Eric Blackadder

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 01 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3002
  1. Janet Fricker, Hemel Hempstead
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

BBC specialist in occupational medicine who endured a ribbing for his name

When telephoning London Zoo to request snake antiserum for a team filming in the Andes, the BBC’s chief medical officer was unsurprised to have the phone abruptly slammed down once he gave his name. Such reactions were all too common for Eric Blackadder, a specialist in occupational medicine who made important contributions about tellurium poisoning and malt workers’ lung. Blackadder, who had spent his early career in general practice and as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Navy, became so convinced that Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis had plagiarised his name for their eponymous TV series that he consulted lawyers over copyright.

“Always serious minded, Eric wasn’t terribly impressed with the Blackadder series, which he found adolescent in humour. The fact it came to occupy so much of our time was a complete bore,” says his wife, Jean. In 1983 the couple had been invited to a smart dinner at the Greenwood Theatre, and a screening of the first two episodes of a new comedy series. “Throughout the viewing, all eyes were on us. I hope they were satisfied because we were completely horrified.”

The subsequent frustrations they experienced included taxi drivers not turning up because they thought it was a hoax call, shop assistants sniggering over their credit cards, and drunken calls in the middle of the night, demanding to speak to Baldrick. When the series was running they would regularly receive three or four calls on a Friday night and took to keeping a referee’s whistle by the phone. “One caller rang back and said, ‘Lord Blackadder, I didn’t know your wife was a football referee,’” recalls Jean.

The position of chief medical officer at the BBC with responsibility …

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