Happy Birthday, Rowan Atkinson - A Tribute To One Of Britain's Best-Loved Comedians

On Saturday 6 January 2018, one of Britain's best-loved talents will 63 years old. He's a CBE, a screenwriter, comedian and a very versatile actor who's starred in some of the UK's most enduring - and hilarious - films.

We're talking, of course, about Mr. Bean. About Johnny English. About every single Edmund in the Blackadder series. Yes - Rowan Atkinson is getting one year older. But did you know one of our most beloved figures in entertainment almost went down an entirely different route?

Despite his well-known portrayal of the lovably dim-witted Mr. Bean, Atkinson is actually incredibly intelligent - after a bachelor's degree at Newcastle University, he studied for an MSc in Electrical Engineering at Queen's College, Oxford, which also happens to be the college his father attended.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

But while at Oxford, Atkinson became heavily involved in the Oxford Revue - a famed student comedy group which also included the likes of Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett - and won national attention when the Revue performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1976.

He began starring in a series of comedy shows on radio three years later called The Atkinson People before staking his claim in British television history with Not The Nine O'Clock News. The success of that show - which also featured Pamela Stephenson, Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith - led Atkinson to star in Blackadder in 1983.

The rest, as we know, is history.

Combining a goofy charm with some incredible facial expressions and a knack for somehow combing the surreal and ridiculous with the deadpan and obvious, Atkinson was - and still is - very much himself when in character, but is also able to transform himself into almost anything.

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

Take his character Johnny English, for example, which sees a reprise in about nine months with Johnny English 3. Rowan Atkinson is probably the actor you'd pick last to play a secret agent in an action film - though Chris Pratt's transformation from Parks & Recreation goofball into an all-American action hero comes close - but he spoofs the genre perfectly.

Then again, he did have a bit part in 1983's Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball, suggesting that there's more to Atkinson that meets his bulging eyes. He also delivered a sterling performance as French detective Jules Maigret in the ITV series Maigret - proof once more that he's a dab hand at much more than just goofy slapstick.

Of course, for better or worse, the character of his that most people probably know is the hapless Mr Bean. It's a character that warmed the hearts of audiences everywhere for 14 episodes between 1990 and 1995.

Credit: Working Title
Credit: Working Title

There were also numerous sketches for Comic Relief, two full-length films - 1997's Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie and, 10 years later, Mr Bean's Holiday. Mr Bean also made an appearance at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony in London, after which Atkinson said he was going to retire the character. He continues to make cameos and appearances, however.

Which is a good thing, as there's nothing like Bean's helpless slapstick gooning to put our own lives into perspective. Thanks, Rowan. We appreciate it. And happy birthday.

Featured Image Credit: ITV

Mischa Pearlman

Mischa is a freelance journalist usually based in either New York or London. He has written for Kerrang!, Record Collector, NME, the New York Observer and FLOOD magazine, among others. Contact him at [email protected]

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