The most surprising thing about Helen Atkinson-Wood is that she’s no relation to Rowan. She met him at Oxford, where no doubt they expressed fascination at the coincidence. She also had gone to school with Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. It’s easy to assume that she got the job on Blackadder because of her relationship to Rowan, but I suspect it’s more that he remembered her from Oxford and thought she’d do a good job at the role, given Miranda Richardson was off to bigger fame. Richardson did one episode of the third series, but she was also in Empire of the Sun that year.
Atkinson-Wood has had a career that’s pretty well impossible in the US, as it relies a lot on doing audio dramas on the radio. It was possible to have that career in the US as late as the 1940s, even a hair into the ‘50s, but it continues to be something that happens in the UK. She’s played Sybil Ramkin. She’s done Doctor Who—but only on the radio. She did a show called Radio Active, which admittedly then lead to her appearance in the TV adaptation of the show, called KYTV. As always, it’s difficult to track exactly what she did, as radio isn’t as well documented as TV.
She is also one of the only women to have a regular role on any series of Blackadder. It’s her, Richardson, Patsy Byrne, and Elspet Gray. Oh, it’s true that it’s hard to remember more men than that, and it’s further true that there’s absolutely no reason to have many women in the fourth series. But for the men, we’ve got Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tim McInerny, BRIAN BLESSED, and any number of performances by notable men like Rik Mayall as Flasheart. Only the second series had women as anything that would really count as main characters. Mrs. Miggins is important to the third series, but you could also cut a lot of her scenes and have them not matter.
Still, she’s enormous fun. The female characters of the show tend to be drawn very broadly, and goodness knows Mrs. Miggins is that. Technically she doesn’t own a pie shop, though Mrs. Miggins and her pie shop are referenced in the second series. She owns a coffee house, because that’s more thematically appropriate to Regency England. But she also delivers groceries to the palace and serves very suspicious sausages to Frenchmen escaping the Terror. The plots would mostly continue without her, but she definitely adds a certain spice to the series, and her agreement to go fight Morag MacAdder in the Highland way is delightful.
It’s also worth noting that she holds the record for the highest-ever score on QI. She studied domestic science, and it enabled her to recognize the formula for exploding custard powder. She got two hundred well-deserved points for it. Her old colleague Fry had thought the question was impossible to answer; it’s almost enough to make you wonder if it’s why she has never appeared as a panelist on the show again. There are much less entertaining guests who have done a lot more appearances. Heck, do a reunion—see if they can get Fry as a guest, and maybe Rowan Atkinson?