By Ananya Bhardwaj
A wave gripped the entire world in the 90s. It was a truly curious phenomenon that would spell success for the man behind it for decades to come. A silent genius, his character spoke volumes with his exaggerated gestures and brilliant comic timing. Portraying one of the most loved characters on a global level, Rowan Atkinson, aka everyone’s beloved Mr Bean, celebrated his 63rd birthday on 6th January 2018. Even though viewing his show and subsequent films would make one think that he was meant for comic films, the start of his life almost led him in a completely different direction.
Education and early career
Atkinson was born in England in 1955 and went on to complete his degree in Electrical Engineering from Newcastle University. While pursuing MSc in the same at Oxford University, he discovered his passion for acting and started performing little sketches as part of the theatre society at Oxford. In 1979, he starred in a show airing on BBC called The Atkinson People, where there were satirical interviews being conducted with various personalities, all of which were portrayed by Atkinson himself. He also starred in Not the Nine O’Clock News at BBC and garnered popularity for the same.
The rise of Mr Bean
His roaring success led to him bagging the lead in The Black Adder in 1983 and go on to star in all four seasons. He was the only cast member star in all episodes of the show. In 1990, he appeared first on New Year’s Day as one of his most successful creations, Mr Bean, and several sequels appeared to the same. There have even been subsequent films starring Atkinson as Bean again.
However, in November 2012, Atkinson told the Daily Telegraph’s Review, “Apart from the fact that your physical ability starts to decline, I also think someone in their 50s being childlike becomes a little sad. You have got to be careful.” He did, however, return to the screen as the voice for the animated version of Mr Bean. He has also starred in various films ranging from voicing Zazu in The Lion King to having his own parody of James Bond, Johnny English and starring in the trilogy (Johnny English 3 releases in 2018).
He also remained involved with the stage and returned to his theatre roots quite often. He appeared alongside the cast of Monty Python, played the role of Fagin in the adaptation of Oliver Twist, and also reprised the role of Black Adder. Atkinson reprised his famous Mr Bean character in a comedy sketch at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Brush with politics
In June 2005, Atkinson colluded with several other British stalwarts in writing and acting. Some of them were personalities like Stephen Fry, Nicholas Hytner, and Ian McEwan. This was to attempt a review of the highly controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which they felt would give unnecessary power to religious groups to impose censorship on the arts.
He also voiced his support for a campaign that seeks to remove the statement in the Public Order Act, on the grounds that an insult can be the cause for arresting someone. Atkinson said: “The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as an insult.” He was also appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to drama and charity.
Atkinson’s distinctive style
Atkinson is widely regarded as one of the best British comics. He is famous for using his body language and physical comedy, and his deadpan delivery of hilarious dialogues while playing political figures. Atkinson suffers from a stammer in real life, thus giving rise to the over-emphasis on his pronunciation of the sound ‘b’, whether it is him pronouncing “Bean” or “Bob” in The Black Adder. His style, which relies often on a visual basis, sets him apart from his contemporaries, who tend to rely more on dialogues. This talent of his led to him being called “the man with the rubber face”.
In a world now obsessed with being ‘cool’, it is interesting that Mr Bean should have caught the public eye to such an extent, and continues to do so. He epitomises the gawky socially awkward outsider and looks like an old-school teacher. When knocked off-course, he is childishly vindictive, but when satisfied, he resembles a grotesque cackling gargoyle. He remains to be a household name thanks to his universally appealing portrayals and indelible impressions he has left in the hearts of millions.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius