Rowan Sebastian Atkinson (born January 6, 1955 in Consett, County Durham, England) is an English comedian, actor and writer best known for playing the title roles in the UK TV series Blackadder and Mr. Bean.
Atkinson was born to Eric Atkinson and Ella May, Anglican farmers. He was educated at Durham Choristers School, followed by St Bees School, and studied electrical engineering at Newcastle University. He continued with an MSc at Oxford (Queen's College), starting his comedy career at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1977. At Oxford, he also acted and performed early sketches for the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) and the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC), meeting writer Richard Curtis and composer Howard Goodall, with whom he would continue to collaborate during his career.
Atkinson toured with Angus Deayton, who accompanied him as straight man. The show was filmed for television, and is still popular on video. It characterises Atkinson's comedy style, which is rigorously planned and scripted, often visual-based comedy as performance, rather than as observation or discussion, observant of life as many of the routines were. Atkinson's talent for visual comedy has seen him described as "the man with the rubber face". In 1978 he was offered his own television series by ITV but turned it down in favour of Not the Nine O'Clock News, which also starred Pamela Stephenson, Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith.
The success of Not the Nine O'Clock News led to his starring in the medieval sitcom The Black Adder, which he also co-wrote with Richard Curtis, in 1983. Despite a mixed reception, a second series was written, this time by Curtis and Ben Elton, and first screened in 1985. Blackadder II followed the fortunes of one of the descendants of Atkinson's original character, this time in the Elizabethan era. The same pattern was repeated in two sequels Blackadder the Third (1987) (set in the Regency era), and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989), set in the First World War. The Blackadder series went on to become one of the most successful BBC situation comedies of the 1980s.
Atkinson's other famous creation, the hapless Mr Bean, first appeared the following year in a half-hour special for Thames Television. Several sequels followed at irregular intervals before the character transferred to film in 1997. Entitled Bean, it was directed by his former co-star from Not the Nine O'Clock News, Mel Smith. As of 2006, a second film is being planned, which Atkinson says will be the last time he plays him.
In 2003, Atkinson was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy, and in a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
He suffered from a stutter as a child and it sometimes returns when he is in stressful situations. In particular, the letter "B" poses a problem for him. He managed to overcome the problem through over articulation. However, this over articulation somewhat ironically evolved into one of his trademark comic devices (his pronunciation of "Bob" in Blackadder being a famous example).
In June 2005, Atkinson led a coalition of the UK's most prominent actors and writers, including Nicholas Hytner and Ian McEwan, to the British Parliament in an attempt to force a review of the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill on the grounds that the Bill would give religious groups a "weapon of disproportionate power" whose threat would engender a culture of self-censorship among artists.
He has also appeared in television advertising campaigns for Hitachi electrical goods, Fujifilm, the Give Blood campaign and, most famously, as an espionage agent for Barclaycard on which his title role was based for the film Johnny English.
He also made appearances at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, which also airs on television. He was present at the fifth festival in 1987 and the seventh in 1989.
Atkinson married Sunetra Sastry in 1990; they have two children, Lily and Benjamin. His major hobby is fast cars, of which he has a giant collection, consisting of Aston Martins, various other models, and a purple McLaren F1. He has written for the British magazine Car. He holds a UK HGV licence, and currently writes for the British magazine Evo on running an MG XPower SV. In 1995 he appeared in the straight role of racing driver Henry Birkin in the television play Full Throttle.