Mr Benn

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Gladiator, the final book in the original Mr Benn series

Mr Benn is a character created by David McKee who appears in several children's books, and an animated television series of the same name originally transmitted by the BBC in 1971 and 1972.

Whether in a book, or on television, Mr Benn's adventures take on a similar pattern. Mr Benn, a man wearing a black suit and bowler hat, leaves his house at 52 Festive Road and visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the moustachioed, fez-wearing shopkeeper to try on a particular outfit. He leaves the shop through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a moral) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to the changing room, and the story comes to an end. Mr Benn returns to his normal life, but is left with a small souvenir of his magical adventure. Additionally, scenes before and after his adventure usually have some connection to it, such as the games the children are playing in the street as he passes.

The books[edit]

Several of Mr Benn's adventures are available to buy in book-form: four were published originally, and further books in the 1990s were based on the television series. The original four books were: Mr Benn - Red Knight, Big Game Benn, 123456789 Benn, and Big Top Benn. There were six original books planned, but the fifth and sixth were never published. The fifth was called Mr Benn Rides Again, the story of which was used to make the television episode The Cowboy. The sixth, never completed, was Superbenn, in which the superhero Benn sets out on an environmental adventure.

There is one book for which no corresponding television episode has (yet) been made. 123456789 Benn was published in 1970 (ISBN 0-234-77361-8) and tells the story of Mr Benn as a convict (hence the number) inspiring his jail-mates to brighten up their cells. This was due to the BBC – who screened the television series – feeling that the story was too controversial.

A new story was published in 2001, the first Mr Benn story that David McKee had written in thirty years, and is called Mr Benn - Gladiator (ISBN 1-84270-024-3). McKee has indicated that he may write more Mr Benn stories in the future.[1]

2001 also saw the publication of Mr Benn's Little Book of Life (ISBN 0-09-943649-3) by Tess Read, which explores the lessons of Mr Benn's adventures.

The only character who appears several times, apart from Mr Benn and the shopkeeper, is Smasher Lagru. Smasher first appears as an inmate in 123456789 Benn, and then after his release in Big-Top Benn and the new Mr Benn, Gladiator.

A 'Mr Benn Annual' (ISBN 85096-029-0) was published by Polystyle Publications Ltd in 1972. It was written by Jan Falconer and illustrated by David McKee. This contained a number of illustrated text stories, three strip-cartoon style adventures and a few puzzle pages. Mr Benn visits: China for a kite festival, a fairytale Arabia, Venice and Holland. He also becomes a barrow boy in a pearly suit and meets Mr Grubbly and his animal friends in the African jungle.

Tate Publishing has republished all of the original books.[when?]

The television series[edit]

Mr Benn
Genre Family
Created by David McKee
Written by David McKee
Directed by Pat Kirby
Narrated by Ray Brooks
Theme music composer Don Warren
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 14
Production
Producer(s) David McKee
Running time 15 minutes
Production company(s) Zephyr Films

McKee wrote and animated (with Ian Lawless) thirteen Mr Benn episodes for the BBC in the early 1970s. These episodes were repeated many times over the years, and many people retain fond memories of him. The episodes were narrated by Ray Brooks, and the music composed by Don Warren.

Although Smasher Lagru features in The Gladiator, he does not appear in The Clown as the book in which he made his debut, 123456789Benn, was not adapted for television – thus it would have been strange that he and Mr Benn already knew each other. The Hunter was also slightly altered; the book Big Game Benn features several hunters, but only one appears in the television episode.

McKee has not benefited financially to the extent he might have: "I signed a contract where I only got a one-off payment and no repeat fees, but I've done quite well from a number of other things and I'm still exhibiting paintings."[2] Unfortunately, according to Mr Benn's Little Book of Life, very little of McKee's original artwork created for the television episodes exists today, as a majority of it was thrown into a rubbish skip in the 1970s.

After over thirty years, a brand new Mr Benn episode was screened for the first time on 1 January 2005, on the United Kingdom channel Noggin. The episode was based on McKee's 2001 book Mr Benn - Gladiator.

The series was voted the sixth most popular children's television programme in the 2001 Channel 4 poll 100 Greatest Kids' TV shows. It was also rated number 13 in the 50 Greatest Kids TV Shows which aired on Channel 5 on November 8th 2013.

Episode listing[edit]

Episode name Synopsis Memento gained
Red Knight In this very first episode, Mr Benn has been invited to a fancy-dress party. He dislikes parties, but enjoys dressing up, so he looks round the shops for a costume to wear, but everywhere he finds only ordinary everyday clothes. Turning into a small lane on his way home, Mr Benn comes across a costume shop where he chooses an outfit of red knight's armour. Changing into the armour, Mr Benn passes through another door in the shop's changing room and finds himself in another world. He stumbles upon a dragon, and at first thinks it is someone else in fancy dress. He soon realises his mistake. He learns that the dragon used to be the King's pet, until an evil match-seller started a fire and made sure the dragon got the blame. Mr. Benn helps the dragon regain the King's favour. On returning to his own everyday world, Mr Benn decides he has had enough excitement and won't be going to the fancy-dress party after all. But he tells the shopkeeper that he will be coming back to the shop again soon to try another costume and have another adventure. Box of matches decorated with a picture of a dragon
Hunter Mr Benn is dressed as a hunter, in keeping with the pet shop and the garden centre he passed on his way to a shop. He doesn't behave like a hunter however. He is apprenticed to another hunter, who claims to be the greatest hunter in the world, and prevents him from killing any of the animals, by claiming they are not enough of a challenge for him. They finally stumble upon a herd of elephants. Mr. Benn gets them to jump up and down, throwing the hunter off balance. He convinces the hunter to sell his rifle, buy a camera and become a wildlife photographer instead. Photograph of a herd of elephants
Cook Little Princess Annabella refuses to eat. Mr. Benn realises she is lonely, and helps her find her appetite by inviting all the city's poor hungry children to the Palace for a feast. Wooden spoon
Caveman A stone-age community live right next to a dusty and dangerous road, frequented by dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, but want to live in the fresh green countryside. There's just one problem: there are no caves. Mr Benn has the answer; they can build stone huts. Stone hammer
Balloonist Mr Benn and his partner in a balloon race outwit the cheating Baron Bartrum, who ends up becoming the victim of his own scheme. Medal
Zoo Keeper Mr Benn helps the animals in the zoo to improve their accommodation by making the townsfolk see that the cages are too small. Parrot's feather
Diver (Frogman) Mr Benn helps King Neptune and his mermaid friend outwit the crews of two submarines, who are out to find and photograph the King's pet sea monster. Seashell
Wizard Mr Benn is asked by a Queen to change her husband's appearance, feeling he is not Kingly enough. However, the spells cast by Mr Benn do not turn out as expected, and Mr Benn eventually convinces the Queen that how the King looks is not important. Jar that once held magic dust
Cowboy The Indians have always beaten the cowboys in a weekly game of hide-and-seek. When Mr Benn joins in as the cowboy to hide, he helps the cowboys to win for the first time by exposing the very clever hiding place of the hidden Indian. Sheriff's badge
Clown The circus people are due to perform at a town on the other side of a fast-flowing river, but there is no bridge. Mr Benn suggests that they all work together to build a bridge. Clown's red nose
Aladdin Mr Benn helps a boy outwit an evil man, with the aid of the magic carpet that came with his costume and a little magic courtesy of a genie in a bottle. Stopper from the genie's bottle
Spaceman Mr Benn and his fellow astronaut visit several weird and wonderful planets. Lump of rock that was once gold
Pirate Mr Benn helps the crew of a pirate ship, who are determined not to be pirates, turn their Captain into an honest man, and see that he gets a very different sort of treasure for his island: trees from a crew of gardeners whose ship the pirates pretend to capture, but actually rescue, during a storm. Jolly Roger flag
Gladiator Mr Benn is transported to Ancient Rome, where he meets his friend Smasher Lagru. But he has forgotten that prisoners are made to fight gladiators in the arena, and those who aren't beaten will end up facing the lions. Smasher Lagru's whistle

* Billed as The Hunter in Radio Times.
** Billed as Mr Benn Goes Ballooning in Radio Times.
*** Billed as The Frogman in Radio Times.
**** Billed as Mr Benn and the Magic Carpet in Radio Times.

Character origin[edit]

The character Mr Benn was based on a picture taken by photographer Micaela Mitchell called The Business Man.[citation needed]

Mr Benn lives in London at 52 Festive Road, which was inspired by Festing Road in Putney where David McKee used to live. McKee had the house "next door" at 54 Festing Road, where residents installed an engraved paving slab in his honour on 26 November 2009. ("I think it was because in the first book I drew myself looking out of the window, and I thought it would be quite nice to have him next door," said McKee.)[3]

McKee says he has always thought of Mr Benn as having the first name William.[4]

Merchandise[edit]

Many posters and t-shirts have been made with the image of the shopkeeper or Mr Benn, or bearing the phrase: "As if by magic, the Shopkeeper appeared.". Recent toys made include beanies of the shopkeeper and Mr Benn in his suit, and dressed as a spaceman and wizard.

DVD release[edit]

Title: Mr Benn: The Complete Series
Label: Contender Home Entertainment
Release Date: 2005
Catalogue N°: CTD10390
Availability: Out now

Mr Benn in popular culture[edit]

Credits[edit]

  • Created, Written & Produced by: David McKee
  • Drawn by: David McKee, Ian Lawless
  • Narrated by: Ray Brooks
  • Music by: Don Warren
  • Musicians: Ken Baldock, Harry Stoneham, Art Morgan, Peter Hughes, Kenny Wheeler, Terry Emery, Ray Swinfield
  • Sound: United Motion Pictures (London)
  • Filmed by: Zephyr Film Productions
  • Directed by: Pat Kirby
  • © King Rollo Films Ltd / Zephyr Film Productions

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mr Benn News Page". Archived from the original on 28 June 2002. Retrieved 26 April 2004. 
  2. ^ "Mr Benn's back in town (From Wandsworth Guardian)". http://www.wandsworthguardian.co.uk. 12 November 2001. Archived from the original on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2004. 
  3. ^ "Street pays tribute to Mr Benn". BBC Online. 26 November 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2009. 
  4. ^ "Front Row". Front Row. 14 July 2011. BBC. BBC Radio 4.

Simon Sheridan's book The A to Z of Classic Children's Television (Reynolds & Hearn books, 2004, reprinted 2007) ISBN 1-903111-27-7 contains a chapter on Mr. Benn and an interview with creator David McKee.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]