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Mr Benn at 50: Anya Hollis, Head of Brand Licensing at Factory Rights, on the animation classic.
Anya, thanks for making time! 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the first TV episode of Mr Benn. For those who’ve yet to see it, what’s the show about?
Not to give too much away, but if – by some unfortunate mishap – you still haven’t watched an episode of Mr Benn, the show is basically about an ordinary man who has extraordinary adventures whenever he visits a magical costume shop, owned by a fez-wearing shopkeeper…
Who appears “as if by magic”!
Who appears “as if by magic”, right! Mr Benn puts on one of his outfits, then enters the world of that outfit through a special door in the changing room – a door that leads to adventures!
And just to clarify, how many adventures were there; how many episodes?
There were 13 episodes made for the BBC, each one 15 minutes long. They were first broadcast in 1971, then a special episode – Gladiator – was made for Nickelodeon. That aired in 2005. The TV series was repeated regularly on the BBC for almost 30 years, plus Nickelodeon UK aired the series for a further nine years until 2010.
Given that only 14 episodes have been made, Anya, why is it still so popular do you think?
I think David McKee – the creator, writer and illustrator – puts it very succinctly: “Like most of my books, Mr Benn was written for the adult the child will be and for the child the adult still is.”
Wow. That’s quite profound; I’ve not heard it before. In fact, I must confess, I didn’t realise it was a book before it was a TV show.
Well, yes: Mr Benn began life as a children’s picture book in 1967; Mr Benn – Red Knight. In a nutshell, then, the stories are timeless and well written with amazing animations – and illustrations!
Great answer. So let me ask you this… How’s the Mr Benn brand been celebrating this anniversary?
We had a wide range of activities, partnerships and plans, but 2020/21 hasn’t quite worked out how any of us could have imagined! A lot of the event-based activities and licenses couldn’t be fulfilled. We did, however, work with 288 Collectors Coins / Westminster Collections. They created an amazing range of Mr Benn 50th Anniversary 50p coins.
That’s fantastic! That’s so fitting; what a great idea…
The Insurance Emporium also extended their use of Mr Benn across all their on and offline activities, social, etc. Andersen Press published a range of Mr Benn Anniversary books, and we have some great collectors’ pin badges.
For a celebration that couldn’t do a lot of what it wanted, it’s certainly been busy. Anything else?!
An anniversary DVD has kept fans amused, and you can now watch Mr Benn on Amazon Prime. An organisation called Positively Putney hosted a number of Mr Benn events and activities, including a trail and signage to help entertain and boost local footfall. We’ve still got more to come, though – keep an eye out in the next couple of months for celebrities wearing Mr Benn bowler hats!
Great! And out of interest, why was the walking trail in Putney?
David McKee used to live on Festing Road, Putney. He wasn’t so keen on the road name, so he changed it – and based Mr Benn’s house at No. 42, Festive Road instead.
That’s an actual address? Brilliant! Gosh. Okay… Let’s find out a bit more about you. How did you come to be in licensing?
In 1991, I joined Vymura – at the time, a leading manufacturer of wall coverings. We held the majority of children’s licenses including Disney, Warner Bros, Thomas the Tank Engine, Barbie and significant other licenses including Benetton, Manchester United, Coca Cola and Country Diary. And so began my life in licensing. From there, I worked for various companies including Ragdoll, Entertainment Rights, The Science Museum Group, Coolabi and now Factory Rights.
Well, that very neatly moves us on: tell me about Factory Rights!
Factory Rights is the licensing division of Factory, an independent, multi-genre, award-winning animation studio, with global clients, broadcasters and partners. Their recent projects include Clangers from CBeebies, Scream Street from CBBC and Norman Picklestripes from NBC Universal Kids.
That’s an interesting portfolio. So in terms of licensing IP like Mr Benn, what kind of things do you look for?
Mr Benn has been around for 50 years and will be around for many more years to come. I look for quality products and partners who have an affinity with Mr Benn and are able to create great products for either children or the “big kids” who grew up watching Mr Benn.
To that end, what‘s on your bucket list for Mr Benn? What would you love to see happen with the brand?
I would love to have an apparel partnership with a high-end clothing company – we’ve worked with Liberty’s in the past. Who wouldn’t love a jacket lined with Mr Benn artwork, to brighten up their day? And I think Father’s Day would be a super time to celebrate Mr Benn with dads across the UK.
Good answer. And am I right in saying there’s occasionally been talk of a Mr Benn movie?
Ah yes, the Mr Benn Movie – well, I know it’s been mooted for some time, but I’d like to think we’ll all be able to enjoy it in the foreseeable future… Ditch your baseball caps and beanies – as if my magic, it’s going to be time for the bowler hat to make a comeback!
I’ll call Lock and Co. – put in an order! Anya, this has been terrific fun – thank you for making time. To wrap this up, what’s the one question I haven’t asked you that perhaps I should’ve?
What other properties do Factory Rights manage?
Aces! And what’s the answer?
I also look after all of Rupert Fawcett’s cartoons, which include the hugely popular cartoons Fred, Off the Leash, On the Prowl and the newly launched Penelope & Friends.
Oh! That’s quite a range! Off the Leash, though? I’m not familiar with that…
Off the Leash is a firm favourite – especially with all dog lovers. It has almost a million followers on Facebook alone. Woodmansterne create some amazing greetings cards for all of Rupert’s brands, which never fail to raise a smile.
Brilliant. Thank you again for your time, Anya.
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