable of great or terrible things. Or they can just while away their study periods drinking hot chocolate and arguing about who should get to marry Rowan first.
To be fair to Han, she had seen him first and had been far more diligent in her information gathering. She had a horde of untold treasures that she generously shared with me – the first series of Blackadder on video (VIDEO in the early 80s!), a programme from his one man show in London (she’d actually been to see him in LONDON!) and an autograph from Rowan in reply to a very funny letter she’d sent him (a piece of paper he’d TOUCHED!) It seems odd now looking back to an age before the internet when you couldn’t just Google for images or news or reviews, or go on You Tube for an entire video back catalogue or go tappity tap tap “oh so that’s where he lives” tappity tap tap Google street view “that bush could do with a trim”.
When we were in our teens, pictures were hard won by going through stacks of magazines in a dentist’s waiting room, video clips were snatched by hovering over the record button at all times (advert breaks were particularly fraught), backdated reviews had to be ordered at the public library on microfiche, and if you wanted to have a sneaky peek at someone’s house armed only with a photograph and some vague geographical information, good luck to you. We laugh today about where we’d be if we’d had the internet back then. Prison, probably.
By the time we were 17, we’d met Rowan three times (always charming), got his autograph and travelled to London to see an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth recorded at the BBC. We knew Blackadder and Not the Nine O Clock news off by heart and often went into a semi-private language that was intensely irritating to everyone around us.
Then in 1990 we were dealt a double blow: firstly, instead of marrying a pair of schoolgirls Rowan married a woman he’d actually met. Secondly, he made Mr Bean. We left school, went to university, got jobs, got older, got cats, but still watch our Blackadder dvds together.
Today is Han’s birthday and there was only one way to decorate the cake. On the top I’ve painted the Blackadder snake and dagger motif that I used to carve into school desks with a compass (sorry). It’s copied from a gift tag Han made me years ago on Rowan Day, celebrated each year on Twelfth Night with the exchange of gifts and cards, the eating of certain foods designated as Rowany (potatoes, cheese, Mars Bars) and the watching of videos.
There aren’t many Blackadder birthday quotes but luckily “But it’s not my birthday, Archdeacon” is a particular favourite. There are several Blackadder fonts available and I used the Blackadder II font as the quote is from this series (episode 5, “Beer”).
Lastly, I added the figurines sitting in order: The Blackadder, the series viewed as inferior but which does have some very good episodes and was filmed in part in Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, making it extra special. Then Blackadder II, my favourite series, in which the world realised what was patently obvious even to a 13 year old: Rowan is very handsome, even if the man himself has said the beard makes him look a bit like Peter Sutcliffe. The figurine looked a bit more camp than I was hoping, and I could say the same for Blackadder the Third, Han’s favourite series. I was pleased with the uniform on the Blackadder Goes Forth figure.
Sometimes it feels like a long time ago that we sat goggled eyed in the front row at BBC Television Centre; sometimes it feels like yesterday. Han is one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met, combining a fierce intellect with a sense of humour so dry it could sandpaper walls. A true polymath, she’s at home in literature, medicine, music or sport and can name the X Factor contestants/Lear’s daughters/the Scooby Doo team with equal ease. If Rowan ever tires of Mrs A, I can heartily recommend Han as a replacement. Happy birthday, you fine saucy young trollop!