Blackadder Wars, part two: Baldrick brands Gove ‘very silly’

Tony Robinson has branded Michael Gove "very silly" and accused him of "slagging off teachers" after the education secretary said Blackadder had become a left-wing propaganda tool for moulding attitudes towards the First World War.

The actor, who played Baldrick in the programme, hit back at the education secretary in an interview with Sky News yesterday.

"I think Mr Gove has just made a very silly mistake," he said.

"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.

"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."

The comments follow an extraordinary outburst from the education secretary in which he accused the much-loved comedy of being part of a left-wing effort to portray the slaughter of the First World War as the responsibility of incompetent British generals rather than German militarism.

"Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage," he wrote in the Daily Mail.

"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."

The article led Labour shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, who is also a professional historian, to suggest that Gove was using the centenary of the start of the war this year for party-political attacks.

"Sadly, the Tories have decided to use this year's anniversary to sow division with ugly attacks on 'leftwing academics'," he wrote in the Observer.

"The government is using what should be a moment for national reflection and respectful debate to rewrite the historical record and sow political division.

"Contrary to the assertions of Michael Gove and the Daily Mail, the left needs no lessons on 'the virtues of patriotism, honour and courage'."

Hunt's response was branded "total twaddle" by London mayor Boris Johnson in his weekly column in the Telegraph.

"The Second World War arose inexorably out of the first, and in both wars I am afraid the burden of responsibility lies overwhelmingly on German shoulders. That is a fact that we should not be forbidden from stating today – not just for the sake of the truth, but for the sake of Germany in 2014," he said.

"If Tristram Hunt seriously denies that German militarism was at the root of the First World War, then he is not fit to do his job, either in opposition or in government, and should resign. If he does not deny that fact, he should issue a clarification now."

The Queen is expected to attend a service commemorating the start of the war at Glasgow cathedral on August 4th.