Mr Benn was a character created by David McKee who appeared in several children’s books, and an animated television series of the same name transmitted by the BBC in 1971 and 1972. Mr Benn’s adventures always took a similar pattern. Mr Benn, a businessman wearing a black suit and bowler hat, leaves his house at 52 Festive Road and visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the shopkeeper to try on a particular outfit. He leaves the shop through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a moral) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to the changing room, and the story comes to an end.
Mr Benn then returns to his normal life, but is left with a small souvenir of his magical adventure. Additionally, scenes before and after his adventure usually have some connection to it, such as the games the children are playing in the street as he passes.
Only thirteen Mr Benn episodes were made but these episodes were repeated many times over the years, and many people retain fond memories of him. The episodes were narrated by Ray Brooks, and the music composed by Don Warren.
One episode which was in the Mr Benn books was not adapted for television because it was considered too controversial for children as it contained prisoners. The Hunter was also slightly altered; the book Big Game Benn features several hunters, but only one appears in the television episode.
McKee did not benefit financially to the extent he might have; “I signed a contract where I only got a one-off payment and no repeat fees, but I’ve done quite well from a number of other things and I’m still exhibiting paintings.” Unfortunately, according to Mr Benn’s Little Book of Life, very little of McKee’s original artwork created for the television episodes exists today, as a majority of it was thrown into a rubbish skip in the 1970s.
The series was voted the sixth most popular children’s television programme in the 2001 Channel 4 poll 100 Greatest Kids’ TV shows. It was also rated number 13 in the 50 Greatest Kids TV Shows which aired on Channel 5 in November 2013.
Mr Benn lives in London at 52 Festive Road, which was inspired by Festing Road in Putney where David McKee used to live. McKee had the house “next door” at 54 Festing Road, where residents installed an engraved paving slab in his honour on 26th November 2009. (“I think it was because in the first book I drew myself looking out of the window, and I thought it would be quite nice to have him next door,” said McKee.)
McKee says he has always thought of Mr Benn as having the first name William.