Interview with
David McKee

spacer Dave McKee With a new MR BENN book published this year, the first since BIG TOP BENN twenty two years ago and 35 years on from MR BENN’s debut as the Red Knight, we thought it was time to ask DAVID McKEE a few questions.
David, I’d like to ask you about Mr Benn. You’ve recently brought out a new book, “Mr Benn-Gladiator”, after a very long interval. In fact I think it is the first new full-length story since you made the films, now more than thirty years ago. What made you bring him back to life?
I don’t like that, “...bring him back to life”- he's continued to be active. This is just the first new picture book that I’ve produced about him. The last one was about seventeen or eighteen years ago and the same as one of the film stories. Mr Benn has been around in other ways.


You mean that he's been used in publicity campaigns and when he was the subject of a much discussed feature film project, etc. Is that it?

Yes. The films have continued to be shown, the videos were available. Also he keeps coming up as questions in quizzes or just in conversation. One can hardly call that dead.

Fair enough. So why suddenly the new book?
I only ever did four Mr Benn picture books. Those I did with Dobson Books. Dobson still exist but they stopped publishing new titles some years ago. I wasn't short of material for other stories, non-Mr Benn. I continued to produce those with my publisher, Andersen Press. I have always had requests from readers for more Mr Benn and eventually Andersen and Red Fox, my paperback publisher, who also had demands, said that they would publish a new Mr Benn.

So it was in response to demand?
Yes, but also in response to demand from myself. Mr Benn has always been special to me. I wanted, needed to revisit him. I wanted to know that he was well and find out what he'd been up to. I'd lived in his road, Festive Road, in my head. I'd lived in the road on which I'd based it, Festing Road, Putney, in real life. Mr Benn is part of my life.

Was it easy to go back?
Easy? Not completely. When we visit old friends after some years apart, we see how they have aged and it shows us how we have aged. Mr Benn doesn't age, but I do. To revisit him was to go back in my head to that point in my life when I made the films. A bit like finding myself at that age again. I think it disturbed one or two things in my mind. I did it with pleasure but also with some fear.

Were there any technical problems in going back?
Yes. The original books were full colour alternating with black and white illustrations. This was done to reduce printing costs but in fact I enjoyed working with the black and white as much as with the colour. This technique is not generally considered attractive for picture books now; the new book was to be in full colour. I started the book as I had the colour pages in the original books. But I missed that feel of line from the black and white. I redid the book with more emphasis on the line and thinner colour. There was also the question of the cover. The first books were designed with a series feel for the covers. The new book, with a different publisher and different proportions, couldn't really have the same style of cover. Also there was the point that many readers would know Mr Benn from the films. I needed a new series cover. I based it on the wheel from the films.

You said “series”. Does that mean that there will be more Mr Benn books?
I hope so. I have another story waiting although not quite complete. But last year I published three books all of different characters in series, “Elmer”, “King Rollo” and “Mr Benn”. I also have stories waiting not in series. It takes time. Another Mr Benn? Yes, I hope so.

And more films?
Well the film of “The Gladiator” is started. The idea is to re-launch the videos with a fresh print and with the addition of the new film. Then maybe, as new books come along, to make new films. As I said, it takes time.

As you also said, David, “I hope so”. Thank you.

MR BENN-GLADIATOR was published October 2001 (signed copies available from the official MR BENN website at £9.99, a few copies of the unsold originals of the 1979 edition of MR BENN-RED KNIGHT are available at £35.00)