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.

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?

But the fact Bean is not of this Earth is why there are rather abstract lyrics. So at the end of the show there are additional lines which read as follows (from the above clip):

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

The Art of Intro Music

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, plays Ecce homo music at certain moments. And that’s rather fitting.

Blackadder the Third, conversely, has a rather joyous closing credits piece of music. Although the third series is generally thought of as weaker than the second and fourth, this music certainly adds some creative heft to it.

But intro music can really make a TV series memorable. It’s one of the first things many of us think of when someone mentions they like “such-and-such” on Netflix.

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. Here’s the former.

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.

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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