Fifty years ago, a set of little white books hit the shelves of bookshops in Britain – and captured the imagination of children across the country.
With their colourful bodies, distinctive personalities and amusing adventures, the Mr. Men were an instant hit upon their publication in 1971, going on to become global cultural icons and a publishing phenomenon alongside their Little Miss companions.
Creator Roger Hargreaves’s inspired idea to create a series of stories based around characters who personify a specific human trait hit on something that appealed to all ages and would be universally relatable throughout the decades.
To celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2021, here are 50 fascinating facts about the Mr. Men and Little Miss stories…
- The first Mr. Men story was Mr. Tickle. Roger Hargreaves was inspired to create the character after his son Adam asked: “What does a tickle look like?”
2. Mr. Tickle was first published in August 1971, along with five other stories – Mr. Greedy, Mr Happy, Mr. Nosey, Mr. Sneeze and Mr. Bump.
3. There are now 84 classic stories in the series along with countless spin-off tales featuring many of the cast.
4. More than 250 million copies of the books have been sold in the last 50 years.
5. The brightly coloured characters all live in a fictional place called Misterland.
6. The concept of the books is that each Mr. Men character displays an appearance and traits linked to their name, with the story giving a simple moral lesson.
7. Charles Roger Hargreaves was born in Yorkshire in 1935 and pursued a career in advertising copywriting, but had ambitions of being a cartoonist and author.
8. He created a successful series of characters to promote Askit Powders – a headache cure – the very same year he created the Mr. Men and these were used up until 1994.
9. Roger initially had difficulty finding a publisher for his Mr. Men books. But once he did, they were an instant success and sold more than a million copies within three years, letting him quit his day job in 1976 to work on them full-time.
10. The unique smallness of the classic books is because Hargreaves wanted them to be a childlike size and also quick to read – he called them bedtime stories for weary daddies.
11. The first editions cost just 15p each and kids loved them for their collectability.
12. Roger drew his characters with Magic Marker pens and his trademark bold lines masked the facts that his colour spread across the page in the days before bleedproof paper.
13. He often drew the smile in last because he loved to come down in the morning and fill it in, believing the smile was what brought his characters to life.
14. The Little Miss female characters were first added in September 1981.
15. There were 13 titles initially created for that series, including Little Miss Bossy and Little Miss Sunshine.
16. The cast also starred Little Miss Plump, whose name was later changed to Little Miss Greedy.
17. The books have been translated into 20 different languages.
18. Mr. Jelly was renamed Mr. Nervous for American readers, while Mr. Mean was Mr. Stingy.
19. The French versions of the books were created by writers Viviane Cohen and Evelyne Lallemand, with illustrator Colette David. They came up with 24 of their own characters, 13 of whom were later translated into English. These include Mr. Brave and Little Miss Busy.
20. One of the French books – Monsieur Baggareur (Mr. Crosspatch) – is also available in Greek but not English.
21. Mr. Small is the 12th book in the series and is one of two stories to break the “fourth wall”, as the character is searching for a job a small person he can do and is introduced to a writer (Roger Hargreaves) who helps him write a book about himself. The other story is Little Miss Star, who wants to be popular and goes to see a long-legged man (who is later revealed as 6ft 5ins tall Roger), then the next days she walks past a shop window and sees her book.
22. The Mr. Men characters were adapted for two animated TV series for BBC One, with the first episode airing on 31 December 1974. There were 28 episodes in total.
23. The voices and narration were provided by Arthur Lowe, best known for his role as Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.
24. A TV version of the Little Miss books was also made in 1983.
25. This was voiced by Shirley Valentine actress Pauline Collins and her actor husband John Alderton (who also voiced all the original Fireman Sam shows).
26. Further animated versions came out in 1997 and 2008, with both shown on Channel 5’s Milkshake.
27. The Mr. Men have also been in the pop charts, with their first release being The Mr. Men Songs in 1979.
28. After Roger died of a stroke in September 1988, aged 53, his son Adam took over the family business. He was just 25 at the time.
29. Although Adam had studied art at college, he planned to follow in his mother’s family footsteps and become a farmer, taking a job as a dairyman and getting up at 4am to milk cows.
30. He has admitted that he found his dad’s books “a bit embarrassing” as they “weren’t considered cool” – but he was eventually won round by their magic when he started to work in the family business.
31. Adam spent a number of years practising drawing his dad’s famous characters in order to be able to create more books, a process which he initially found “soul destroying”.
32. He says Mr. Happy is the hardest character to draw because he is one long, uninterrupted freehand curve.
33. Adam created his first new characters in 2003 – Mr. Cool, Mr. Rude, Mr. Good, Little Miss Scary, Little Miss Bad and Little Miss Whoops.
34. Along with Adam and his brother Giles, Roger had twin daughters called Amelia and Sophie. They inspired the 15th book in the Little Miss series – Little Miss Twins. The duo do everything in pairs, say things twice and live in Twoland.
35. A number of the characters are siblings, like Mr. Chatterbox and Little Miss Chatterbox (who lives in a phone-shaped house) and Mr. Christmas and Little Miss Christmas. Little Miss Whoops is the sister of Mr. Bump.
36. The first character based on a real person was created in 2012 when designer Stella McCartney was transformed into Little Miss Stella for a fashion show. When Adam agreed to take on the challenge, she telephoned her father, Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, to announce the news, because he had read the books to her as a child.
37. The first Mr Men and Little Miss books for grown-ups were published in 2017. There are now six titles in the series, which includes Mr. Greedy Eats Clean to Get Lean, Little Miss Shy Goes Online Dating and Mr. Grumpy Nails Fatherhood.
38. The Spice Girls were turned into their own Little Miss characters with accompanying books in 2019. However Little Misses Scary, Ginger, Baby and Sporty do not have a pal called Little Miss Posh, because she did not rejoin the girlband for their reunion stadium tour that year.
39. There are now more than 90 Mr. Men and Little Miss characters, with new ones continuing to join their adventures.
40. Mr. Happy was the face of a campaign called ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ in 1983 to promoted visitors to the Scottish city.
41. In 2011, the character Little Miss Princess was created for their 40th anniversary and in time for the Royal wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William.
42. Certain characters were also given a modern makeover, with Mr. Greedy reimagined as a banker and Little Miss Chatterbox getting a mobile phone.
43. The characters starred in series of iconic London Underground posters in 2016, with Mr Stubborn refusing to move down the platform. How rude!
44. There was also a special set of Mr. Men and Little Miss stamps issued by Royal Mail in 2016, to mark their 45th anniversary.
45. Fashion designer Paul Smith has used Mr Men material to line his suits.
46. In 2017, Adam created a special character called Mr. Isle of Man for the island’s annual Manx Litfest. He had three legs in a nod to the triskelion, which appears on the Manx flag and coat of arms.
47. BBC TV show Doctor Who has been given the Mr. Men treatment, with books based on all 13 incarnations of the character. The first four were released in 2017 – Dr. First (William Hartnell), Dr. Fourth (Tom Baker), Dr. Eleventh (Matt Smith) and Dr. Twelfth (Peter Capaldi).
48. It was not the first time a programme was given a Mr. Men makeover. HBO’s Game of Thrones was reimagined in 2013, with characters including Mr. Beastly and Little Miss Vengeance, but the characters were created by French advertisers Antoine Le Troadec and Antoine Dezes-Richard.
49. The Hargreaves family sold the rights to the Mr. Men in 2004 for £28 million.
50. For their 50th birthday, the public are being asked to choose the next two characters to join the permanent cast. You can vote for your two choices of Mr. Calm, Little Miss Brave, Mr. Brilliant, Little Miss Kind and Little Miss Energy here. The poll closes on 31 March 2021.
Mr. Tickle: 50th Anniversary Edition by Roger Hargreaves is on sale now. It includes a special gold cover and illustrated story about the origins of the Mr. Men. £6.99 (paperback), Egmont. Buy from Amazon