“The name’s English. Johnny English.” In 2003, audiences met a new character from Mr. Bean performer Rowan Atkinson. Johnny English, British super-spy, is a kind-hearted but inept intelligence agent for the fictional MI7 organization. English stumbles from one crisis to another, his relentless self-confidence always unruffled by the chaos he leaves in his wake.
Tickets are now on sale for Johnny English Strikes Again, which brings the bumbling secret agent back to theaters on October 26. But did you know the character has a stranger origin than any other secret agent? British audiences know what American audiences may have never seen: that Johnny English was born in a series of 1990s TV ads.
A Great British Ad Campaign
From 1991 to 1997, Rowan Atkinson and Henry Naylor starred in a series of Barclaycard TV spots. At the time in Britain, Barclaycard was such a dominant credit card company that it was almost synonymous with it. The company put together a creative ad campaign that entertained viewers, while also reinforcing the strength of the brand. The creative agency BMP, which came up with some of the most original series of ads in British history, was tapped to do the work.
Rowan Atkinson played inept secret agent Richard Latham, with Henry Naylor as his long-suffering sidekick, Bough. The duo was plunged into a series of nightmare scenarios, each of which could have worked out far better if Latham had his Barclaycard. Audiences fell in love with the character, and BMP retained a strong sense of continuity by opening each ad with the same distinctive music. The final advert apparently killed Latham off, although it was teased that he was still alive.
In March 2000, Atkinson signed up to star in a James Bond parody written by Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, screenwriters of Bond films like The World is Not Enough. British viewers immediately made the connection that the film would be inspired by the ads, despite several key changes. Atkinson’s character was renamed Johnny English, and the film’s version of Bough was played by Ben Miller. And yet the movie wore its homage on its sleeve. It even lifted gags from the ads, including the idea of English knocking himself out with a paralyzer pen.
The Film Series
In 2003, the first Johnny English film was a tremendous success. It grossed $160.5 million in global takings against a budget of just $40 million, and topped the UK box office for three weeks. (X2 eventually knocked it from the top slot.) So in 2007, Atkinson revealed he was in talks to return for a sequel. It took a few years to get into production, but Johnny English Returns was released in 2011. It was also a hit.
Production on Johnny English Strikes Again began in August 2017. This time around, the movie will be a little more topical. Atkinson’s hapless hero struggles to deal with cyber-attacks and Russian secret agents. This is a very different approach for the franchise, as it will effectively be parodying real-world espionage issues rather than simply riffing on popular film spies like James Bond and Jason Bourne.
We’re excited to see how Rowan Atkinson’s clueless super-spy deals with a world of computers and advanced technology. He never seemed particularly competent with basic spy gear in the first place, so the idea of Johnny English dealing with cutting-edge tech is hilarious — and hopefully not disastrous.
Get tickets now for Johnny English Strikes Again!