At 68 years old, Rowan Atkinson has this physical status:
Atkinson starred in a series of comedy shows for BBC Radio 3 in 1979 called The Atkinson People. It consisted of a series of satirical interviews with fictional great men, who were played by Atkinson himself. The series was written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, and produced by Griff Rhys Jones.
After university, Atkinson did a one-off pilot for London Weekend Television in 1979 called Canned Laughter. He gained further national attention when he performed on the third The Secret Policeman's Ball in June 1979 which was broadcast on the BBC, and since then he has appeared on televised skits with various performers including Elton John, John Cleese ("Beekeeping") and Kate Bush, the latter with whom he performed the humorous song "Do Bears... ?" for the British charity event Comic Relief in 1986. Solo skits on television (and without dialogue) have included playing an invisible drum kit and an invisible piano. In October 1979, Atkinson first appeared on Not the Nine O'Clock News for the BBC, produced by his friend John Lloyd. He featured in the show with Pamela Stephenson, Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith, and was one of the main sketch writers.
The success of Not the Nine O'Clock News led to Atkinson taking the lead role of Edmund Blackadder in the BBC mock-historical comedy Blackadder. His co-stars included Tony Robinson (who played his long-suffering sidekick Baldrick), Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The first series, The Black Adder (1983), co-written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, was set in the medieval period, with the title character unintelligent and naive. The second series, Blackadder II (1986), written by Curtis and Ben Elton, marked a turning point for the show. It followed the fortunes of one of the descendants of Atkinson's original character, this time in the Elizabethan era, with the character reinvented as a devious anti-hero. Metro states, "watching Atkinson work in series two is to watch a master of the sarcastic retort in action". Two sequels followed, Blackadder the Third (1987), set in the Regency era, and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989), set in World War I. The Blackadder series became one of the most successful of all BBC situation comedies, spawning television specials including Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988), Blackadder: The Cavalier Years (1988), and later Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999), which was set at the turn of the Millennium. The final scene of "Blackadder Goes Forth" (when Blackadder and his men go "over the top" and charge into No-Man's-Land) has been described as "bold and highly poignant". Possessing an acerbic wit and armed with numerous quick put-downs (which are often wasted on those at whom they are directed), Edmund Blackadder was ranked third (behind Homer Simpson from The Simpsons and Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers) on a 2001 Channel 4 poll of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.
Atkinson's other creation, the hapless Mr. Bean, first appeared on New Year's Day in 1990 in a half-hour special for Thames Television. The character of Mr. Bean has been likened to a modern-day Buster Keaton, but Atkinson himself has stated that Jacques Tati's character Monsieur Hulot was the main inspiration. Atkinson states, "The essence of Mr Bean is that he's entirely selfish and self-centred and doesn't actually acknowledge the outside world. He's a child in a man's body. Which is what most visual comedians are about: Stan Laurel, Chaplin, Benny Hill."
Several sequels to Mr. Bean appeared on television until 1995, and the character later appeared in a feature film. Bean (1997) was directed by Mel Smith, Atkinson's colleague in Not the Nine O'Clock News. A second film, Mr. Bean's Holiday, was released in 2007. Atkinson portrayed Inspector Raymond Fowler in The Thin Blue Line (1995–96), a television sitcom written by Ben Elton, which takes place in a police station located in fictitious Gasforth.
Atkinson has fronted campaigns for Kronenbourg, Fujifilm, and Give Blood. He appeared as a hapless and error-prone espionage agent named Richard Lathum in a long-running series of adverts for Barclaycard, on which character his title role in Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn and Johnny English Strikes Again was based. In 1999, he played the Doctor in The Curse of Fatal Death, a special Doctor Who serial produced for the charity telethon Comic Relief. Atkinson appeared as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on the BBC's Top Gear in July 2011, driving the Kia Cee'd around the track in 1:42.2. Placing him at the top of the leaderboard, his lap time was significantly quicker than the previous high-profile record holder Tom Cruise, whose time was a 1:44.2.
Atkinson appeared at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London as Mr. Bean in a comedy sketch during a performance of "Chariots of Fire", playing a repeated single note on synthesizer. He then lapsed into a dream sequence in which he joined the runners from the film of the same name (about the 1924 Summer Olympics), beating them in their iconic run along West Sands at St. Andrews, by riding in a minicab and tripping the front runner. Atkinson starred as Jules Maigret in Maigret, a series of television films from ITV.
In November 2012, it emerged that Atkinson intended to retire Mr. Bean. "The stuff that has been most commercially successful for me – basically quite physical, quite childish – I increasingly feel I'm going to do a lot less of," Atkinson told The Daily Telegraph's Review. "Apart from the fact that your physical ability starts to decline, I also think someone in their 50s being childlike becomes a little sad. You've got to be careful." He has also said that the role typecast him to a degree. Despite these comments, Atkinson said in 2016 that he would never retire the character of Mr. Bean. Appearing on The Graham Norton Show on the BBC in 2018, Atkinson told Graham Norton that it was unlikely Mr. Bean would reappear on television again before also saying "you must never say never".
In October 2014, Atkinson also appeared as Mr. Bean in a TV advert for Snickers. In 2015, he starred alongside Ben Miller and Rebecca Front in a sketch for BBC Red Nose Day in which Mr. Bean attends a funeral. In 2017, Atkinson appeared as Mr. Bean in the Chinese film Huan Le Xi Ju Ren. In February 2019, Atkinson appeared as Mr. Bean in a commercial for Emirati-based telecommunications company Etisalat. Atkinson, who also narrated the commercial, takes on multiple characters: a Scottish warrior, a gentleman and a lady from the Victorian era, a football player, a jungle man, a man revving up a chainsaw, a racing car driver, and a masked sword-wielding Spanish vigilante.
In October 2018, Atkinson (as Mr. Bean) received YouTube's Diamond Play Button for his channel surpassing 10 million subscribers on the video platform. Among the most-watched channels in the world, in 2018 it had more than 6.5 billion views. Mr. Bean is also among the most-followed Facebook pages with 94 million followers in July 2020, "more than the likes of Rihanna, Manchester United or Harry Potter".
In January 2014, ITV announced a new animated series featuring Mr. Bean with Rowan Atkinson returning to the role. It was expected to be released online as a Web-series later in 2014, as a television broadcast followed shortly after.
On 6 February 2018, Regular Capital announced that there would be a fifth series of Mr. Bean: The Animated Series in 2019 (voiced by Atkinson). Consisting of 26 episodes, the first two segments, "Game Over" and "Special Delivery", aired on 29 April 2019 on CITV in the UK as well as on Turner channels worldwide. All five series (104 episodes) were also sold to Chinese children's channel CCTV-14 in February 2019.
Atkinson's film career began with a supporting part in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983) and a leading role in Dead on Time (also 1983) with Nigel Hawthorne. He was in the 1988 Oscar-winning short film The Appointments of Dennis Jennings. He appeared in Mel Smith's directorial debut The Tall Guy (1989) and appeared alongside Anjelica Huston and Mai Zetterling in The Witches (1990), a film adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's novel. He played the part of Dexter Hayman in Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), a parody of Rambo III, starring Charlie Sheen.
Atkinson gained further recognition as a verbally bumbling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, written and directed by his long time collaborator Richard Curtis), and featured in Disney's The Lion King (also 1994) as the voice of Zazu the red-billed hornbill. He also sang the song "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" in The Lion King. Atkinson continued to appear in supporting roles in comedies, including Rat Race (2001), Scooby-Doo (2002), jewellery salesman Rufus in another Richard Curtis British-set romantic comedy, Love Actually (2003), and the crime comedy Keeping Mum (2005), which also starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, and Patrick Swayze.
In addition to his supporting roles, Atkinson has also had success as a leading man. His television character Mr. Bean debuted on the big screen with Bean (1997) to international success. A sequel, Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007), (again inspired to some extent by Jacques Tati in his film Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot), also became an international success. He has also starred in the James Bond parody Johnny English film series (2003–2018). In 2023, Atkinson is to star in Wonka, a film which serves as a prequel to the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, exploring Willy Wonka's origins.
Rowan Atkinson performed live on-stage skits – also appearing with members of Monty Python – in The Secret Policeman's Ball (1979) in London for Amnesty International. Atkinson undertook a four-month tour of the UK in 1980. A recording of the stage performance was subsequently released as Live in Belfast.
In 1984, Atkinson appeared in a West End version of the comedy play The Nerd alongside a 10-year-old Christian Bale. The Sneeze and Other Stories, seven short Anton Chekhov plays, translated and adapted by Michael Frayn, were performed by Rowan Atkinson, Timothy West and Cheryl Campbell at the Aldwych Theatre, London in 1988 and early 1989.
In 2009, during the West End revival of the musical Oliver! based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, Atkinson played the role of Fagin. His portrayal and singing of Fagin at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London gained favourable reviews and he was nominated for an Olivier Award for best actor in a musical or entertainment.
On 28 November 2012, Rowan Atkinson reprised the role of Blackadder at the "We are Most Amused" comedy gala for The Prince's Trust at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He was joined by Tony Robinson as Baldrick. The sketch involved the first new Blackadder material for 10 years, with Blackadder as CEO of Melchett, Melchett and Darling bank facing an enquiry over the banking crisis.
In February 2013, Atkinson took on the titular role in a 12-week production (directed by Richard Eyre) of the Simon Gray play Quartermaine's Terms at Wyndham's Theatre in London with costars Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) and Felicity Montagu (I'm Alan Partridge). In December 2013, he revived his schoolmaster sketch for Royal Free Hospital's Rocks with Laughter at the Adelphi Theatre. A few days prior, he performed a selection of sketches in a small coffee venue in front of only 30 people.