It was the first day of 1990 that television screens in the United Kingdom showed a man falling from the sky in a beam of light onto a deserted street in London while a choir in the background sang Ecce homo qui est faba (‘Behold the man who is a bean’). That is how most of us got to meet the hysterically funny character known, simply as, Mr. Bean. Played by Rowan Atkinson, dressed in his trademark tweed jacket and red tie, Mr. Bean entered our homes with his silly, absurd and yet, ingeniously original attempts to solve every day problems.
This year, Mr. Bean celebrates 25 years of existence and recently toured London’s landmarks sitting in an armchair strapped atop his green Mini with his loyal Teddy by his side and drove to Buckingham Palace, with presents for everyone.
Most of us spent our growing up years laughing at Mr. Bean blunders, his childish and innovative schemes, his attempts to do everyday tasks, his desire to help that goes horribly wrong and his solutions that always backfire.
Bengaluru’s stand-up comics share their views on the man who inspired them to make others laugh.
Sumukhi Suresh says she is kicked about the anniversary. “It’s Mr. Bean and all the other characters that Rowan Atkinson plays that made me feel it’s absolutely fine to let go. For most of us comics, there is no point in doing what we do if we don’t let go and give our very best. And though Mr. Bean has his own turmoil, he’s taught us all some vital lessons in life. The series is legendary and the concepts he shows are simple and yet hilarious. He can be stupid and awesome! That’s a dream job I want!” She adds that Mr. Bean and Rowan’s other acts were the beginning of her watching any comedy series in English. “He has this amazing dry sense of humour, which typically doesn’t exist in India yet. To be honest, when I write my web series, it will be done pretty much keeping Rowan in mind. Most people don’t like it when things are on a loop. But Mr. Bean has been on for 25 years and people can’t stop wanting more of it.”
Sanjay Manaktala admits Mr. Bean was one of the earliest exposures to comedy he had. “That’s where I learnt that you need not be vulgar to be funny. You can just act on your persona and human nature to evoke emotions. I grew up laughing at Mr. Bean with my parents. So, for me, watching Mr. Bean showed me humour can cross generations, boundaries and nationalities and still be relevant.”
Sanjay adds, “Every comedian has to have an angle – something that defines them and makes them unique. For Mr Bean this was something that worked. I think it is very impressive. He is definitely an artiste who has stuck to his act and identity.”
Praveen Kumar insists he is Mr Bean’s biggest fan. “He made the impossible possible by making people laugh with just facial expressions and no dialogues. Comically, I respect him and he’s the forerunner for all of us. It’s not a joke to last 25 years, especially when others fade away in two to three years. That requires constant work and reinvention to entertain people across generations. His trait is that he caters to people of all age groups. If we have two Mr. Beans, then they will be called double bean!”
Nothing beats the original TV series, he adds. “In fact his face is more animated than the face in the animated series. You can’t compare it to anyone or anything.”
It was the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, that Rowan used as the launching pad for the Mr. Bean character in 1987. Having performed several other personas, the original series emerged from Rowan’s stage revues of the 1980’s which featured the silent odd-ball. The character emerged and developed when Rowan was studying for his master's degree in electrical engineering at Queen's College, Oxford. Collaborating with Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll, Rowan went on to make the popular television series after the noteworthy success of his other famous character ’Blackadder’.
The character's name was not decided until after the first programme was produced and a range of other vegetable-influenced names, such as ‘Mr. Cauliflower’, were also tested. Rowan attributes comedy character Monsieur Hulot, created by French comedian and director Jacques Tati, as an influence on Mr. Bean’s character. The personality of Mr. Bean is stylistically similar to early silent films, relying purely on physical comedy, with Mr. Bean speaking very little dialogue except for a low-voiced mumble.
BEAN ACROSS MEDIA
Mr. Bean’s television debut on January 1, 1990 was a British production telecast on ITV in the United Kingdom. Created by Rowan, Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll, there were only 14 episodes ever made starting with ‘Mr. Bean’ and culminating with ‘Goodnight Mr. Bean’ on October 31, 1995. The most popular episode was ‘The Trouble with Mr. Bean’ where he dresses on the way to the dentist in the car and messes a boy’s remote control in a park and combats a fly. The Mr Bean series has been sold to 190 territories worldwide and has won an International Emmy, the Golden Rose of Montreux and several other accolades.
In 2002, Mr. Bean was transformed into an animated series of 26 half hour episodes. The series remains entirely faithful to the original Mr. Bean, with the character still living very much like in the real world and Rowan providing all of Mr Bean’s vocal sounds. The artiste worked on the transformation to the animated character and acted out every episode in front of cameras so that the animators could translate his unique movements to the animated version.
The animated series inspired a video game that was released on December 14, 2007, on PAL only for PS2, Nintendo DS, and Wii and was called Mr. Bean's Wacky World.
The original series sparked off two films on Mr. Bean. The first, Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, directed by Mel Smith and released in 1997, features Mr. Bean’s overseeing the transfer of the ‘Whistler’s Mother’ painting to a Los Angeles art gallery where he is mistaken to be a great art connoisseur and interacts with a suburban Californian family he stays with. The trademark Mr. Bean antics are heavy in this film. The second film, Mr. Bean's Holiday, was directed by Steve Bendelack and released in 2007 following the character across France for a holiday that he wins at a raffle along with a video camera. A series of unfortunate incidents makes Mr. Bean a fugitive, kidnapper and eventually the hero when his video diary is screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
Two books were released based on the character: Mr. Bean's Diary in 1992 and Mr. Bean's Pocket Diary in 1994. The books feature handwritten content scrawled in by Mr. Bean loosely based around the episodes. An additional book called Mr. Bean's Diary, a children’s reader, was released in 2002 to accompany the animated series.
Mr. Bean's Universe
- Mr. Bean’s pet: Teddy
- Mr. Bean’s girlfriend: Irma Gobb-played by Matilda Ziegler
- Mr. Bean’s car: an Austin Citron green-coloured 1976 British Leyland Mini 1000 with a matte black bonnet.
- Mr. Bean’s nemesis: the unseen driver of the blue car (a Reliant Regal Supervan III) that gets toppled in most episodes.
- Mr. Bean’s landlady in the cartoons: Mrs. Wicket
- Her evil one-eyed cat: Scrapper