No matter what age you are or where you are from, the hilarious antics of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean must have tickled your funny bone at some time or another in your life. Though the Mr. Bean character is extremely comic and childlike, Atkinson himself is a very different person in real life. He was a shy child, yet he grew up to be one of the most beloved comedians in the world. His unique ability to show humor using extreme facial expressions and body language won over international audiences by breaking language barriers. But, there is more to him than meets the eye, and here are some interesting facts about Rowan Atkinson that will change your idea of him forever.
1. Rowan Atkinson and Britain’s ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, were schoolmates at Durham Choristers School.
When he joined the school, Atkinson was eleven years old and Tony Blair was two years his senior. According to the school’s former headmaster, Canon John Grove, the two boys were quite opposite in their behavior. While Atkinson was shy and kept to himself, Blair was very outgoing and a model pupil who volunteered for everything.(source)
2. Rowan Atkinson has a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Queen’s College, Oxford.
After he received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, Atkinson continued studying for a master’s of science in the same field at Queen’s College, Oxford in 1975. His course of study was the same as his father who graduated from there in 1935. He was also made an Honorary Fellow in 2006.(source)
3. Atkinson suffers from a stammer, so he uses over-articulation, a technique to overcome problematic consonants, for the “B” sounds.
Atkinson turns his stutter problem into a comic device because he over-articulates the sound of “B” as he did when pronouncing the name “Bob” in the episode of Bells in Blackadder II. He had reportedly experienced trouble because of this problem while at school having conversations with his friends. This fatigued and stressed him out. He overcame his stutter as he started acting and stated that, “It comes and goes. I find when I play a character other than myself, the stammering disappears. That may have been some of the inspiration for pursuing the career I did.”(1, 2)
4. Rowan Atkinson co-created and co-wrote Mr. Bean, the British sitcom for which he is so famous, while studying for his masters.
While in Oxford, Atkinson was asked during his first term to do a sketch that someone might show at the Oxford playhouse. However, he did not consider himself a writer having never written anything before. He had only forty-eight hours to create something, and inspiration struck him in the form of a “strange, surreal and non-speaking character” as he stood in front of his mirror pulling faces. While at Oxford, he also met his co-writer, Richard Curtis, and composer, Howard Goodall, with whom he would collaborate many times throughout his career. He also received national attention in 1976 for his sketches in the Oxford Revue, a comedy group featuring Oxford students, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe now considered the world’s largest arts festival.(1, 2)
5. Though in the beginning of his career Atkinson appeared in several films and shows, he first rose to fame in the BBC comedy show Not the Nine O’Clock News.
Not the Nine O’Clock News was a satirical sketch and show about current news stories, pop culture, comedy sketches, and also contained parody songs, re-edited videos, and spoof television formats. It made use a lot of use of library clips, usually of politicians, royalty, and celebrities. It was aired on BBC2 as a comic alternative to BBC’s Nine O’Clock News. The show also featured and helped launch the careers of three other comedians apart from Atkinson: Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith, and Griff Rhys Jones.(1, 2)
6. Atkinson met his ex-wife, Sunetra Sastry, on the sets of Blackadder where she worked as a makeup artist, and has two children with her, Ben and Lily.
Sunetra Sastry was Stephen Fry’s makeup artist on the set of Blackadder in 1986. According to Fry, Atkinson one day asked him to swap makeup artists. When Fry asked if he didn’t like his own makeup artist, Atkinson replied, “N-no, it’s not that, she’s splendid.” In February 1990, Atkinson and Sastry married with Stephen Fry as the best man. Together they had two children, Ben and Lily, and were divorced in 2015 after twenty-five years of marriage.(1, 2)