The Mr Men and Little Miss characters are surely part of one of the most recognisable children’s brands across the world. It’s fairly well known that they came about after a question that six year old Adam asked his father: ‘Daddy, what does a tickle look like?’ To show his son, Roger Hargreaves drew the now almost iconic Mr Tickle – a bright orange potato-shaped figure with a tiny blue hat and arms long enough to cause mischief in a completely different room to the one he is standing in – and the much-loved Mr Men series was born.
Mr Tickle’s first set of friends were Mr Bump, Mr Sneeze, Mr Happy, Mr Greedy and Mr Nosey; all six were published on 10th August 1971 with the rest following between then and 1978. 39 of the books were published originally. Each individual Mr Man has a name which reflects either their personality or their physical image, hence Mr Small is just that, Mr Forgetful spends his days perpetually confused as to what he is supposed to be doing, Mr Uppity has a definite superiority complex and so on. Each story is simple but written with humour; and whilst the inhabitants of ‘Misterland’ are anything but person-like in appearance, they all have human characteristics and behaviours that make them massively engaging. Often one will appear in another’s story (Mr Nonsense and Mr Silly are good friends for example) to either help or hinder the main ‘Mr’, and they often interact with the human townsfolk; postmen, shopkeepers and farmers feature largely. They also come into contact with the odd talking worm, dog or cat. The vivid colours and quirky storylines were an immediate hit with children (and most adults as well) and more than one million copies of the books were sold by 1974.
Ten years after Mr Tickle and his friends made their debut, Hargreaves senior created their female counterparts, the Little Miss series of 21 original books, starting off with Little Miss Bossy and Little Miss Naughty.
Not just popular in book form, four television series with 28 episodes were produced and first broadcast on the BBC in 1974. Narrated by the peerless Arthur Lowe, the books’ classic illustrations were faithfully turned into animation and joined up with an immensely catchy theme tune (bet you’re humming it as you read this). Nine years later, in 1983, husband and wife team John Alderton and Pauline Collins narrated 13 episodes of Little Miss programmes, which again reproduced the books perfectly. There was a third series in the 1990s which aired on Nick Jr and Channel 5, and a fourth which went out in 2008 on Cartoon Network in the USA, and on Channel 5 in the UK but for Mr Men purists they didn’t stand up to the originals. Fine narrators both Geoffrey Palmer and Simon Callow are, but as far as the Mr Men go, nobody could bring Hargreave’s written word to life like Arthur Lowe could.
Roger Hargreaves died in 1988, but thanks to his son’s similar flair for writing and illustrating the Mr Men brand continued. Roger had begun work on four new characters (Mr Brave, Mr Grumble, Mr Perfect and Mr Cheerful) so Adam took these on and they were published in 1990. The Little Miss series also swelled with the addition of nine new characters being published the same year. A further six male and female characters came along in 2003, before Adam designed a special limited edition book in 2006 - Little Miss Stella - which was used as an invitation to a fashion show by Stella McCartney. 2006 also saw the 35th and 25th birthdays respectively, of the Mr Men and Little Misses and to celebrate this an exhibition was held at the Animation Art Gallery in London with Mr and Little Miss Birthday making their first appearances too. Special edition books, featuring old characters in new situations are also being added to the Mr Men and Little Miss legacy on a regular basis.
As well as the books and DVDs, there is Mr Men and Little Miss merchandise in abundance. From colouring books and plush toys, to honey, doughnuts and toilet seat covers; you name it, you can get a picture of Mr Bump on it (his plasters sell extraordinarily well…). Roger Hargreaves also wrote and illustrated another series of children’s books which were published in 1978-79; the lesser known but equally good Timbuctoo. The 25 books featured characters that were similar looking to the Mr Men, but this time were a collection of comedic animals, named after their own particular sound. Included in this set was Oink the pig, Chirp the bird, Honk the goose and Baa the Sheep. These were also given their own series in 1997 on CITV, voiced by, amongst others, Ronnie Corbett.
It may be over 40 years since Mr Tickle first entertained a child but the popularity of the Mr Men and the Little Miss hasn’t waned. According to the Mr Men website a Mr Man or Little Miss book is sold somewhere in the world every 2.5 seconds!