30 years ago, Adam Hargreaves took up the mantle as the creative source of Mr Men and Little Miss from his father, Roger. He talks exclusively to Licensing.biz about his relationship with the iconic British brand.
It wasn’t until he started to find his family home in London slowly filling with products featuring the now iconic Mr Happy, Little Miss Sunshine or Mr Bump, that Adam Hargreaves began to realise what his father had done.
Not long after, the young Hargreaves found himself uprooted from his childhood abode and moved in to a larger home, perhaps one more befitting the heir of the Mr Men and Little Miss legacy.
Yet while the success of his father, Roger’s creations continued to impact upon the life around him, the son of the mind behind the now iconic Mr Men and Little Miss story books and illustrations, maintained a distance from his father’s work.
It wasn’t through any fault of his own, but growing up, Adam Hargreaves was always just beyond the reach of the audience Mr Men and Little Miss was geared towards.
“I was about seven when my dad created Mr Men, so I was slightly past the right age for it all,” Hargreaves tells Licensing.biz. “In a way he was my dad, so life didn’t really change enormously. He was working in advertising in London and went to work everyday.
“It was when he started being around the house a lot more was when I started to notice things were changing. But I was never really aware of how iconic it was at the time. It was just what my dad did as a job.
“It was in my late teens that I became aware of the success of it. Being the shy, awkward teenager I was, I found it quite embarrassing in a way, owning up to what my dad did.”
It’s something that certainly stuck with Hargreaves and possibly the reason why, when his father died at the early age of 53, he felt compelled to take on the legacy of the Mr Men and Little Miss and continue in the vein of it and his creator.
“I would like to have worn it as a badge of honour,” says Hargreaves. “I have terrific pride in what he created and I wish I had been able to express it when he was still alive. I never got the chance to tell him what an amazing idea he came up with, but having now worked on it for 30 years, I have really got to appreciate how clever it is in its simplicity.”
It’s understandable that Hargreaves never imagined he would be involved in his father’s work in any way. His father Roger was a man who worked alone, taking his drawing and ideas to agencies in London. However, following his sudden death, it fell to his son to pick up the business.
“When the designs started coming through, there was nobody to draw them. I started to sketch out and help people. I have always drawn from when I was young, but I needed to learn Mr Men because my dad’s style was quite different to mine.
“It took me a while to say that I am the creative source for the new Mr Men.”
As time went on, publishers wanted new books. And with Hargreaves now the new creative source, it fell on him to try his hand at writing. With his father’s template to follow, Hargreaves read and re-read the Mr Men titles that had changed his life. Eight years after picking up his father’s legacy, Hargreaves wrote his first Mr Men story.
30 years on and Hargreaves is still proud to be creating within the Mr Men and Little Miss universe, having recently helped the now Mr Men and Little Miss brand owners Sanrio launch its first STEM-themed character, Little Miss Inventor. A female inventor is a character that perhaps may have been overlooked among a 1970s audience, back when Roger Hargreaves first introduced Mr Men.
While the Mr Men and Little Miss characters themselves are in no real need of need of updating themselves, representing as they do human characteristics and emotions, 50 years of societal change means that today, there is a far greater pool in inspiration to draw new characters and themes from.
“Looking through my dad’s characters; he starts off with Little Miss Sunshine and Mr Happy,” says Hargreaves. “By the time he gets down to Little Miss Fickle, you can see it was all starting to get a little bit more tight in terms of the emotions that were being encompassed.
“Publishers and Sanrio will come to me and ask for a new character and I will put my thinking cap on and see what comes out of the mix. It is getting tougher in a way. We have 90 odd characters and finding new characteristics that aren’t too obscure is a happy to challenge to have.
“With the shifts in awareness in recent years, that has opened up a new area for the imagination to delve into.”
To draw, Hargreaves’ favourite character is Mr Bump, to read and recount, it’s Mr Silly.
“It embodies my dad’s sense of humour really, it makes me think of him because he had a silly sense of humour; daft but clever in its own way.”
The Mr Men legacy and a strong jaw line aren’t the only things father passed down to son and it is in recent years that Hargreaves has exercised the creative gene through his own book series, Molly Mischief, the story of a little girl who can do whatever she wants.
“I have always loved the idea that when kids are little and imagining something they actually become that,” explains Hargreaves.
“To them, it’s real. I thought I could take that idea and turn it into stories. This is much more my own style of detailed illustration, with a combination of the Mr Men look. I have been drawing Mr Men for 30 years so it is embedded in me in a way.”
It’s where it will stay, too, Hargreaves insists, embedded within him and worn with pride in memory of his father, the man who created some of Britain’s best loved and most iconic characters.