Mr. Bean is a British sitcom created by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, and starring Atkinson in the title role. Atkinson co-wrote all fifteen episodes with either Curtis, Robin Driscoll, or both, with Ben Elton co-writing the pilot. Thirteen of the episodes were broadcast on ITV, from the pilot on 1 January 1990, until “Goodnight Mr. Bean” on 31 October 1995. A clip show, “The Best Bits of Mr. Bean”, was broadcast on 15 December 1995, and one episode, “Hair by Mr. Bean of London”, was not broadcast until 2006 on Nickelodeon.
Based on a character originally developed by Atkinson while he was studying for his master’s degree at Oxford University, the series follows the exploits of Mr. Bean, described by Atkinson as “a child in a grown man’s body”, in solving various problems presented by everyday tasks and often causing disruption in the process. Bean rarely speaks, and the largely physical humour of the series is derived from his interactions with other people and his unusual solutions to situations. The series was influenced by physical performers such as Jacques Tati and comic actors from silent films.
During its five-year run, Mr. Bean became a significant part of 1990s British popular culture, with the series gaining large UK audience figures, including 18.74 million for the 1991 episode “The Trouble with Mr. Bean”. The series has received a number of international awards, including the Rose d’Or. The show has been sold in 245 territories worldwide and has inspired an animated cartoon spin-off, two feature films, and an appearance at the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.
Background and influences
The character of Mr. Bean was developed while Atkinson was studying for his master’s degree in electrical engineering at Queen’s College, Oxford. A sketch featuring the character was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in the early 1980s. A similar character called Robert Box, played by Atkinson himself, appeared in the one-off 1979 ITV sitcom Canned Laughter, which also featured routines used in the film Bean (1997).
One of Bean’s earliest appearances occurred at the “Just for Laughs” comedy festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1987. When programme co-ordinators were scheduling him into the festival programme, Atkinson insisted that he perform on the French-speaking bill rather than the English-speaking programme. Having no French dialogue in his act at all, programme co-ordinators could not understand why Atkinson wanted to perform on the French bill instead. As it turned out, Atkinson’s act at the festival was a test platform for the Mr. Bean character, and Atkinson wanted to see how his character’s physical comedy would fare on an international stage with a non-English speaking audience.
The character’s name was not decided until after the first programme had been produced; a number of other vegetable-influenced names, such as “Mr. Cauliflower”, were explored. Atkinson cited the earlier comedy character Monsieur Hulot, created by French comedian and director Jacques Tati, as an influence on the character. Stylistically, Mr. Bean is also very similar to early silent films, relying purely upon physical comedy, with Mr. Bean speaking very little dialogue (although like other live-action TV series of the time, it features a laugh track). This has allowed the series to be sold worldwide without any significant changes to dialogue. In November 2012, Atkinson told The Daily Telegraph of his intentions to retire the character, stating that “someone in their 50s being childlike becomes a little sad.
Characters and recurring props
The title character, played by Rowan Atkinson, is a childish buffoon who brings various unusual schemes and contrivances to everyday tasks. He lives alone at the address of Flat 2, 12 Arbour Road, Highbury, and is almost always seen in his trademark tweed jacket and a skinny red tie. He also usually wears a digital calculator watch. Mr. Bean rarely speaks, and when he does, it is generally only a few mumbled words which are in a comically low-pitched voice. His first name (he names himself “Bean” to others) and profession, if any, are never mentioned. In the first film adaptation, “Mr.” appears on his passport in the “first name” field, and he is shown employed as a guard at London’s National Gallery.
Mr. Bean often seems unaware of basic aspects of the way the world works, and the programme usually features his attempts at what would normally be considered simple activities, such as going swimming, using a television set, redecorating, or going to church. The humour largely comes from his original (and often absurd) solutions to problems and his total disregard for others when solving them, his pettiness, and occasional malevolence.
At the beginning of episode two onwards, Mr. Bean falls from the sky in a beam of light, accompanied by a choir singing Ecce homo qui est faba (“Behold the man who is a bean”), recorded by Southwark Cathedral Choir in 1990. These opening sequences were initially in black and white in episodes two and three, and were intended by the producers to show his status as an “ordinary man cast into the spotlight”. However, later episodes showed Mr. Bean dropping from the night sky in a deserted London street against the backdrop of St Paul’s Cathedral. At the end of episodes three and six he is also shown being sucked right back up into the sky in the respective background scenes (black scene in episode 3 and street scene in episode 6). Atkinson has acknowledged that Bean “has a slightly alien aspect to him”. In the animated series (episode, “Double Trouble”) he is taken inside a spacecraft with “aliens” who look exactly like him and even have their own plushy toys. In an obvious homage, the aliens send him back home in a beam of light and music similar to the opening of the original Mr. Bean series. Whether Bean is an extraterrestrial is not clear.
Mr Bean’s car
Rowan Atkinson demonstrating a famous scene from the episode “Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean” on a Mini at Goodwood Circuit
Mr. Bean’s car, a 1976 British Leyland Mini 1000, developed its own character of sorts over the series and was central to several antics, such as Mr. Bean’s getting dressed in it, driving while sitting in an armchair strapped to the roof, starting it with a number of locks and keys, or attempting to avoid a car park fee by driving out through the entrance.
At first, it was an orange 1969 BMC Mini MK II (registration RNT 996H), but this was destroyed in an off-screen crash at the end of the first episode. From then on, the car was a 1976 model (registration SLW 287R), Austin Citron Green in colour with a matte black bonnet.
The Mini also had a number of innovative security measures. For example, Bean uses a bolt-latch and padlock, rather than the lock fitted to the car, and removes the steering wheel instead of the key. These formed a running joke in several episodes, and at one point deterred a car thief. However, after changing parking spaces with an identical mini (registration ACW 497V) in “Back to School Mr. Bean”, his car is crushed by a tank. Fortunately for Bean, his padlock survives, and he hurries off to “carjack” another automobile with the same colour scheme.
The Mini re-appeared as a character in the animated Mr. Bean cartoons (registration STE 952R) and in the film Mr. Bean’s Holiday, with the registration YGL 572T. Also seen is a left hand drive version of his Mini, owned by the character Sabine. For the feature film Bean (1997), a sequence involving the Mini driving through Harrod’s Department Store was shot, but this was not included in the final cut
Teddy is Mr. Bean’s teddy bear and perhaps Mr. Bean’s best friend. The little brown bear is a knitted oddity with button eyes and sausage-shaped limbs, which invariably end up broken in half or in various other states of destruction and disfiguration. Although Teddy is inanimate, Mr. Bean often pretends it is alive. For example, when Mr. Bean hypnotises Teddy, he snaps his fingers and the bear’s head falls backwards as if it had fallen asleep instantly (Bean used his finger to prop Teddy’s head up). Mr. Bean behaves as if the bear is real, buying it a Christmas present or trying not to wake it in the mornings. The bear is often privy to Mr. Bean’s various schemes and doubles as a tool or other items in emergencies; it has been decapitated (“Mr. Bean in Room 426”), used as his paint brush (“Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean”), and shrunk in the wash (“Tee Off, Mr. Bean”). Teddy is also Mr. Bean’s “pet” in “Hair by Mr. Bean of London” and is used to win a pet show.
The Teddy used in filming sits in the windscreen of the replica of Mr. Bean’s mini that is on display at the National Motor Museum. Over the years, Teddy has undergone several changes. When it debuted on “The Trouble with Mr. Bean”, it had a smaller head. Two episodes later, its head reached its current size, but its “eyes” were not present until Bean placed gold thumb tacks on its face. The “eyes” have since been replaced with two small white buttons sewn over Teddy’s face, giving it a distinct image.