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Blackadder star hits out at Gove

Sir Tony Robinson has criticised the Education Secretary for suggesting Blackadder was being used as a propaganda tool by "left-wing academics".

The actor - who rose to fame playing Baldrick in the BBC television classic, which included one series, Blackadder Goes Forth, set during the First World War - said Conservative Michael Gove's comments amounted to "slagging off teachers".

Speaking on the Sky News Murnaghan programme, Sir Tony said: "I think Mr Gove has just made a very silly mistake; it's not that Blackadder teaches children the First World War.

"When imaginative teachers bring it in, it's simply another teaching tool; they probably take them over to Flanders to have a look at the sights out there, have them marching around the playground, read the poems of Wilfred Owen to them. And one of the things that they'll do is show them Blackadder.

"And I think to make this mistake, to categorise teachers who would introduce something like Blackadder as left-wing and introducing left-wing propaganda is very, very unhelpful. And I think it's particularly unhelpful and irresponsible for a minister in charge of education."

Sir Tony, who is a member of the Labour Party and once sat on its National Executive Committee, added: "Ultimately, if you think about it, what it's really doing is just slagging off teachers. It's just another example of slagging off teachers. I don't think that's professional or appropriate."

In an article for the Daily Mail, Mr Gove said that the left insisted on peddling myths about the First World War, which have served to "denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage".

Although he attacked "left-wing academics", he did not specifically mention school teachers.

He wrote: "The war was, of course, an unspeakable tragedy, which robbed this nation of our bravest and best.

"But even as we recall that loss and commemorate the bravery of those who fought, it's important that we don't succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict.

'The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles - a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths."

Sir Tony's comments coincide with an attack by Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, who condemned what he saw as Mr Gove's opportunistic hijacking of the debate around the First World War to forward his own Tory agenda.

In an article in The Observer, he writes: "There was always a fear that the timing of the First World War anniversary alongside the May 2014 European parliament elections and the rise of Ukip could undermine a dignified response to the events of 1914-18.

"Yet few imagined the Conservatives would be this crass. The reality is clear: the Government is using what should be a moment for national reflection and respectful debate to rewrite the historical record and sow political division."

Last October, broadcaster Jeremy Paxman criticised schools for relying on episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth to teach pupils about the First World War. His comments were echoed the following month, when the defence minister said the satire had effectively hijacked the British understanding of war.

Dr Andrew Murrison, who was a surgeon commander with the Royal Navy serving in the Gulf War between 1990/91 and in Iraq in 2003, raised concerns about the loss of Britain's veterans.

"We must commemorate this centenary because with the passing in 2009 of Harry Patch, Bill Stone and Henry Allingham, our last tangible links with the First World War are retreating into the shadows," he said.

"Because there are those who are asking what's the point of it all, we risk disconnection from a defining event of our time and an opportunity, perhaps, to balance the Oh! What A Lovely War/Blackadder take on history, that has sadly been in the ascendant for the past 50 years."

A spokesman for Mr Gove said: "Tony Robinson is wrong.

"Michael wasn't attacking teachers, he was attacking the myths perpetuated in Blackadder and elsewhere.

"Michael thinks it is important not to denigrate the patriotism, honour and courage demonstrated by ordinary British soldiers in the First World War."


From Belfast Telegraph