Fantastical notions of reality.
Mr Benn was created 50 years ago by artist, illustrator and writer David McKee. Eliza Williams writes for Creative Review: “mention his name to pretty much anyone who grew up in Britain from the 1970s onwards and the chances are you’ll receive both instant recognition and a gasp of glee”.
I experienced the cult of Mr Benn first hand when I was a child and recently revisited this technicolour world at The Illustration Cupboard Gallery to see sketches, artwork, published book illustrations and rare animation cels from the original films. It was the first time the animation cels have been put on public display. There is very little left of McKee’s original work, in an interview with Williams McKee admits: “most of the artwork I threw in a skip”.
Stepping through the door of the illustration cupboard provided rare access to the beautifully detailed and drawn by hand landscapes designed to provide a stage for wizards, big game hunters, astronauts and clowns. Studying the intricate pen work and examining the animation cels I realised I’d been taught to accept fantastical landscapes as something of the norm and as a young child I’d been taught to escape.
Mr Benn always left the shop with a souvenir. This curious quirk is something I’ve considered in my research and conclude it’s a sensible gesture. A normal man, who usually wears a suit and spends his evening in an armchair by the fire in his London town house, has a trinket to remember the reality of his fantastical adventure.
Williams, Eliza. (2017) David McKee on Mr Benn and the magic of stories. [Online]. Available from https://creativereview.co.uk [Accessed 17/09/2017].
Illustration cupboard Gallery. (2017) 50 Years of Mr Benn with David McKee, 16 August – 16 September 2017. Details available at www.illustrationcupboard.com
Illustrations in header from www.illustrationcupboard.com © David McKee