It’s surprising how many TV shows that were created in the 1970’s were still being continuously repeated during the 1980’s. I’ve mentioned classics such as Bagpuss and Bod already, and another such example was the barely animated adventures of Mr. Benn.
Mr. Benn, who lived at number 52 Festive Road, was a London city gent, smartly attired in his pinstripe suit and bowler hat. Every episode Mr. Benn would find himself at the local fancy dress shop, run by a strange little man in a fez. Mr. Benn would choose an outfit, and step into the changing room to try it on. Upon removing his bowler hat (one of the few parts of the cartoon that was properly animated, albeit only with about 6 frames of animation) the fancy dress outfit would crossfade on to him, and he would leave the changing room via a second door.
This door would take Mr. Benn to a different place and time, dependant upon the clothes he was wearing. When wearing an explorer’s khaki suit and pith helmet he would appear in a jungle, whilst a red suit or armour took him to a medieval castle. Wherever he ended up though, there was always some kind of problem occuring, which Mr. Benn would then endeavour to set right.
The show was narrated by Ray Brooks, and it was based on the books created by David McKee. As mentioned already the animation of the cartoon was generally fairly minimal, with two frame walk animations, or the animation of Mr. Benn removing his bowler hat – which was also played in reverse for him to put the hat back on again. However, the minimal animation was more than made up for by the detailed background drawings themselves, especially the sections at the start and end of each episode where we pan along the length of Festive Road. All the inhabitants of the street are initially shown looking at bit down in the mouth with their own sets of problems, normally related in some way to the theme of the episode itself. When Mr. Benn returns at the end of the episode, the same people are seen again, this time with whatever problem they had solved and looking much happier.
The other trademarks of Mr. Benn were the spinning title sequence showing Mr. Benn in a variety of different fancy dress costumes (I always hoped it would be the spaceman episode) and the memento of his adventure that Mr. Benn always found in his pocket at the end of each episode, with him always stating that he would keep whatever it was to “help him remember”.