With an elastic face and a versatile voice to match, not to mention perfect comic timing, Rowan Atkinson’s career has seen him careening from classic physical comedy to biting satire and beyond. As spy spoof Johnny English Strikes Again hits home this week, we look at five of our favourite funny outlets for the British comedian over the years.
Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979-1982)
“Wild? I was absolutely livid!”
One of the sharpest sketch comedy shows to have ever invaded our televisions, whether it be getting a gorilla suit on (as ‘Gerald’, above), being a snarky hi-fi salesman or donning the robes to play a Luddite judge, Not the Nine O’Clock News was most peoples’ introduction to Atkinson – and he’d soon be back…
Black Adder (1982-1989)
After a bit of a wobbly start with the first series, Black Adder hit peak funny with its second outing, and didn’t let up during its next two perfectly-formed series. Atkinson had a lot of competition in the hilarity stakes from the likes of Miranda Richardson, Rik Mayall, Stephen Fry and, of course, Tony Robinson as the every-suffering, turnip-worshipping Baldrick, yet he still commanded the biggest laughs.
Mr Bean (1990-1995)
Relying on physical humour while almost entirely ditching the use of words (although he did drop the very occasional vocal outburst in the original series) is risky, but with Atkinson’s physical attributes and his ability to use them to the max, the character of Mr Bean became much-loved by audiences from ages 0 through 100. In fact, there may even have been some folk older than that who tittered at his often frustratingly silly antics.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
“Hear our prayers for Bernard and Lydia through your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Goat.”
You don’t have to have a huge starring role in a movie to provide one of its most memorable sequences, as Atkinson proved here as Father Gerald. The word flubs are mildly amusing, but Atkinson’s backing them up with his physical attributes are what make this sequence so cringingly – and endearingly – hilarious.
Johnny English (2003)
“My bottom will be king of England before you are.”
Johnny English dreamed of becoming a sophisticated British spy, but it just wasn’t going to happen – well, until all the actual sophisticated British spies were taken out of action. As another buffoon, Homer Simpson, once declared, “Default! Woohoo! The two sweetest words in the English language.” This was a perfect platform for all of Atkinson’s physical and oral skills – which continue in the third outing, Johnny English Strikes Again, which is out this week.