Rowan Sebastian Atkinson CBE is an English actor, comedian and writer. He played the title roles on the sitcoms Blackadder (1983–1989) and Mr. Bean (1990–1995), and the film series Johnny English (2003–2018). Atkinson first came to prominence in the BBC sketch comedy show Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979–1982), receiving the 1981 BAFTA for Best Entertainment Performance, and via his participation in The Secret Policeman’s Ball (1979). His other work includes the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), playing a bumbling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), voicing the red-billed hornbill Zazu in The Lion King (1994), and playing jewellery salesman Rufus in Love Actually (2003). Atkinson also featured in the BBC sitcom The Thin Blue Line (1995–1996). His work in theatre includes the role of Fagin in the 2009 West End revival of the musical Oliver!.
Atkinson was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest actors in British comedy in 2007, and among the top 50 comedians ever, in a 2005 poll of fellow comedians. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with screenwriter Richard Curtis and composer Howard Goodall, both of whom he met at the Oxford University Dramatic Society during the 1970s. In addition to his 1981 BAFTA, Atkinson received an Olivier Award for his 1981 West End theatre performance in Rowan Atkinson in Revue. He has had cinematic success with his performances in the Mr. Bean film adaptations Bean (1997) and Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007), and also in the Johnny English film series (2003–2018). He also appeared as the titular character in Maigret (2016–2017). Atkinson was appointed a CBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to drama and charity.
Atkinson was born in Consett, County Durham, England, on 6 January 1955. The youngest of four boys, his parents were Eric Atkinson, a farmer and company director, and Ella May (née Bainbridge), who married on 29 June 1945. His three older brothers are Paul, who died as an infant; Rodney, a Eurosceptic economist who narrowly lost the UK Independence Party leadership election in 2000; and Rupert.
Atkinson was brought up Anglican, and was educated at Durham Choristers School, a preparatory school, and then at St Bees School. Rodney, Rowan and their older brother Rupert were brought up in Consett and went to school with the future Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at Durham Choristers. After receiving top grades in science A levels, he secured a place at Newcastle University, where he received a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. In 1975, he continued for the degree of MSc in Electrical Engineering at The Queen’s College, Oxford, the same college where his father matriculated in 1935, and which made Atkinson an Honorary Fellow in 2006. His MSc thesis, published in 1978, considered the application of self-tuning control.
Atkinson briefly embarked in doctoral work before devoting his full attention to acting. First winning national attention in The Oxford Revue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 1976, he had already written and performed sketches for shows in Oxford by the Etceteras – the revue group of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC) – and for the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS), meeting writer Richard Curtis, and composer Howard Goodall, with whom he would continue to collaborate during his career.
Atkinson met makeup artist Sunetra Sastry in the late 1980s when she was working for the BBC, and they married in February 1990. They had two children together, and lived in Apethorpe. In 2013, at the age of 58, Atkinson began an affair with 32-year-old comedian Louise Ford after they met while performing in a play together. Ford ended her relationship with comedian James Acaster in order to be with Atkinson, who in turn separated from his wife in 2014 and divorced her in 2015.