Rowan Atkinson: His Life, Career and Comedic Genius

Rowan Atkinson: His Life, Career and Comedic Genius

On 1st January 1990, a highly eccentric man, dressed in a brown tweed jacket, a white shirt, a red tie, and brown trousers, made his first appearance on the TV screen. He barely spoke anything. On the rare occasions that he did, his words came out mumbled. He had a brown teddy bear, a soft toy way too old for his age. However, over the next 30 years, this socially awkward and bumbling man-child, who barely spoke any words, went on to delight everyone of all ages. He became a towering figure in the comedy landscape. 

Mr. Bean clearly needs no introduction. 

We have Rowan Atkinson’s comedic expertise to thank for this. The man has whole-heartedly devoted each and every strand of his soul to his craft. Mr. Bean may have been his most popular character but Rowan Atkinson is known to imbue a refreshing life into every character he plays on screen and on stage. His passion is admirable. His dedication is inspiring. Today, on his 67th birthday, we take a look back at his career and his legacy.

Watch Mr. Bean "Comedic Genius" on Prime

Rowan Atkinson was born on January 6, 1955, in Consett, United Kingdom. He grew up around that area, and attended the Durham Cathedral Choristers’ School. From a very young age, he enjoyed making his peers laugh, and never missed an opportunity to put on a show for his friends. Rowan Atkinson believes that he began his career, when he was taken down to the changing room by the boys, and asked to make funny faces for them.

“I seem to remember standing up in the changing rooms, when I was 10 or 11 or something, and putting on a performance..,”  he said in his documentary, ’The Life of Rowan Atkinson’. Despite his obvious talent in making people laugh, Rowan himself was quite shy and mostly kept to himself at school. It was at this school that he was first introduced to theater. This is where he began his journey as an actor and comedian. 

It is no surprise to anyone that silent cinema was one of the major influences on him. His characters are often extremely expressive, and the slapstick humor adds a lot of personality to his plays. Add to that, his ability to morph his face like rubber, into so many funny expressions, and there you may have half the formula to his success!  Among all the silent films, the work of  Jacques Tati seems to have made the most impact on his work. He explains this in the previously mentioned documentary, “It just struck a chord with me. I just so admired it. It was a kind of uncompromising comic attitude and setting that I really admired”.

After completing his school, he went on to Newcastle University to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and from here, he then moved on to the Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1975. It is here that he finally started taking theater seriously, and made it into a career that would take him to so many plays and TV shows.

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At Oxford University, he met Richard Curtis at a “tiny scriptwriter’s conference,” with whom Rowan made several of his earliest materials, and presented it at the Oxford Play House. Richard would play as ‘The Straight Man’ for his shows, narrating to the audience a scenario, while Rowan gave a visual representation to the audience. It is at these plays that John Lloyd, a producer for BBC, first witnessed the brilliance of Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson on display, as Rowan was being chased by a spotlight on stage. He mentioned later, “ This, I believe, was used as inspiration and turned into the iconic opening of Mr. Bean as he falls on the street, with a giant spotlight above him.”

Some of his early works include a play with Rowan miming a piano, as Beethoven plays in the background, a vicar telling the audience about his experience with a curious woman asking him about the church’s opinion on Fellatio, and also one with him simply dressed as a teacher taking attendance of a class filled with funny names. A few years ago, I fell down a Rowan Atkinson rabbit hole and discovered these gems that left me giggling like a little child.  I strongly recommend our readers to check them out on YouTube. 

In 1979, Rowan Atkinson made his transition from stage to screen, with Not the Nine O’clock News, and by 1981, he had his own one-man show, making him the youngest person at the time to do so. In 1983, Rowan made Blackadder, a sitcom series that followed Atkinson’s character Blackadder, through his several incarnations, starting from the Crusades to First World War. I personally believe that Blackadder is his best work to date, and while Rowan is a master at silent comedy, his humor in this show was top-notch. The show ran from 1983 to 1989, with 4 seasons, each with 24 episodes.

Then came Mr. Bean. The show catapulted  Atkinson into stardom, allowing the rest of the world to enjoy his humor. The show surprisingly ran for only 15 episodes, with each episode only being 26 minutes long, at max. It is truly fascinating to find out that something so big only lasted for such a short period of time. The show’s popularity got Bean on to the big screen with two films, namely Bean (1997) and Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007).  It even got an animated show in 2002 with Rowan Atkinson involved with creative decisions.

Watch Mr Bean's Animated Movie on Amazon Prime

In the 90’s, Atkinson also starred in a comic sitcom series, The Thin Blue Line, which was set in a fictitious town called Gasforth, where he played the role of Inspector Raymond Fowler. It had many noted names like Mina Anwar,  James Dreyfus, Rudolph Walker, Mark Addy, Serena Evans, David Haig, and Kevin Allen. This show ran from 1995-1996. Other than Mr. Bean,  Rowan starred in many films and sitcoms during this time. He voiced Zazu in The Lion King and even starred in a James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), and even his own James Bond spoof franchise Johnny English.

Rowan Atkinson: His Life, Career and Comedic Genius
Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English Strikes Again (2018). (Credits: Universal Pictures)

For years, Rowan Atkinson has entertained us through his work and brought hope and laughter into this world. For that, I would like to thank him, and if given the opportunity I would tell him just how much his work means to so many of us. Whenever his face is on the television, it usually accompanies a smile, and the fond memories of the time spent as a child, watching him drive a car using broomsticks, while sitting on a sofa atop his car. His works will be cherished for generations to come, and today on his birthday, I would like to wish him a very ‘Happy     Birthday’ on behalf of our team, and millions of viewers all across the globe.

Author’s Biographical Note: Harsh Maan is a final-year Biotech student and a film enthusiast. He writes as a way to understand the beautiful worlds and characters created by so many artists all over the world. In near future, he also wants to be a filmmaker. Now he is working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern. 

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