Friday, 22 July 2011

As If By Magic, The Shop-keeper Appeared -Remembering Mr Benn (1971)

Mr Benn was created by David McKee who appears in several children's books, and an animated television series of the same name 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. His creater, McKee has always thought of him as having the first name William. As he mentioned on a Radio 4 Front Row interview on 14th July 2011. 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.

McKee wrote and animated 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." 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 UK 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.

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