Friday, October 23, 2009

Being Mr Benn


Mr Benn was a children's cartoon (and book) series broadcast in the early 1970s. Mr Benn is always dressed in a black suit and bowler hat but doesn't seem to have a job (I was given a Ralph Lauren pin-striped suit in the 1990s. I didn't have a job at the time. But I used to change into it at around 6pm and walk around town acting as if I'd just finished work. I felt pretty good in it). He spends a lot of time going to a fancy dress shop (but never buying anything), trying on outfits and being transported to various fantasy worlds with the help of the shopkeeper (a mysterious man in a fez) via a magic door in the changing room. Mr Benn becomes a knight in medieval times, a jungle explorer, an astronaut in space, a cowboy, meets King Neptune, pirates... typical boy's fantasies, though Mr. Benn looks in his 30s.

Maybe he's just bored. Well, he is living in Putney. Mr. Benn lives in 52 Festive Road – a scant disguise for 52 Festing Road, beside the Thames in Putney, SW London (see picture). The writer, David McKee, also used to live in the road.

The animation is rudimentary to say the least. But it works. It has more the feel of a picture book really – and with it a sense of mystery. Today's children's cartoons leave nothing to the imagination; it's all laid out for you – they're fast, loud and garish with far too much dialogue and plot.

Mr. Benn – along with Captain Pugwash, The Mr. Men, Bagpuss, The Clangers, The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles – hark back to an age when a cartoon being basic was part of its charm. They have also lent themselves to myriad interpretations – drugs in The Magic Roundabout, sodomy in Captain Pugwash, recycling in The Wombles. But the thing with Mr. Benn is he's so average and normal he's truly bizarre.

UPDATE...UPDATE...UPDATE
"The present inhabitants of Festing Road – “Festive Road” in the series – are to lay a commemorative paving stone. The costs of engraving and replacement are being paid for by subscriptions raised by the street. When the stone is unveiled on 28th November, it is planned to celebrate with a fancy dress party, involving many of the costumes worn by Mr Benn."

Can't wait!

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