So who is the most recognisable Englishman around the world? Prince Charles or his sons William and Harry? David Beckham maybe? James Bond perhaps – although no-one knows what he actually looks like as he was portrayed most famously by a Scotsman (Sean Connery) and, more recently, by an Irishman (Pearce Brosnan) and a Welshman (Timothy Dalton) as well as once by an Australian (George Lazenby). Roger Moore and Daniel Craig are the only English actors to have portrayed this iconic English spy.
There is a good case for saying that Rowan Atkinson, the actor who spoofs James Bond in the Johnny English series of films, is actually our best known Englishman – assuming that the Queen is the most recognised Englishwoman. This is not so much because of the English films, the third of which we went to last night, but because of the popular Blackadder series and especially Mister Bean, the naive idiot who is an enormous hit in many parts of the world.
Now it may not be very flattering to think that people think of a stereotypical Englishman as a bumbling buffoon who drives an ancient Mini and whose best friend is his teddy bear but, if it pays the bills, don’t knock it. If I have time I point out the picture of Mister Bean on the way up to Windsor Castle. For a time it was replaced by one of Harry and Meghan but he is now back.
Rowan Atkinson thought up the character of Mister Bean when he was a student and was influenced by Jacques Tati who had created the French equivalent Monsieur Hulot. Llike Bean, he gets into and out of all sorts of scrapes. With both characters the comedy is almost entirely visual with virtually no dialogue. Hulot’s last appearance was in an ambitious futuristic adventure called Playtime, which I remember seeing with my father years ago. We laughed ourselves silly but the movie was not a success and Tati almost bankrupted himself in making it.
Atkinson has been far shrewder with the creation of Bean and other comic franchises such as Blackadder which takes a subversive view of British history and Johnny English, the incompetent spy who saves the world through incompetence, improvisation and sheer dumb luck. (The third English film has just come out.) I get the impression that Atkinson is a bit tired of Bean – he has been through Bean – and he no longer appears as him but keeps the animated version going as it so popular in places like China where he would be mobbed by fans if he ever showed his face. As the humour is largely visual there is no language barrier. Mister Bean could live for ever.
I have written previously about Mister Bean (and my own resemblance to him) at:
You can see a very funny (wordless) sketch of Mr Bean putting on his swimming trunks on at: