Happy Birthday Mr Benn!

It seems that the lead character of one of my favourite children’s television shows is 50 this year. Mr Benn is 50! When did that happen? He’s as much a part of my childhood as Thunderbirds, The Magic Roundabout and Trumpton – which just goes to show how old I am. It was a simple enough premise – a man in a dark suit and bowler hat who looked like he worked for Homepride would go into a fancy dress shop, be met by a plump chap in a waistcoat and a fez (Rene from Allo Allo moonlighting, I suppose) and hire a fancy dress costume. He’d go into the changing room, put the costume on, go through another door and be in the world represented by his costume – so if he had a clown costume, he’d be in the circus, that kind of thing. He’d have a little adventure, cheer someone up, then go back to the shop, change back into his suit, and go home. That was it until the next episode.

I always thought there were hundreds of episodes (at least, I remember hundreds of them) but in fact there were only thirteen which have clearly been on rerun for years – a bit like Fawlty Towers only with less lunacy. They were lovely little stories, of which I am still incredibly fond, but I’m not sure modern children take to them the same way we did when we were younger. Testament to the human desire for a bit of escapism, an exhibition to celebrate 50 years of Mr Benn is being held at a Central London gallery and you can’t get tickets for love, money or a fancy dress costume. Whether or not it is being curated by a plump chap in a waistcoat and a fez is yet to be seen.


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