In Praise of the Opening Music From Mr. Bean

Mr. Bean - Ecce homo qui est faba
Ecce homo qui est faba.

Mr. Bean is a universal character – Rowan Atkinson hit comedy (and commercial) gold with the invention of this madcap, barely human bloke who bumbles his way through various scenarios with a casual, childlike menace. Atkinson has visited remote villages across the world with black and white TVs watching his show, and on YouTube some Mr. Bean episodes have 90+ million views!

Anyway, the series ran from 1990 – 1995 and spawned several films and a cartoon series. For the TV show, there was an unusual, and extremely brief, piece of choral music which we long presumed had been ripped from some classical music piece. Wrong – this is a unique composition by Howard Goodall and performed by a choir at Southwark Cathedral in Oxford. The Latin which is sung also has a rather cool meaning, we found.

Mr. Bean: Ecce homo qui est faba

Okay, so most of us didn’t take Latin class at school, so a bit of rummaging around dug up what’s going on here. We were always rather fond of this music as kids and it holds additional reverence due to nostalgia factor now, plus being classical music fans it’s always a big deal to dig up stuff like this.

Anyway, that gibberish singing has a meaning you may not be aware of. We certainly weren’t, as we are moronic. The choir sings the following, as you’ve already seen from the title above. What does it mean?

"Ecce homo qui est faba" – "Behold the man who is a bean"

It’s as simple as that, although the verse is repeated a second time at a higher pitch in case you’re too dumb or hard of hearing to have picked up on it first time around. The show’s creators, Atkinson and Richard Curtis, by the way have stated Mr. Bean is, indeed, supposed to be an alien. Not quite as scary as Independence Day, huh? This is why we have the rather abstract lyrics. At the end of the show, there are additional lines which read as follows, all of which you can hear in the clip below.

"Vale homo qui est faba" – "Farewell, man who is a bean"

Keep it Short!

There are a few intertextual references at play from BBC shows around the early 1990s, with one of Mr. Bean’s episodes referencing the marching song the British Grenadiers (this played at the start of the brilliant fourth series of Blackadder, also starring Atkinson in his best role). The Vicar of Dibley, starring Dawn French, also played the Ecce homo Mr. Bean music, which is rather fitting.

Nowadays, it’s interesting to note many TV shows go all out (presumably as they have much bigger budgets) with dramatic opening credits, some of which drag on for ages. True Detective and House of Cards (as brilliant as they are) have ones which are bloody enormous! Seriously, House of Cards is almost two minutes long.

The BBC, in its infinite wisdom (i.e. mainly due to tight budgets), has spawned several other opening credit gems. This dates back to the 1960s, when Monty Python used American military marching music Liberty Bell from 1893, composed by John Philip Sousa, simply as it was in the public domain and, consequently, free to use. This music has since become iconic for the show and the performers involved.

With Atkinson’s work in the ’80s, you can look to the fantastic Blackadder series for inspired, ultra-short opening credits. For the closer, however, we’re going to pick Bottom for its jazzy romp performed by, aptly enough, the Bum Notes, a cover of a B.B. King track. The show is still hilarious, particularly seasons 2 and 3, with more wittily juvenile (and bizarrely sweet natured) double entendre than you can imagine. Great music, too, and a fun way to wrap this all up.

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