05 November 2013

Rowan Atkinson

Funny English actor and screenwriter Rowan Atkinson (1955) is best known for his much-loved historical sitcom Blackadder (1983-1989) and for the series around the clumsy, face-pulling Mr. Bean (1990-1995). The black-haired, bug-eyed, and weak-chinned comedian had also success in the cinema with Bean (1997), the sequel Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007) and with his James Bond parody Johnny English (2003).

Rowan Atkinson
Dutch postcard by Interstat, Amsterdam. Sent by mail in 2001. Photo: Tiger Television, 1998.

The Black Adder

Rowan Sebastian Atkinson was born on Consett, England in 1955. He wat the youngest of the four sons of Eric Atkinson, a farmer and company director, and Ella May (née Bainbridge). Like his father, he studied Electrical Engineering at The Queen's College, Oxford.

He also performed and wrote for the revue group of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC) and for the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS). There he met writer Richard Curtis and composer Howard Goodall, with whom he would continue to collaborate during his career. In 1976, he got national attention in the Oxford Revue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Atkinson starred in The Atkinson People (1978), a series of comedy shows for BBC Radio 3. The series of satirical interviews with fictional great men was written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, and produced by Griff Rhys Jones.

On TV, he first came to prominence in BBC's satirical sketch show Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979–1982), and on stage and screen via his participation with members of Monty Python in The Secret Policeman's Balls (1979 and 1982) for the British section of Amnesty International. His performances in Not the Nine O'Clock News earned Atkinson a British Academy Award and got him designated 'BBC Personality of the Year' in 1980.

This success led to the lead role as the cowardly scheming Prince Edmund in the medieval sitcom The Black Adder (1983), which he also co-wrote with Richard Curtis. Black-Adder II (1986) followed the fortunes of one of the descendants of Atkinson's original character, this time in the Elizabethan era. Other sequels were Black Adder the Third (1987), set in the Regency era, and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989), set in World War I. The Blackadder series became one of the most successful of all BBC situation comedies, spawning several television specials.

Rowan Atkinson
Dutch postcard by Interstat, Amsterdam. Photo: Polygram / CPL.

Rowan Atkinson
British postcard by Heroes Publishing Ltd., London, no. SPC 3142.

Mr. Bean

Rowan Atkinson's other creation, the hapless Mr. Bean, first appeared on New Year's Day in 1990 in a half-hour special for Thames Television. Several sequels to Mr. Bean appeared on television until 1995.

Sandra Brennan at AllMovie: “Different from other shows in that it was largely silent, Atkinson's Bean demonstrated a rare gift for slapstick that has led to his being compared to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. During its six year run, Mr. Bean became the most popular show in the U.K. and has since been shown in 89 countries where it has gained a cult following comparable to Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.”

The character later appeared in the feature film Bean/Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie (Mel Smith, 1997), for which Atkinson was also the writer and executive producer. It was an international box office hit. A second film, Mr. Bean's Holiday (Steve Bendelack, 2007) also became an international success.

Atkinson also portrayed Inspector Raymond Fowler in the TV sitcom The Thin Blue Line (1995-1996), written by Ben Elton. The Thin Blue Line takes place in a police station located in fictitious Gasforth.

Atkinson's film career had begun with a supporting part in the 'unofficial' James Bond movie Never Say Never Again (Irvin Kershner, 1983) starring Sean Connery, and a leading role in the short comedy Dead on Time (Lyndall Hobbs, 1983) with Nigel Hawthorne.

He appeared in Mel Smith's directorial debut, the romantic comedy The Tall Guy (1989) with Jeff Goldblum, and in Roald Dahl's The Witches (Nicolas Roeg, 1990) alongside Anjelica Huston and Mai Zetterling.

He played the part of Dexter Hayman in Hot Shots! Part Deux (Jim Abrahams, 1993), a parody of Rambo III, starring Charlie Sheen, and appeared as the hilariously verbally bumbling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994). This romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and became an unexpected box office hit. It even became the highest-grossing British film in cinema history at the time, with worldwide earnings of $245.7 million.

In Disney's The Lion King (Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, 1994) Atkinson featured as the voice of Zazu the Red-billed Hornbill. He also starred in Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death (1999), a comedy spoof of Doctor Who for a ‘Red Nose Day’ benefit.

Rowan Atkinson
British postcard by Pyramid, Leicester, no. 8223. Photo: Hugh Thompson.

Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean
German postcard by Fun-Tasia, Köln, no. BPK 5017. Photo: Tiger Television, 1998.

Johnny English

Rowan Atkinson has been listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest actors in British comedy and amongst the top 50 comedians ever, in a 2005 poll of fellow comedians. He continued to appear in supporting roles in film comedies, including Maybe Baby (Ben Elton, 2000) starring Hugh Laurie, Rat Race (Jerry Zucker, 2001) with John Cleese, and the hit Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003) with an ensemble cast including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth and Emma Thompson.

He also appeared as a reverend in the crime comedy Keeping Mum (Niall Johnson, 2005), which also starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and Patrick Swayze.

Atkinson fronted campaigns for Give Blood (1989), Fujifilm (1999), and Kronenbourg (1999). From 1991 on, Atkinson also appeared as a hapless and error-prone espionage agent in a long-running series for Barclaycard.

On this James Bond spoof, the Johnny English character was based, which featured in the successful film Johnny English (Peter Howitt, 2003) and its sequel Johnny English Reborn (Oliver Parker, 2011). Both films got mixed reviews, but were huge successes at the international box offices.

Atkinson appeared at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony as Mr. Bean in a comedy sketch during a performance of Chariots of Fire, playing a repeated single note on synthesiser. He then lapsed into a dream sequence in which he joined the runners from the film of the same name (about the 1924 Summer Olympics), beating them in their iconic run along West Sands at St. Andrews, by riding in a minicab and tripping the front runner.

In 2013, Rowan Atkinson took on the titular role of the Simon Gray play Quartermaine's Terms at Wyndham's Theatre in London. The production was directed by Richard Eyre.

Rowan Atkinson is married to make-up artist Sunetra Sastry They have two children, Benjamin (1993) and Lily (1995). Atkinson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013.

Rowan Atkinson
British postcard by Pyramid, Leicester, no. PC 2100.

Sources: Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Dick Fiddy (BFI ScreenOnline), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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