Mr. McGregor in an illustration from The Tale of Peter Rabbit
|First appearance||The Tale of Peter Rabbit|
|Last appearance||The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies|
|Created by||Beatrix Potter|
Mr. McGregor is a fictional character in three children's books by author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. He is an elderly, serio-comic villain of Scots background intent upon keeping hungry rabbits out of his vegetable garden and sometimes catching them to put them in a pie and eat them. Potter denied the character was based on a real person but her mentor in mycology, Charlie McIntosh, may have been the inspiration for McGregor's physical appearance and her landlord in 1893, Atholl McGregor, may have been the source for the character's name. Mr. McGregor appeared in two episodes of an animated BBC television series based on Potter's books in 1993.
On 4 September 1893, Beatrix Potter addressed a story and picture letter to Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of her former governess Annie Carter Moore. The letter told of a humanised lagomorph called Peter Rabbit and his adventure in Mr. McGregor's garden. In the following years, Potter continued to send story and picture letters to Noel and his siblings. Mrs. Moore recognised their literary and artistic value and urged the author to publish them. Potter borrowed the original Peter Rabbit letter from Noel, copied it out, and developed the tale. Attempts to find a publisher for the tale were unsuccessful, and Potter privately published the tale to great success among family and friends. In 1902, Frederick Warne & Co. expressed their interest in the tale, persuaded Potter to colour the illustrations, and published the book in October 1902. The book was wildly popular and Potter's career as a children's author and illustrator was launched.
In 1940, Potter wrote, "I never knew a gardener named 'Mr. McGregor'. Several bearded horticulturalists have resented the nickname; but I do not know how it came about". In a letter of February 1942 to her publisher, Potter claimed McGregor "was no special person", but she may have taken inspiration for the fictional character from two different men of her acquaintance: Atholl McGregor and Charlie McIntosh.
Atholl McGregor was a minor laird who sublet Eastwood, a large dower house at Dunkeld, Scotland belonging to the Duke of Atholl, to the Potters for their summer holiday of 1893. He would likely have been about the place some time during the last days of their occupancy when Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit on 4 September for child friend Noel Moore. Her fictional character's deerstalker cap and sleeveless waistcoat are the sorts of garments a minor laird would have worn to advertise his status.
Potter's fellow mycologist and mentor Charlie McIntosh was examining rare fungi in the grass at Eastwood on the day before the Peter Rabbit letter was written. His thin face, rimless spectacles, and flowing white beard were more than likely the models for those of the fictional McGregor. In Pierre Lapin (1921), the first French edition of the tale, McGregor became "Mac Grégor".
Mr. McGregor is an elderly gardener who makes his first appearance in The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). He was originally intended to share title honours with Peter. Potter's manuscript title was The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden but McGregor and his garden were dropped when Potter privately published the book in 1901. In the tale, Peter's mother has forbidden her four children to enter McGregor's garden (their father met his end there and was made into a pie by Mrs. McGregor) but Peter does so once his mother leaves on an errand for the bakery. McGregor chases Peter about the garden but Peter escapes after losing his jacket and shoes. McGregor dresses a scarecrow with Peter's clothing.
McGregor next appears in the sequel, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904). Peter returns to McGregor's garden with his cousin Benjamin to retrieve his jacket and shoes. McGregor has a small role in the tale and appears only in the closing pages where he is mystified by tiny footprints in the garden, the disappearance of the scarecrow's clothes, and a cat locked in his greenhouse. In spite of his limited role in the action, the effect that he had in the previous story makes Peter very nervous about staying in the garden for too long, though it is McGregor's cat who almost seals the bunnies' doom.
In The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909) McGregor has a substantial role in the story and is even given some dialogue. Finding the six sleeping children of the adult Benjamin Bunny, he puts them in a sack and makes plans to sell them for tobacco. His wife, however, wants to skin them and line her cloak with their fur. The two are disappointed in their plans when they discover the bunnies have escaped the sack and have been replaced with old vegetables and a brush.
Mrs. McGregor appears (or is mentioned) in the same three books as her husband. In The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the reader learns Mrs. McGregor baked Peter's father in a pie some time before the story opens. Potter created two illustrations of Mrs. McGregor – one, aged and one, youthful – for the first trade edition of the tale. Her publisher rejected the aged portrait and published the youthful Mrs. McGregor (which Potter hinted in 1939 was a caricature of herself). The aged portrait survived three early printings until the fourth printing of 1903 when it was dropped altogether to make way for illustrated endpapers.
In the 2002 edition from publisher Frederick Warne, the youthful portrait of Mrs. McGregor was returned to the tale opposite the text, "Your Father had an accident there; he was put into a pie by Mrs. McGregor." Behind the youthful Mrs. McGregor is a child holding a spoon and at her left hand is a black dog. Three other illustrations dropped in 1903 for the endpapers were also returned to the tale in the 2002 edition.
In Benjamin Bunny, Mrs. McGregor leaves home in her best bonnet to ride in a gig driven by Mr. McGregor. In The Flopsy Bunnies, she wants to skin the bunnies to line her old cloak with their fur and scolds her husband when she discovers the bunnies have escaped. Her back appears in the 23rd illustration of The Flopsy Bunnies.
Jerry Verno portrayed Mr. McGregor in a dramatised series of Beatrix Potter tales produced by Fiona Bentley and recorded by HMV Junior Record Club (words by David Croft, music by Cyril Ornadel), issued in 1960.
In 1992, several of Potter's tales were adapted to animation and televised by the BBC as The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. In an episode that integrates The Tale of Peter Rabbit with The Tale of Benjamin Bunny called "The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny", Mr. McGregor is voiced by Richard Wilson and Mrs. McGregor by June Watson. In "The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and Mrs. Tittlemouse", Mr. McGregor is voiced by Andrew Robertson and Mrs. McGregor again by June Watson. In this episode (with no basis in Potter), Mr. McGregor's first name is given as John.
More recently, Mr. McGregor has appeared frequently in the CBeebies CGI-animated TV series Peter Rabbit. He is voiced by Dave Mitchell in the series, but his face and upper body are usually kept offscreen.
- Works cited
- Coates, John [producer] (1996), The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends (televised on BBC 1992 to 1995), BBC Video, ISBN 1-4198-4673-6
- Linder, Leslie (1976), The History of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Frederick Warne, ISBN 0-7232-1988-5
- Lear, Linda (2008) , Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, New York: St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 978-0-312-37796-0