Thursday, 11 August 2011

Mr Men Get a Makeover

“Daddy, what does a tickle look like?”
Forty years ago this week, in an effort to answer this earnest enquiry from his young son, Roger Hargreaves attempted to sketch the outline of a long-armed, smiley little man, whom he named Mr Tickle. Little did he know then that his innocuous little creation would be just the first in a long line of characters, which would become eventually become known as the now-iconic Mr Men and Little Miss series.

Despite Mr Tickle’s rather inauspicious beginnings, Hargreaves soon came to recognise the appeal of this type of simplistic character to young children, and set about creating six short children’s books which aimed to convey easily-understandable moral lessons. This collection, which included Mr Tickle, Mr Happy, Mr Greedy, Mr Nosey, Mr Sneeze and Mr Bump, proved to be an instant success, selling over a million copies in their first three years.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Hargreaves worked tirelessly to expand the series in a bid to meet the frenzied demand - which increased significantly when the BBC, recognising the animation potential in his creations, picked up the series for dramatisation. The resulting BBC cartoon show proved to be widely popular and introduced Hargreaves’s colourful characters to a whole new audience, ensuring the series’ continued success.

Adam Hargreaves
When Hargreaves died unexpectedly of a stroke in 1988, at the age of 53, his son, Adam, took over where his father left off. Adam, the inspiration for the original Mr Tickle, continued to write and illustrate an ever-growing number of Mr Men and Little Miss books, until the business was sold to a UK entertainment group, Chorion in 2004. The £28 million paid by Chorion proved to be a wise investment – the books have now been translated into over 14 languages and have sold an astonishing 120 million copies globally (an average of one every 2.5 seconds). They have also spawned an impressive merchandising business, selling everything from toys, playsets, and games to Mr Lazy Slippers and Mr Cool toilet seat covers.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mr Tickle’s creation, Adam Hargreaves, now 47, has revamped some to the most popular characters to accurately reflect some of the changes we have seen over the past four decades. Mr Greedy now appears as 1980s investment banker, while Little Miss Chatterbox is now seen nattering into a contemporary mobile phone. However, as evidenced by the series’ enduring popularity, such updates are unnecessary – the originality and simplicity of Hargreaves’s characters will surely guarantee their continued appeal to children for many generations to come.

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