Happy birthday! Mr Men books turn 50, Arts News & Top Stories
LONDON (AFP) – It’s an opportunity that could even make Mr Grumpy smile. The colorful children’s books by Mr Men are celebrating their 50th birthday.
The popular series has now entered its sixth decade in 2021 and has outlived its British creator, Roger Hargreaves, thanks to his son’s dedication.
“It’s an amazing fact that we’ve reached half a century. It’s a very long time before a series is that successful,” Adam Hargreaves told AFP.
The books’ continued popularity after the first story was published in 1971 is an indication of “just how strong my father’s idea really is,” he added.
The younger Hargreaves played no small part in the creation of the following series, Mr Men and Little Miss, whose characters are named for the emotions or behaviors they embody.
It was his own childlike question – “one of those impossible questions kids like to ask their parents,” he said – that prompted his father to draw the first Mr Men character.
“My question was, ‘What does a tickle look like?'” Hargreaves explained.
In response, his father drew a small orange man with a blue hat and arms of incredible length. Mr. Tickle was born.
The character became a book, and that book again became a runaway hit that even led to a television series narrated by Dad’s Army actor Arthur Lowe (1968-1977).
In the years that followed, Mr. Tickle was accompanied by a group of friends, including the constantly smiling Mr. Happy and the accident prone, heavily bandaged Mr. Bump.
The Little Miss series followed 10 years later.
Since its inception, around 250 million copies of the small square books have been sold in 30 countries around the world, from the UK to China, and translated into 17 languages.
Hargreaves said his father was always ambitious about the books and saw the show’s potential.
“But in terms of whether he thought it would have taken 50 years, he couldn’t have imagined it after half a century,” he said.
The success of the series Mr Men and Little Miss was not always guaranteed and could have ended abruptly when Roger Hargreaves suddenly died in 1988 at the age of 53.
After the death of his father, Adam Hargreaves, who had always enjoyed drawing, decided to take over the books himself.
“One of the most difficult things was actually taking up the idea of creating something,” said the 57-year-old.
“I was reluctant to actually create something new. And I just saw it as my father’s idea,” added Hargreaves.
But he created new characters and often found inspiration in the world around him.
Fans are currently being asked to vote on mrmen.com for two new characters to join the gang in Happyland.
Hargreaves still reverts to his father’s books when he feels stuck with ideas.
“I think a lot of people might have thought that doing something emotionally was pretty difficult,” he said as he followed in his father’s footsteps.
“But actually I found it pretty reassuring because it somehow brought me closer to him.”
There are a few things he doesn’t want to change: the “unique style” of his father’s drawing, the interior – “definitely stuck in the 1970s” and the “old-fashioned” rotary phones.
He believes the strength of Mr Men and Little Miss books lies in their timelessness.
The characters are “based on a little bit of us, our emotions and our traits. And obviously those don’t date,” he said.
“Children view the Mr Men, Little Miss series the same way they did 50 years ago,” he said.
“Conceptually, the idea does not have to be updated or modernized.”
The core ideas of the books may have stayed the same, but the series has also moved over time.
In recent years, Hargreaves has included characters from the BBC’s popular science fiction series Doctor Who (1963 to date) in the books and members of the pop group The Spice Girls.
Books also played an important role during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Through this pandemic, Mr. Men and Little Miss helped the children understand how they were feeling,” he said.
“Mr. Grumpy will show you what anger is and how to deal with it, in a very funny and amusing way,” added Hargreaves.
Hargreaves, who is now a father himself, said he currently has no plans to ditch his brush.
But he hopes the series could stay in the family when it retires.
“You never know that in 50 years there will be another generation of Hargreaves drawing and writing Mr. Men,” he said.