We might know a few people who haven’t heard of Rowan Atkinson, but everyone knows Mr. Bean. Although he has appeared in many other shows, and played many other iconic characters, Atkinson is most famous for his portrayal of the child-like, rubber-faced, largely silent, and extremely funny Mr. Bean. However, there is much more to him than falling over his feet and bungling up simple situations. Here are entertaining facts about the actor, the comic, and the man.
1. He Is Secretly Smart
Atkinson might be famous for his silly faces, but he’s got a much different side. He received top grades and went on to get a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Newcastle University. He then did a MSc in Electrical Engineering from Oxford University, where his thesis was on self-tuning control systems. Believe it or not, if a career in comedy hadn’t worked out, he could easily have been a top engineer somewhere.
2. He Was Classmates With A Famous Figure
Tony Blair was a schoolmate of Atkinson’s in Durham Choristers School. Blair was two years ahead of him, though, and was very outgoing and social compared to Atkinson, who was very reserved and shy at the time.
3. He Was The Class Clown
Although he was more of an introvert in his teen years, Atkinson hadn’t always been that way. In fact, he was the class clown in his earlier years at school. Now, that sounds more like the Atkinson we know and love.
4. He Has An Accomplished Family
Rowan Sebastian Atkinson was the fourth child of Eric Atkinson and Ella May. Atkinson was born on January 6th, 1955, in Consett, County Durham. His older brothers were Paul (who did not survive his infant years), Rodney (an economist who ran for the UK Independent Party’s leadership election in 2000) and Rupert.
5. Mr. Bean Started On Stage
Mr. Bean is a famous TV character, but he actually made his debut on stage when Atkinson was in his first term at Oxford. The circumstances were high-pressure. Atkinson had 48 hours to develop a five-minute act for stage, and he came up with “a strange, surreal and non-speaking character” as he stood in front of a mirror, making faces at himself.
6. He Became A Recognizable Name
People started knowing and recognizing Atkinson after he performed a series of sketches with the Oxford Revue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1976.
7. He Had Collaborators
Not only was Atkinson talented and naturally funny, he was also lucky to find similar people to work with. It was at Oxford that he met Richard Curtis, with whom he would often collaborate on writing, and composer Howard Goodall, who he also worked with several times during his career.
8. He Started In Radio
After starting off on stage, Atkinson did a series of comedy shows on BBC’s Radio 3. The show, The Atkinson People, aired in 1979, and he and Curtis wrote the script. In the episodes, Atkinson would enact various famous fictional people, who he would interview on various topics to get some laughs.
9. He Likes Big Trucks
To say that Atkinson is into cars would be an understatement. His passion for big vehicles might have started in his childhood, because he loved driving his father’s tractor. That love affair has only grown stronger with time, so much so that one of the happiest days in his life was when he got his Class 1 licence to drive a lorry.
10. He’s Also A Writer
Not content with collecting cars and racing them, Atkinson also writes about them for a British magazine on cars that goes by the extremely original title: Car. Other magazines he has written for include Octane and Evo.
11. He Got His Start In Television
Atkinson’s first truly successful outing on television was the show Not the Nine O’ Clock News. This was aired on BBC2 and was a parody of the Nine O’ Clock News, which also aired on BBC. The show consisted of satirical sketches and parodied songs on current news stories and pop culture. It was a great success and also helped launch other comedians apart from Atkinson.
12. He’s Fast And Furious
In keeping with his love for cars and racing, Atkinson is the proud owner of a McLaren F1, an Audi A8, and a Renault 5GT Turbo to name a few. One day, he participated in a racing event, driving his Aston Martin V8 Zagato. It ended in disaster. He crashed the car, though he did come out OK. Although he loves cars and has so many of them, he does not consider himself a collector. Interesting perspective, that.
13. He Had A Huge Payout
Atkinson has actually crashed his McLaren F1 twice. When he crashed it in a tree in 2011, he claimed insurance worth £910,000 for it, and this is the highest insurance payout ever recorded in Britain. He later put the vehicle up for sale for 8 million pounds, and it was bought for an undisclosed amount by a “British buyer.” Not a bad deal at all.
14. He Wanted To Be Original
You never know when you might have a brainwave. Atkinson and Curtis came up with the idea for a new comedy series while shooting Not the Nine O’ Clock News. They were eager to differentiate themselves from shows like Fawlty Towers and came up with the idea of setting their story in a period in history. The show soon became a household name. This was how their famous series Blackadder was born.
15. He Has A Claim To Fame
The Blackadder series was a huge success. In a poll by BBC in 2004, it was ranked the second-best British sitcom of all time. Channel 4 also ranked Edmund Blackadder third on their list of “100 Greatest TV Characters.” Atkinson played the role of Blackadder of course, in case you didn’t know.
16. He Almost Quit His Most Famous Role
Atkinson lost interest in continuing to write for the Blackadder series after the first season was aired. Finally, Curtis found a script-writing partner in comedian Ben Elton. They made a few changes to the principal characters, making Blackadder a scheming, conniving man, unlike the half-brained person he had been in season one.
They also flipped the character of his loyal sidekick. Season Two came out almost three years after the first instalment and was a huge success. Good thing Curtis followed his gut. Blackadder went on to become one of the best-known and most-loved British sitcoms. Also, lucky for Atkinson that his wish—to end the series after the first season—didn’t come true!
17. There’s One Car He Won’t Buy
For all his love of cars and racing, Atkinson has a bizarre limit. He does not like Porsche at all and claims he could “never live with one.” He also feels that the people who own Porsches are just not his kind of people. I don’t see myself buying a Porsche either…for an entirely different reason, though.
18. He Didn’t Get A Lot Of Screen Time
Considering how well-loved he is, you would think there are hundreds of Mr. Bean episodes. And you’d be wrong! Only 14 episodes in total have been shot and aired. They started airing in January 1990, and the last episode aired in November 1995. The run time for each episode is about 25 minutes, which is pretty brisk.
The very last episode was aired in December 1995 and it was called “The Best Bits of Mr. Bean.” It is a compilation episode, in which Mr. Bean goes to his attic and reminisces about the best parts of his life (each episode).
19. He Almost Had A Different Name
Mr. Bean was originally going to be called “Mr. White.” Thankfully, someone must have realized that this title would be too bland and boring, so they suggested that the character have the name of a vegetable. Mr. Cauliflower was an option, but they finally landed on Mr. Bean. Frankly, I think they made a good choice with that one.
20. He Almost Retired
After two Mr. Bean movies, Atkinson made a sad revelation in an interview. He claimed he would begin to retire the character. “Apart from the fact that your physical ability starts to decline, I also think someone in their 50s being childlike becomes a bit sad,” he said. However, he later changed his mind, and still appeared as Mr. Bean in a series of productions.
21. He Has A Surprising Muse
Atkinson says he drew inspiration from the French comedian and actor Jacques Tati for Mr. Bean. Tati had created his own Bean-like character in the 1950s, Monsieur Hulot, who Atkinson found extremely funny.
22. He’s A Perfectionist
A bit of a perfectionist, Atkinson is never satisfied with his work, and he’s infamous for asking for retakes several times. He finds this habit tiresome himself: “I’ve always believed perfectionism is more of a disease than a quality,” he once said. I suppose the words “chill out” are alien to him.
23. He Doesn’t Enjoy His Work
For someone who provides so many laughs, it’s interesting that Atkinson doesn’t enjoy himself at all while working. He claims it is too stressful, and he is always worried about how it’s going. Although it was also stressful, he found working on Blackadder more enjoyable than working on a show like Mr. Bean because the success of the former was a shared responsibility and did not rest on just his shoulders as it did in the latter.
24. He Made A Strange Request
The global appeal of Mr. Bean is largely because there is very little dialogue in his sketches. The comedy is mainly physical, so the audience can enjoy it no matter what language they speak. Atkinson wanted to make sure that non-English-speaking people would be able to understand the character, so he even insisted on an all French-speaking audience when he performed in Montreal in 1987.
25. He Had A Silver Jubilee
On the 25th Anniversary of Mr. Bean, Atkinson gave the world an incredible gift. He rode in Bean’s signature Mini around Buckingham Palace. He sat on a chair on top of the car, holding Bean’s famous teddy. There was cake and he posed for pictures with the fans who were there. Now that would be a selfie to remember!
26. He Likes To Tinker
Atkinson loves tinkering around with his tools and fixing plugs or fiddling about with other technical things in the house. According to Curtis, Atkinson often locked himself in his room in Oxford with a “fusing iron,” and everyone was always surprised when he came to the Oxford Revue meetings, particularly in the beginning, when he would sit through it all without saying a single word.
27. He Had A Role to Remember
Atkinson’s role as the hapless Father Gerald in Four Weddings and a Funeral is one of his favorites. In fact, Atkinson considers the movie one of his only good films.
28. He’s A Hopeless Romantic
In the early 1980s, Atkinson was dating actress Leslie Ash. Although things didn’t work out for them, Atkinson was apparently quite the lover boy. A true romantic, he planted rowan and ash trees in his house (get it?). I mean…how sweet is that?
29. He Fought For Love
Atkinson found a more lasting love on the set of Blackadder. Sunetra Sastry was responsible for Stephen Fry’s makeup, but one day Atkinson asked Fry if they could swap their makeup artists—even though he was perfectly fine with the one he had. The rest, as they say, is history. The couple married in 1990, with Fry as the best man at the wedding.
30. He Had A Disastrous First Date
Reportedly, Atkinson’s first date with Sastry was nothing to write home about. He basically sat there in silence, and only asked her to “pass the ketchup” to him. He also left her to go to the bathroom and disappeared for 15 minutes. Later, he admitted that his zipper got stuck, and he spent the time searching for a way to fix it.
31. He Had An Other Woman
Unfortunately, this love story didn’t last, either. After 25 years together, Sastry and Atkinson divorced. It got very messy, very fast. People whispered that the couple separated because Atkinson had started romancing Louise Ford, a young actress he met when they were both working on a play The Quartermaine’s Terms.
Ford is 29 years younger than Atkinson, and the couple appeared together in public for the first time in 2014, shortly after Sastry and Atkinson separated.
32. He Has A Young Family
Atkinson has two children with Sastry, Benjamin and Lily. He recently became a father again in 2017, in his 60s, when he had a third child with girlfriend Louise Ford. His youngest is also a girl, named Isla.
33. His Daughter Is On Her Own Path
While daughter Lily appeared in movies with and without her father from a young age—she made an appearance in Tooth, Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Johnny English Reborn—she moved on to become more of a singer and dancer. She learned cabaret and performed in various clubs, after which she got her own show.
34. He’s Worth Millions
As one of the richest comedians of his time, Atkinson is worth $130 million. This is largely due to his successful film career. But before you start thinking of a career in comedy, just remember there’s only one Mr. Bean.
35. He Has A Stutter
Although he’s a public figure, there’s one thing not many people know about the actor. Atkinson has always had a stammer. He has said that the stammer comes and goes, and it is usually much better when he is playing a character. “That may have been some of the inspiration for pursuing the career I did, ” he once admitted.
36. He Has Friends In High Places
Atkinson was one of the limited celebrity guests Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles invited to their wedding.
37. He Gives Back
Atkinson has worked with several charity foundations and donated to quite a few causes himself through the years. Some of these include Amnesty International, Prince’s Trust, Save the Children, and Global Goals, among others.
38. He’s His Own Worst Enemy
Since he finds the whole process of acting such hard work, Atkinson doesn’t enjoy watching his own shows, either. I suppose it also goes back to the fact that he’s a perfectionist, and always feels he could have done a role better than he did if he does watch it again.
39. He’s A Hero
Atkinson is a hero in his own right. In 2001, when he was travelling with his family from Kenya to Nairobi, the pilot flying their plane fainted. Without batting an eyelid (or so I like to think) Atkinson stepped up and flew the plane until the pilot regained consciousness and was able to make a safe landing. Conventional hero he might not be, but in this case it was definitely Atkinson to the rescue.
40. He Was In A Bond Film
Atkinson was always a huge Bond fan, so he was delighted to play a small supporting role in the “unofficial” Bond film Never Say Never Again. He played Nigel Small-Fawcett, and he had a minor role informing Bond of the whereabouts of the villain he was looking for. Perhaps it was around this time that he decided he would play Bond-like character Johnny English one day.
41. He Loves Cars More Than Women
The character of Johnny English was originally a “spoof 007” for a series of advertisements Atkinson starred in, and the origins are hilarious. In one of these ads, the director couldn’t get Atkinson to look at a woman longingly enough. Atkinson’s then-wife Sastry was there that day on the shoot, and she wryly said to “have him imagine his Aston Martin!” Sure enough, that did the trick.
42. He Has Other Inspirations
Several veteran comedians influenced Atkinson. Apart from Jacques Tati, these include Monty Python, especially John Cleese after the Monty Python days, Charlie Chaplin, and Peter Sellers to name a few. He believes his comic style is an amalgamation of a lot of little things he picked up from these iconic comedians.
43. He Voiced An Iconic Character
Remember Zazu in The Lion King? The red-billed hornbill who was kind of like an assistant to Mufasa, and a chaperone to Simba? Producers tested practically every English comedian for the part, but in the end Atkinson became the voice of Zazu, and he didn’t just stop there. He also sang the famous song “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” in the movie.
44. He’s A Speed Demon
In keeping with his love for racing and cars, Atkinson appeared on Top Gear in 2011 and earned a place at the top of their Leaderboard because he drove a Kia Cee’d around their track in record time.
45. He Refused To Grow A Beard
Atkinson was adamant on not having a beard in the third season of Blackadder, for an outrageous reason. Reportedly, his girlfriend at the time was completely against it.
46. He Has Strong Beliefs
Atkinson is a strong proponent of freedom of speech. For this reason, he has been vocal against giving religious groups the power to censor the arts. In 2005, he led a group of actors and writers, which included famous figures like Ian McEwan, Stephen Fry, and Nicholas Hytner, to the British Parliament to protest against the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.
47. He Has Controversial Opinions
Atkinson was in the news a few years ago for his controversial defence of Boris Johnson’s joke on women wearing the burqa. Johnson said the women looked like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes.” Atkinson defended Johnson, saying all jokes on religion caused offence and so apologizing for them was pointless. He himself had been a “lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes on religion” and felt one should only apologize for a bad joke.
Don’t know about you, but I’d apologize for spouting such a cliché.
48. He’s A Commander
Atkinson is a CBE, which means the Queen gave him the title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
49. He’s An Animated Character
Mr. Bean has been wildly popular since his television debut, so it was a logical step to begin an animated series. This debuted on ITV1 in 2002 and ended after three seasons in 2004. They announced a revival in 2014, and the new series started the next year, ending in 2019. The show has received favorable reviews from all over and is popular among children and adults alike.
50. He’s A Youtube Star
While Atkinson has literally zero presence on social media, Mr. Bean is quite the Youtube sensation. His channel has millions of subscribers, and he recently got the prestigious Diamond Play Button. He broke some records as he is the oldest British recipient of this award, and the first person to get it for content with minimal words/speech. Sometimes, it is truly never too late for anything.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23