Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson

Atkinson at the Johnny English Reborn Première in 2011.
Birth name Rowan Sebastian Atkinson
Born (1955-01-06) 6 January 1955
Consett, County Durham, England
Medium Stand up, television, film
Years active 1978–present
Genres Physical comedy, black comedy, satire
Influences Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati,[1] Spike Milligan[2]
Influenced Steve Pemberton
David Walliams
Sacha Baron Cohen
Rik Mayall
Steve Punt
Henry Naylor
Mitchell and Webb
Spouse Sunetra Sastry (m. 1990; div. 2015)
Children 2
Relative(s) Rodney Atkinson
Rowan Atkinson's voice
from the BBC programme Front Row Interviews, 8 January 2012.[3]

Rowan Sebastian Atkinson, CBE (born 6 January 1955) is an English actor, comedian, and screenwriter best known for his work on the sitcoms Blackadder and Mr. Bean. Atkinson first came to prominence in the sketch comedy show Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979–82), and via his participation in The Secret Policeman's Ball from 1979. His other work includes the Bond movie Never Say Never Again and the sitcom The Thin Blue Line (1995–1996).

He was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest actors in British comedy,[4] and amongst the top 50 comedians ever, in a 2005 poll of fellow comedians.[5] He has also had cinematic success with his performances in the Mr. Bean movie adaptations Bean and Mr. Bean's Holiday, and also in Johnny English (2003) and its sequel Johnny English Reborn (2011).

Early life

Atkinson, the youngest of four brothers, was born in Consett, County Durham, England, on 6 January 1955.[6][7][8][9]

His parents were Eric Atkinson, a farmer and company director, and Ella May (née Bainbridge), who married on 29 June 1945.[9] His three older brothers are Paul, who died as an infant; Rodney, a Eurosceptic economist who narrowly lost the United Kingdom Independence Party leadership election in 2000; and Rupert.[10][11]

Atkinson was brought up Anglican,[12] and was educated at Durham Choristers School a preparatory school, St. Bees School, and Newcastle University, where he received a degree in Electrical Engineering.[13] In 1975, he continued for the degree of MSc in Electrical Engineering at The Queen's College, Oxford, the same college where his father matriculated in 1935,[14] and which made Atkinson an Honorary Fellow in 2006.[15]

First winning national attention in the Oxford Revue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 1976,[13] he had already written and performed early sketches for shows in Oxford by the Etceteras – the revue group of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC), and for the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS), meeting writer Richard Curtis,[13] and composer Howard Goodall, with whom he would continue to collaborate during his career.



Atkinson starred in a series of comedy shows for BBC Radio 3 in 1978 called The Atkinson People. It consisted of a series of satirical interviews with fictional great men, who were played by Atkinson himself. The series was written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, and produced by Griff Rhys Jones.[16]


Atkinson played Captain Edmund Blackadder in the fourth and final series in the BBC sitcom Blackadder.

After university, Atkinson toured with Angus Deayton as his straight man in an act that was eventually filmed for a television show. After the success of the show, he did a one-off pilot for London Weekend Television in 1979 called Canned Laughter. Atkinson then went on to do Not the Nine O'Clock News for the BBC, produced by his friend John Lloyd. He featured in the show with Pamela Stephenson, Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith, and was one of the main sketch writers.

The success of Not the Nine O'Clock News led to him taking the lead role in the medieval sitcom The Black Adder (1983), which he also co-wrote with Richard Curtis. After a three-year gap, in part due to budgetary concerns, a second series was broadcast, this time written by Curtis and Ben Elton. Blackadder II (1986) followed the fortunes of one of the descendants of Atkinson's original character, this time in the Elizabethan era. The same pattern was repeated in the two more sequels Blackadder the Third (1987) (set in the Regency era), and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989) (set in World War I).

The Blackadder series became one of the most successful of all BBC situation comedies, spawning television specials including Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988), Blackadder: The Cavalier Years (1988), and later Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999), which was set at the turn of the Millennium.

The final scene of "Blackadder Goes Forth" (when Blackadder and his men go "over the top" and charge into No-Man's-Land) has been described as "bold and highly poignant".[17] During the 2014 centennial of the start of World War I, Michael Gove and war historian Max Hastings complained about the so-called "Blackadder version of history".[18][19][20]

Rowan Atkinson in 1997, promoting Bean

Atkinson's other creation, the hapless Mr. Bean, first appeared on New Year's Day in 1990 in a half-hour special for Thames Television. The character of Mr. Bean has been likened to a modern-day Buster Keaton.[21] During this time, Atkinson appeared at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal in 1987 and 1989.

Several sequels to Mr. Bean appeared on television until 1995, and the character later appeared in a feature film. Bean (1997) was directed by Mel Smith, Atkinson's colleague in Not the Nine O'Clock News. A second film, Mr. Bean's Holiday, was released in 2007. In 1995 and 1996, Atkinson portrayed Inspector Raymond Fowler in The Thin Blue Line television sitcom written by Ben Elton, which takes place in a police station located in fictitious Gasforth.

Atkinson has fronted campaigns for Kronenbourg,[22] Fujifilm, and Give Blood. Atkinson appeared as a hapless and error-prone espionage agent named Richard Lathum in a long-running series of adverts for Barclaycard, on which character his title role in Johnny English and Johnny English Reborn was based. In 1999, he played the Doctor in The Curse of Fatal Death, a special Doctor Who serial produced for Comic Relief. Atkinson appeared as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on Top Gear in July 2011, driving the Kia Cee'd around the track in 1:42.2, placing him at the top of the leaderboard until Matt LeBlanc later recorded a 1:42.1 lap time.

Atkinson appeared at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony as Mr. Bean in a comedy sketch during a performance of "Chariots of Fire", playing a repeated single note on synthesizer.[23] He then lapsed into a dream sequence in which he joined the runners from the film of the same name (about the 1924 Summer Olympics), beating them in their iconic run along West Sands at St. Andrews, by riding in a minicab and tripping the front runner.[24]

Atkinson starred as Jules Maigret in Maigret, a series of TV films from ITV.[25]

Retirement of Mr. Bean

In November 2012, it emerged that Rowan Atkinson intended to retire Mr. Bean. "The stuff that has been most commercially successful for me – basically quite physical, quite childish – I increasingly feel I'm going to do a lot less of," Atkinson told the Daily Telegraph's Review. "Apart from the fact that your physical ability starts to decline, I also think someone in their 50s being childlike becomes a little sad. You've got to be careful."[26] He has also said that the role typecast him to a degree.[27]

In January 2014, however, ITV announced a new animated series featuring Mr. Bean with Rowan Atkinson returning to the role. It was expected to be released online as a web-series later in 2014, as a television broadcast followed shortly after.[28] In October 2014, Atkinson also appeared as Mr. Bean in a TV advert for Snickers. In 2015, he starred alongside Ben Miller and Rebecca Front in a sketch for BBC Red Nose Day in which Mr. Bean attends a funeral.


Atkinson's film career began with a supporting part in the 'unofficial' James Bond movie Never Say Never Again (1983) and a leading role in Dead on Time (also 1983) with Nigel Hawthorne. He was in the 1988 Oscar-winning short film The Appointments of Dennis Jennings. He appeared in Mel Smith's directorial debut The Tall Guy (1989) and appeared alongside Anjelica Huston and Mai Zetterling in Roald Dahl's The Witches (1990). He played the part of Dexter Hayman in Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), a parody of Rambo III, starring Charlie Sheen.

Atkinson gained further recognition with his turn as a verbally bumbling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and featured in Disney's The Lion King (also 1994) as the voice of Zazu the red-billed hornbill. He also sang the song I Just Can't Wait To Be King in The Lion King. Atkinson continued to appear in supporting roles in comedies, including Rat Race (2001), Scooby-Doo (2002), Love Actually (2003) and the crime comedy Keeping Mum (2005), which also starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and Patrick Swayze.

In addition to his supporting roles, Atkinson has also had success as a leading man. His television character Mr. Bean debuted on the big screen with Bean (1997) to international success. A sequel, Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007), also became an international success. He has also starred in the James Bond parody Johnny English (2003) and its sequel, Johnny English Reborn (2011).


Rowan Atkinson performed live on-stage skits – also appearing with members of Monty Python – in The Secret Policeman's Ball (1979) for the British section of Amnesty International.[29]

Atkinson undertook a four-month tour of the UK in 1980. A recording of the stage performance was subsequently released as Live in Belfast.

In 1984, he appeared in a West End version of the comedy play The Nerd alongside a 10-year-old Christian Bale.[30] The Sneeze and Other Stories, seven short Anton Chekhov plays, translated and adapted by Michael Frayn, were performed by Rowan Atkinson, Timothy West and Cheryl Campbell at the Aldwych Theatre, London in 1988 and early 1989.[31]

In 2009, during the revival of the musical Oliver!, Atkinson played the role of Fagin.[32] His portrayal and singing garnered favourable reviews and he was nominated for an Olivier award for best actor in a musical or entertainment.[33]

On 28 November 2012, Rowan Atkinson reprised the role of Blackadder at the "We are Most Amused" comedy gala for the Prince's Trust at the Royal Albert Hall. He was joined by Tony Robinson as Baldrick. The sketch involved the first new Blackadder material for 10 years, with Blackadder as CEO of Melchett, Melchett and Darling bank facing an enquiry over the banking crisis.[34]

In February 2013, Atkinson took on the titular role in a 12-week production (directed by Richard Eyre) of the Simon Gray play Quartermaine's Terms at Wyndham's Theatre in London with costars Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) and Felicity Montagu (I'm Alan Partridge).[35] In December 2013, he revived his schoolmaster sketch for Royal Free Hospital's Rocks with Laughter at the Adelphi Theatre.[36] A few days prior, he performed a selection of sketches in a small coffee venue in front of only 30 people.[37]

Comic style

Best known for his use of physical comedy in his Mr. Bean persona, Atkinson's other characters rely more heavily on language. Atkinson often plays authority figures (especially priests or vicars) speaking absurd lines with a completely deadpan delivery.

One of his better-known comic devices is over-articulation of the "B" sound, such as his pronunciation of "Bob" in the Blackadder II episode "Bells". Atkinson suffers from a stammer,[38] and the over-articulation is a technique to overcome problematic consonants.

Atkinson's often visually based style, which has been compared to that of Buster Keaton,[21] sets him apart from most modern television and film comics, who rely heavily on dialogue, as well as stand-up comedy which is mostly based on monologues. This talent for visual comedy has led to Atkinson being called "the man with the rubber face": comedic reference was made to this in an episode of Blackadder the Third ("Sense and Senility"), in which Baldrick (Tony Robinson) refers to his master, Mr. E. Blackadder, as a "lazy, big-nosed, rubber-faced bastard".

Personal life

Rowan Atkinson at the Mr. Bean's Holiday premiere at Leicester Square in London (2007)

In March 2001, while Atkinson was on a holiday trip to Kenya, the pilot of his private plane fainted. Atkinson managed to maintain the plane in the air until the pilot recovered, and was able to land the plane at Nairobi's Wilson Airport.[39]

Marriage and children

Rowan Atkinson was in a relationship with actress Leslie Ash in the 1980s.[40] He married Sunetra Sastry in February 1990. They have two children, Ben and Lily.[41] The couple first met in the late 1980s, when she was working as a makeup artist with the BBC.[42] They split in 2014 and were divorced on 10 November 2015.[43] Atkinson has been in a relationship with Louise Ford since 2014.


In June 2005, Atkinson led a coalition of the United Kingdom's most prominent actors and writers, including Nicholas Hytner, Stephen Fry, and Ian McEwan, to the British Parliament in an attempt to force a review of the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which they felt would give overwhelming power to religious groups to impose censorship on the arts.[44] In 2009, he criticized homophobic speech legislation, saying that the House of Lords must vote against a government attempt to remove a free speech clause in an anti-gay hate law.[45]

In October 2012, he voiced his support for the Reform Section 5 campaign,[46] which aims to reform or repeal Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, particularly its statement that an insult can be grounds for arrest and punishment. It is a reaction to several recent high-profile arrests, which Atkinson sees as a restriction of freedom of expression.[47]


Atkinson holds a category C+E (formerly 'Class 1') lorry driving licence, gained in 1981, because lorries held a fascination for him, and to ensure employment as a young actor. He has also used this skill when filming comedy material. In 1991, he starred in the self-penned The Driven Man, a series of sketches featuring Atkinson driving around London trying to solve his obsession with cars, and discussing it with taxi drivers, policemen, used-car salesmen and psychotherapists.[48] A lover of and participant in car racing, he appeared as racing driver Henry Birkin in the television play Full Throttle in 1995.

Atkinson has raced in other cars, including a Renault 5 GT Turbo for two seasons for its one make series. From 1997 to 2015, he owned a rare McLaren F1, which was involved in an accident in Cabus, near Garstang, Lancashire, with an Austin Metro in October 1999.[49] It was damaged again in a serious crash in August 2011 when it caught fire after Atkinson reportedly lost control and hit a tree.[50][51] That accident caused significant damage to the vehicle, taking over a year to be repaired and leading to the largest insurance payout in Britain, at £910,000.[52] He has previously owned a Honda NSX.[53] Other cars he owns include an Audi A8[54] a Škoda Superb, and a Honda Civic Hybrid.[55]

In July 2001, Atkinson crashed an Aston Martin V8 Zagato at an enthusiasts' meeting, but walked away unhurt. This was whilst he was competing in the Aston Martin Owners Club event, at the Croft Racing Circuit, Darlington.[56]

The Conservative Party politician Alan Clark, himself a devotee of classic motor cars, recorded in his published Diaries a chance meeting with a man he later realized was Atkinson while driving through Oxfordshire in May 1984: "Just after leaving the motorway at Thame I noticed a dark red DBS V8 Aston Martin on the slip road with the bonnet up, a man unhappily bending over it. I told Jane to pull in and walked back. A DV8 in trouble is always good for a gloat." Clark writes that he gave Atkinson a lift in his Rolls-Royce to the nearest telephone box, but was disappointed in his bland reaction to being recognised, noting that: "he didn't sparkle, was rather disappointing and chétif."[57]

One car Atkinson has said he will not own is a Porsche: "I have a problem with Porsches. They're wonderful cars, but I know I could never live with one. Somehow, the typical Porsche people – and I wish them no ill – are not, I feel, my kind of people. I don't go around saying that Porsches are a pile of dung, but I do know that psychologically I couldn't handle owning one."[55][58]

In July 2011, Atkinson appeared as the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" on Top Gear, driving the Kia Cee'd around the track in 1:42.2, granting him first place on the leaderboard.[53]


Atkinson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to drama and charity.[59][60]

Religious views

Atkinson is known for criticising religious views and opposing the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 law.[61][62]



Year Title Role Notes
1982 Fundamental Frolics Himself
The Secret Policeman's Other Ball Various Roles
1983 Dead on Time Bernard Fripp Short Film
Never Say Never Again Nigel Small-Fawcett
1989 The Appointments of Dennis Jennings Dr. Schooner Short Film
The Tall Guy Ron Anderson
1990 The Witches Mr. Stringer
1991 The Driven Man Himself TV
Also Writer
1992 Laughing Matters Presenter Documentary
1993 Hot Shots! Part Deux Dexter Hayman
1994 Four Weddings and a Funeral Father Gerald
The Lion King Zazu Voice Only
1997 Bean Mr. Bean Also Writer/Executive Producer
2000 Maybe Baby Mr. James
2001 Rat Race Enrico Pollini
2002 Scooby-Doo Emile Mondavarious
2003 Johnny English Johnny English Nominated – European Film Award for Best Actor
Love Actually Rufus Nominated – Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Ensemble Acting
2005 Keeping Mum Reverend Walter Goodfellow
2007 Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean Also Writer/Producer
2011 Johnny English Reborn Johnny English Also Executive Producer


Year Title Role Notes
1979 Canned Laughter Robert Box Experimental sitcom pilot for LWT
The Secret Policeman's Ball Charity special for Amnesty International
1979–1982 Not the Nine O'Clock News Himself
1980 Peter Cook & Co
The Innes Book of Records Guest appearance
1983 The Black Adder Prince Edmund (The Black Adder)
1986 Blackadder II Lord Blackadder
Saturday Live Himself Guest host
1987 Blackadder the Third Edmund Blackadder
1988 Blackadder: The Cavalier Years Sir Edmund Blackadder Short TV special
Blackadder's Christmas Carol Ebenezer Blackadder
1989 Blackadder Goes Forth Edmund Blackadder
1990–1995 Mr. Bean Mr. Bean
1991 Bernard and the Genie' Bernard's Boss Television movie
1992 Rowan Atkinson Live VHS of live sketches
Funny Business Kevin / Narrator Documentary
A Bit of Fry & Laurie Guest appearance
1995–1996 The Thin Blue Line Inspector Raymond Fowler
1997 The Story of Bean Himself
1999 Blackadder: Back & Forth Lord Blackadder
Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death The Doctor Comic Relief "Red Nose Day" telecast
2001 Popsters Nasty Neville Comic Relief "Red Nose Day" telecast
2001–2004, 2015–present Mr. Bean Mr. Bean Animated series
2003 Lying to Michael Jackson Martin Bashir Comic Relief "Red Nose Day" telecast
2005 Spider-Plant Man Peter Piper / Spider-Plant Man Comic Relief "Red Nose Day" telecast
2007 The Greatest Worst Bits of Comic Relief Himself Comic Relief "Red Nose Day" telecast
2008 We Are Most Amused Himself TV special to celebrate Prince Charles' 60th birthday
Blackadder Rides Again Himself
2009 Not Again: Not the Nine O'Clock News Himself Guest appearance
2010 Bondi Rescue Mr. Bean (1 episode)
2011 Top Gear Himself (1 episode)
2012 The Olympics Opening Ceremony Mr. Bean
2013 Live from Lambeth Palace sketches The Archbishop of Canterbury Comic Relief "Red Nose Day" telecast
2015 Horrible Histories Henry VIII of England Guest appearance (1 episode)
2016 Maigret Inspector Jules Maigret

Television advertisements

Year Title Role
1980 Kronenbourg 1664 Customs officer
1983 Appletiser Fisherman
1989 Give Blood Doctor
1991–1997 Barclaycard Richard Latham
1994 REMA 1000 Mr. Bean
1997 M&M's Mr. Bean
1999 Nissan Tino Mr. Bean
2014 Snickers[63] Mr. Bean


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