The character of Mr. Bean was developed while Rowan Atkinson was studying for his master’s degree in electrical engineering at The Queen’s College, Oxford. A sketch featuring Bean was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in the early 1980s. A similar character called Robert Box, played by Atkinson himself, appeared in the one-off 1979 ITV sitcom Canned Laughter, which also featured routines used in the feature film in 1997.
One of Bean’s earliest appearances occurred at the “Just for Laughs” comedy festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1987. When programme coordinators were scheduling him into the festival programme, Atkinson insisted that he perform on the French-speaking bill rather than the English-speaking programme. Having no French dialogue in his act at all, programme coordinators could not understand why Atkinson wanted to perform on the French bill instead. As it turned out, Atkinson’s act at the festival was a test platform for the Mr. Bean character, and Atkinson wanted to see how his character’s physical comedy would fare on an international stage with a non-English speaking audience.
The character’s name was not decided until after the first programme had been produced; a number of other vegetable-influenced names, such as “Mr. Cauliflower”, were explored. Atkinson cited the earlier comedy character Monsieur Hulot, created by French comedian and director Jacques Tati, as an influence on the character. Stylistically, Mr. Bean is also very similar to early silent films, relying purely upon physical comedy, with Mr. Bean speaking very little dialogue (although like other live-action TV series of the time, it features a laugh track). This has allowed the series to be sold worldwide without any significant changes to dialogue. In November 2012, Atkinson told The Daily Telegraph of his intentions to retire the character, stating that “someone in their 50s being childlike becomes a little sad.” However, in 2016 Atkinson said he would never retire playing the beloved Mr Bean.