The 1970's kids TV classic is still a favourite with little ones these days. We find out the secrets behind our favourite old show
Children of the 1970s will remember the TV programme Mr Benn. The animated stories were all about a ordinary bloke in a bowler hat and his adventures in the local fancy-dress shop all thanks to a mysterious fez-wearing shopkeeper. David McKee is the creator of the tales and we caught up with him to find out his inspiration behind the tales and the question on everybody's lips...does Mr Benn have a first name?
"I went to art college. But if you're going to paint, you're going to find it hard to make money. So I started doing cartoons and selling them to the national press. By the time I left college I was supporting myself with my drawings. This meant that part of the week I did my drawings and part of the week I could paint. The BBC got to know of my work and asked me in to see if I would be interested in doing a series. I had an idea but they didn't like it. Then I mentioned Mr Benn and they liked him. They said to go away and write some stories. So I wrote 13."
"I was drawing knights and armour quite a bit, so I wanted to do a story including them. When I went to the publisher with the first Benn book [Mr Benn - Red Knight] somebody there said: "What's he going to wear next time? Well he's obviously going to go back!" I hadn't thought about making the books into a series."
"I wanted a symbol of a Mr Anybody. He's not a hero, he's just a catalyst for all the adventures that happen to him."
"No, I never came up with that"
I've always thought of him as being a William. It's one of our family names. My father was Richard William. His father was William Richard. One of my sons has the second name William. But you can't shorten it, because that would make it Bill Benn.
"The costume shop was based on a costume and antiques shop in Plymouth. We used to go by and things never used to change in the windows. I remember going in and asking the price of something and the shopkeeper appeared as if by magic (just like in Mr Benn). But he just didn't seem interested in telling me the price. It was like he didn't really want to sell anything. I remember thinking, 'this shop must be a front for something'."
"I liked hats. Somebody had given me a fez and I thought, that's a nice thing for the shopkeeper to wear."
"Yes, but I'm pretty sure the phrase 'as if by magic' had been around for a long time before I used it."
"Well Mr Benn's never gone away. The merchandising is increasing all the time.The episodes are re-run on Nickleodeon and the DVD sold more than 150,000 copies."
"I'm always meeting parents who say to me that they loved it and they showed it to their children who loved it. I would think that children these days would want programmes with more zap, bang and whizz but I think maybe the show has a nice calming pace that's just right for storytelling."
Oh yes! There's a Robin Hood story I'd quite like to use. And later this week I'm meeting up with the guy who did the original music for the show to record an album of the Mr Benn music in jazz. I also have an unpublished Mr Benn novel for older children.
Read more on
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk