Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson

Date of birth: 06-01-1955
Born in Consett, near Durham, Rowan Atkinson was educated at Durham Choristers School, and St Bees School, before going on to study electrical engineering at Newcastle University and a master's degree at Queen's College, Oxford. There he performed sketches with the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Experimental Theatre Club, where he met writer Richard Curtis.

He took part in various student revues at the Edinburgh Fringe from 1973 to 1977, followed by a revue in London's Hampstead Theatre in 1978 called Beyond A Joke.

That year, he was offered his own television series by ITV but turned it down in favour of Not the Nine O'Clock News, for which he also wrote many of the sketches.

His performance in the Secret Policeman's Ball Amnesty benefits in 1979 - where he was one of the most junior comics alongside the likes of John Cleese and Peter Cook - helped cement his reputation. And he returned for the Secret Policeman's Other Ball in 1981. That year, he also performed in revue with Richard Curtis at London's Globe Theatre.

His growing success led to his starring in the medieval sitcom The Black Adder, which he also co-wrote with Richard Curtis, in 1983. For the remaining three series (in 1985, 1978 and 1989), Ben Elton replaced Atkinson as co-writer.

Atkinson toured with Angus Deayton as his sidekick in 1986 and again in 1991. He also appeared at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival in 1987 and 1989. His stand-up shows were released in two albums: Live In Belfast in 1982, and Not Just A Pretty Face in 1987.

Also on stage, he performed in The Nerd in 1984-85 and in Chekov's The Sneeze in 1988-89, both at the Adwych Theatre in the West End. In 2009, he will return to the stage to play Fagin in the revival of Oliver!

Other than Blackadder, his most famous creation is Mr Bean, a silent nerdish character, a version of who first appeared in the live shows. A total of 18 half-hour specials were made for ITV between 1990 and 1995. A huge international hit, thanks to the comedy not depending on language, the character appeared in his own blockbuster movie in 1997 and a follow-up is due for release in 2007. An animated children's series was launched in 2002.

Atkinson's other film credits include The Tall Guy in 1989, a cameo as a vicar in 1994's Four Weddings And A Funeral, the voice of Zazu in The Lion King in 1994, spy spoof Johnny English in 2003, and Love Actually also in 2003.

He was also one of the founders of Comic Relief, appearing in the original 1986 live show and making various appearances in the telethons over the years. He also starred in the Ben Elton-penned police sitcom The Thin Blue Line in 1995-6.

Away from his work, Atkinson prefers a life out of the spotlight, living in a secluded manor house in Oxfordshire with his wife Sunetra, who he married in 1990, his two children, Lily and Benjamin, and large collection of cars.

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Man Vs Bee

Review of Rowan Atkinson's new Netflix series

Rowan Atkinson’s physical comedy is as close to a cartoon as humans get. Indeed he’s already been animated as Mr Bean, to massively bankable effect.

Now he’s essentially reinvented Roadrunner as a live-action series.  In Man vs Bee, a supposedly simple creature forever thwarts over-elaborate attempts to do him in, which inevitably backfire on his nemesis.

Echoes of Bean are loud – inevitably – but here Atkinson plays Trevor Bingley, a more sympathetic and marginally more credible character, a victim of clumsy misfortune rather than petulant selfishness.

His job is to house-sit an impossibly opulent property, full of needlessly complex gadgets that of course he has no hope of using correctly. (Elma Fudd had similar problems in the 1954 Looney Tune Design for Leaving).

Over nine approximately ten-minute episodes – the first a double-lengther to set the scene – the appropriate damage is wreaked in an increasingly elaborate and chaotic manner. It’s not long before he’s covered in shit with priceless Mondrian and Kandinsky artworks and an E-type Jag ruined. The police (in the mild-mannered form of Tom Basden) are soon involved.

The episodes are fun and easy to watch. The pratfalls may be heavily signposted, and you know that Trevor’s always going to make monumentally stupid decisions to try to put right his mistakes, but Atkinson remains a master of this genre. He elicits laughs from his hangdog or incredulous, shocked expressions and, most of all, his split-second timing (aided by director Man Vs Bee) that makes even the inevitable surprising.

Atkinson and his co-writer Will Davies clearly have greater ambitions for the show than merely a series of unfortunate events.  Trevor is shown to have an estranged family, presumably to make him more human, though this dose of sad reality doesn’t always sit so well with the slapstick. More interesting is the psychological hole he plunges into as he believes the insect is out to get him. Meanwhile, some wider plot twists put a slight narrative on to the series, presumably to give it more appeal to adults as the kids enjoy the pantomime of Trevor’s ever-increasing, and messy, humiliations at his own hands.

Nonetheless, it may be a bit thin to binge – even though the full series can easily be binged in single sessions, being shorter than most movies.  However, for offering a quick burst of expertly performed silliness, Man Vs Bee earns its stripes.

»  'People think perfectionism is admirable... I find it quite corrosive', Chortle's Rowan Atkinson interview

Man vs Bee is on Netflix now.

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Published: 24 Jun 2022

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