First Mr Men and Little Miss author fact: Mr Roger Hargreaves was born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire. I already like him, based on this fact alone. Cleckheaton is just a stone’s throw from where I spent my childhood/young adulthood years and sits, with a cluster of 7 other towns, in an area known as the Spen valley. A childhood spent in Yorkshire gets into your bones (it’s something to do with all those hills and valleys), so I feel a new natural kinship with Mr Hargreaves, the 6’ 5” giant of children’s literature (even if he left Yorkshire at an early age for a London career in advertising before settling down in Kent.)
Mr Hargreaves clearly kept himself to himself judging by the lack of recorded TV interviews (of which there aren’t any, except one brief appearance on the Jim’ll Fix It show, back in the days when Jimmy Saville was the unofficial patron saint of childhood – as opposed to his new official status as the evil child catcher.)
But giant of tiny people’s literature? Hang on a second – what about C S Lewis, Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, A A Milne, Roald Dahl. Here’s your second Mr Men and Little Miss author fact: during the years 2000-2009 Roger Hargreaves was the third bestselling author in Britain, beaten only by J K Rowling and Dan Brown. Yes, tiny little books featuring approximately four sentences per page and filled with illustrations you could have probably drawn yourself (except you didn’t) outsold the authors of Alice, Winnie the Pooh and a bunch of kids getting lost in a wardrobe – no accounting for literary taste is there?
Roger Hargreaves died tragically too soon in 1988, at the age of 53 from a series of strokes that nobody saw coming. That same year my first son was born, meaning the death of the Mr Men God and Creator barely registered a blip on my new motherhood radar.
I didn’t read the Mr Men books as a kid but I did watch the Mr Men series narrated by the just about perfect Arthur Lowe. In fact mention the Mr Men and the equally perfect seventies theme tune will come bouncing into my head…..Daa, da, da, da,da, da, da ,da, daa, daa, daaa.
My next encounter with Messrs Bump, Strong and Silly etc came when I was trying to think up ways to get No. 3 son to read. Reading for fun that is. The idea that the written word was something you may want to engage with in your own time, away from enforced reading at school, was completely alien to his non-wordy mind. He just may be the only child on the planet who didn’t read a single Harry Potter book, until the HP phenomenon was well and truly over. Browsing the local bookshop one day I noticed an arrangement of Mr Men books whereby the spines of the 46 books, when stacked together, made up the words ‘My Mr Men Library’. I was practically sold on the spot. Having forgotten everything about the Mr Men, I picked up one of the distinctive white books (Mr Skinny) and read the first page:
“Mr Skinny was extraordinarily thin.
If he turned sideways you could hardly see him at all.
And what made it even worse was that he lived in a place called Fatland.
Fatland? Not only was I sold, I was hooked. On the page opposite was Mr Skinny, rendered in the most basic drawing I’d ever seen. But it occurred to me that I, and Mr Hargreaves, were onto something. The language was also basic and straight to the point, which was exactly what was needed re: the getting of son No. 3 to read and, more importantly, it was funny. But I was sensing something else as I rifled through other titles in the series. Mr Hargreaves was not afraid to call a spade a spade, or a worm a worm (nameless worms are key, but inexplicable, characters in the Mr Men world.)
The Mr Men did not appear to live in the land of the politically correct; so much so that the tale of Mr Greedy was a cautionary tale indeed, if you happened to be fat; entirely lacking in any sympathy for the perpetually obese, instead going with the premise that eating too much is what usually turns people into your average beach ball. Grabbing about 10 copies of the little books, thinking that maybe Mr Greedy could be used as an NHS fat deterrent, I headed home to begin the nightly bedtime journey into Mr Men land. And the bedtime recitations sort of worked – Mr Bump being the favourite.
The lives of the Mr Men adhere to a simple formula. Each Mr Man’s particular character trait or physical attribute/failing is introduced via a brushing teeth/eating breakfast episode, where the wolfing down of eggs is a big feature (this was pre-cholesterol scare tactics) followed by our Mr Man setting out on a leisurely stroll where, at some point, he’s forced to do a bit of rapid soul searching via a not very sympathetic agent of change, usually in the form of an eccentric wizard (looking very much like your average bank manager) or a human shopkeeper, returning home a happier and much improved Mr Man. The message here is definitely not about self-acceptance.
Recently Fox Animation secured the rights to the Mr Men and Little Miss franchise, with the promise of a major Mr Men and Little Miss motion picture to come, to be directed by Shawn Levy of the Night at the Museum series – and I bet you can’t wait can you? (just call me Little Miss Sarcastic.)
The Mr Men movie will definitely be on my must see list however (along with the upcoming screen version of Charlie Brown) for all kinds of reasons – nostalgia (let’s hope they find an Arthur Lowe type voice); curiosity, as to how the big screen Mr Men will be rendered – will those very basic, amateur drawings be given a more professional, artistically talented twist? (I think we got a glimpse of the possible animation style in the 2008 American/British venture, The Mr Men Show – which was axed, the Americans apparently just didn’t get it) And how on earth will they fill those movie length unforgiving minutes?
All will hopefully be revealed, including whether the ever so slightly 1970’s politically incorrect characterisations remain unchanged.
I can’t wait to see if that’s the case – just call me Little Miss Impatient.