Would you believe that Rowan Atkinson was a PhD student, and he got into acting to overcome a mild stutter? It would hardly seem possible that the actor made famous by characters such as Mr Bean and Blackadder could have at one stage had a stutter, let alone been a PhD student. But that was the exact scenario for a young Rowan Atkinson in the late 1970’s.
Rowan Atkinson is a comedic British actor, most famous for his role as the bumbling, fumbling Mr Bean. The character Mr Bean is clearly a person that is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Generally self centered and childlike in most aspects of life, Bean could arguable be seen as the complete opposite of Rowan Atkinson. That is apart from his speech and intelligence.
Before Rowan Atkinson became famous he was a PhD student in Electrical Engineering at Oxford University. He was obsessed with everything electrical, and would spend countless hours locked away in his dorm room creating different electrical devices. Comedy for the young Rowan Atkinson came second to his love of electronics. In fact, he entered comedy almost purely by accident.
In early 1976, he, Richard Curtis, and a few other students would meet to discuss sketch material for the summer review. While Atkinson was present at all meetings, he remained ostensibly silent, failing to utter even a single word. It was only in the final meeting that a young, intelligent farmers son with a slight stutter finally spoke up and made a meaningful contribution to the meeting. And according to Richard Curtis, it was a performance that would transform his life.
Richard Curtis, writer, comedy genius and friend of Rowan Atkinson recalls that that day he read out a rather feeble sketch. Finally, out of the dark shadows stood the awkward, dark, young and timid Atkinson, who actually managed to overcome his stutter. Before his fellow students he performed an impromptu, unrehearsed monologue about driving. According to Curtis, it was pure genius.
He did a monologue about driving followed by the thing he still does now, where he mimes and talks at the same time. It was unlike anything else I had ever seen. It was pure genius.
Following this groundbreaking monologue, within three years Rowan Atkinson was a star. By 1979 he was appearing on the “Not the Nine O’Clock News” alongside some already famous comedians. Although this show was short-lived, it paved the way for even bigger things. In 1983 he and Curtis created the popular and clever Blackadder, which cemented him as a force to be reckoned with, as well as launching the careers of several other actors, High Laurie among them. Then in 1990, Rowan Atkinson, the one time PhD student struck gold when he invented Mr Bean, his most famous character.
From humble beginnings as a shy, stuttering student studying Electrical Engineering at Oxford, Atkinson is now one of the highest paid British comedians.