Best known to American audiences as the Black Adder and Mr. Bean, black-haired, bug-eyed, and weak-chinned comedian Rowan Atkinson is one of the most popular funnymen in England whose keen, often black humor and knack for physical comedy has earned him a huge international following. Born in Newcastle, Atkinson was educated at Newcastle University and Oxford. While at the latter, he teamed up with budding screenwriter Richard Curtis to write comedy reviews for the Oxford Playhouse. Shortly thereafter, the two created material for the Edinburgh Fringe. By 1978, Atkinson's humor had earned him a devoted fan base and he was offered leading roles in two British television comedies. Instead, Atkinson chose to get involved in the internationally acclaimed comedy series Not the Nine O'clock News as a writer and a performer. His performances in the oft-distinguished show earned Atkinson a British Academy Award and got him designated "BBC Personality of the Year" in 1980. His stage performances also continued to significantly increase his popularity.
In 1983, he and Curtis created the Black Adder, a cowardly and conniving Tudor Prince named Edmund who tries vainly to become King of England after inadvertently killing his father during a battle. Billed as a "situation tragedy" on the BBC, it ran three seasons and later spawned a couple of specials. Atkinson made his feature-film debut in the 1983 James Bond thriller Never Say Never Again. In the late '80s, he starred in a few films penned by Curtis. It was while they were filming The Tall Guy that Atkinson and Curtis created Mr. Bean, an average British Joe with a clumsy nature and a nasty streak and launched a series. Different from other shows in that it was largely silent, Atkinson's Bean demonstrated a rare gift for slapstick that has led to his being compared to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. During its six year run, Mr. Bean became the most popular show in the U.K. and has since been shown in 89 countries where it has gained a cult following comparable to Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. Atkinson himself attributes his character's popularity to the fact that the socially awkward, middle-aged Bean's mundane adventures, largely due to his clumsy inability to cope with even the smallest of life's foibles, mirror the feelings and experiences of people the world over. In 1997, Atkinson brought the character to the big screen in Bean. Other notable Atkinson film performances include his voice characterization of Zazu in The Lion King and that of the hilariously inarticulate priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral.