The Londoner, 63, has since gone on to present Time Team, and has written 16 children's books.
DOES IT FEEL LIKE 20 YEARS SINCE BLACKADDER FINISHED?
It's a very odd feeling, like when you think about school - half of you thinks it was a million years ago, and the other can remember such details that makes you think it was yesterday. That's the confused feeling I have about Blackadder.
WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU REMEMBER ABOUT IT?
I remember getting the script very vividly. In those days nobody just sent me scripts, I'd always have to do about five auditions before I got a job. I was at home in Bristol and I heard this thud through the letterbox. I saw a huge brown envelope with the old BBC crest on it, and it was the script. I was out of work at the time and couldn't work out why anyone would send me a script. There was a brief 'With compliments' slip inside, asking me to play the part of Baldrick in a new Rowan Atkinson series. I couldn't believe they knew who I was.
WERE YOU A FAN OF HIS ALREADY?
Yes. I'd always loved what I called 'Oxbridge humour', from That Was The Week That Was to Monty Python and Not The Nine O'Clock News, and desperately wanted to be a part of it. But being a grammar-school boy who left school when he was 16, there was never any chance that I would.
HOW HAD THEY HEARD OF YOU TO OFFER THE PART?
They'd seen me in a very obscure comedy series that was made for BBC West called Big Jim And The Figaro Club. In one episode I played a jockey, and John Howard Davies, who was head of comedy at the BBC then, put me on his list of small and vaguely humorous actors, so when they needed someone for Baldrick, a part that was only eight lines long at the time, he asked me. After a load of other people had turned it down, of course.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW BLACKADDER WAS GOING TO GET A SECOND SERIES, AND THAT IT WAS A SPECIAL COMEDY?
It was ages before I realised that. I was living in Bristol then, had two kids, so my life was occupied with looking after them, hurtling up to London for other bits of work and things, so I had no idea. It was years, really, before any of us realised it was so well thought of. Not until the repeats of the second series, maybe, when Miranda Richardson was in it. The ratings were phenomenal.
HAVE YOU GOT A FAVOURITE SERIES?
Not really, it doesn't work like that for me. It was such a collaborative way of working we had on Blackadder, and it was all about problem solving - how can this be better, or how can this gag be funnier? When I look back at it now, I see bits in all the series where we were successful, and others where I think, 'God that's not very good'.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BLACKADDER GOING DIGITAL AND BEING AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD?
It's just great that it's had the legs to survive for as long as it has, and to be so successful that it's available on so many platforms. Most shows wither and die over time, but this doesn't so much. We have the advantage that it's historical, so it doesn't date. Comic attitudes change, though, so I'm sure the time will come where the humour seems dated. But for now, no-one has written the revisionist article on Blackadder saying it's actually rubbish.
POLITICAL SATIRE WILL ALWAYS BE RELEVANT AS LONG AS POLITICIANS KEEP MESSING UP, THOUGH?
Yes, it's about human folly, and that's universal isn't it. I suppose it won't be relevant when humans start behaving differently, but I think that's going to be some time - iTunes will be long gone before that happens!
HAVE YOU GOT ONE MEMORY FROM FILMING THE SHOW THAT COMES TO MIND?
Being stuck in a rehearsal room hour after hour after hour arguing about whatever protracted joke it was that day, until we came to a group resolution about the punchline. As soon as it was resolved there was this feeling of liberation which meant we could move on to the next one and do it again. It was always difficult for actors from outside our little coterie to come in, and I remember Wilfrid Brambell coming in for a part and walking out of the rehearsal. He said he'd never seen such a shambolic and unprofessional bunch of performers in his entire life. And he was right.
DO YOU STILL SEE THE OTHERS?
It is a lot like your school friends: you don't see them all the time, but it's great when you do. The last time I saw Rowan [Atkinson] was when he was doing Oliver! last July. I went to his dressing-room after the show and until that point I'd forgotten how much I liked him, and it's the same with the others - Ben Elton, Richard Curtis, Tim McInnerny and the rest of the gang. It's not that we get together and wax lyrical about the old days, but we do have those wonderful old days in common.