Friday, 1 March 2013

Mr Benn.... well would you? Let's hear it for the Beta!

As one might expect with a five year old child, I end up watching a lot of cartoons.  Not in an intent, fanatic sort of a way, more in an out-of-the-corner-of-my-eye-when-I'm-wasting-time-on-pinterest sort of a way.

Except when it's Mr Benn.  Now, you might not have come across Mr Benn.  Only 14 episodes were ever made and they aired in c. 1971-1972, long before I was born. 

No matter. There were re-runs. And these days they're all on youtube too, accessible by your average five year old with a penchant for retro cartoons.  

So who is Mr Benn and what business does he have on a blog about romance? 

He's your classic beta hero, that's why. 

Mr Benn looks like an accountant. He's plain, round faced and he wears a bowler hat.  He doesn't really like parties, but one day he is invited to a fancy dress party and goes looking for a costume. He stumbles across a fancy dress shop, staffed by a mysterious shop keeper.  He goes to try on his costume and.... is magically transported to another world. 

Mr Benn becomes a Knight, a Cowboy, a Cave Man, a Clown, a Zoo-keeper, a Wizard...  in all his transformations he effects a change e.g. rescues a dragon, persuades  hunters to stop shooting animals, gets the cowboys and Indians to play nicely.  

What I love about Mr Benn is that once he steps over the threshold to be confronted by dragons or bandits or war or strife, Mr Benn doesn't change.  He might be dressed as a knight or a cowboy but he doesn't use this as an excuse to get violent.  He is gentle, compassionate, practical and diplomatic. 

He resolves disputes peacefully, persuades hunters to shoot animals with cameras not guns, saves a dragon from exile and he does so with quietly cheerful competency. He's the ultimate Mr Reliable, the antithesis of the alpha male rake or pirate. 

And that's why I love him. 

Mr Benn belongs to a great tradition of unlikely heroes epitomised for me by Freddy Standen, in Georgette Heyer's Cotillion.  He's the man you can rely on to be kind to your maiden aunt.  The man who doesn't have dramas or taunt.  The man who escorts you to boring parties and finds you an antacid when you have indigestion. Quite simply, he's kind. 

“Queer creatures, females," mused Mr. Standen, shaking his head. "Fellow's only got to be a rake to have 'em all dangling after him. Silly, really, because it stands to reason---- Well never mind that!” - Georgette Heyer, Cotillion

And he's the man you don't notice....  until you do. 

"And then as if by magic the shop keeper appears.".

Mr Benn's adventures are always short.  Just when the fun is going to start, Mr Benn is summoned back to his ordinary life by the mysterious shopkeeper - but he always returns with a little memento... a box of matches with a picture of a dragon... a wooden spoon.

Little reminders that simply by being his own ordinary, kind, humble self, he is able to achieve great things. 

That's a real hero. 

So next time you're faced with a dashing pirate, look sideways out of the corner of your eye at that safe, reliable friend you thought so dull and allow yourself to wonder - who is the real hero? 

“I daresay Freddy might not be a great hand at slaying dragons- but one has not the smallest need of a man who can kill dragons!” ― Georgette HeyerCotillion

Other examples I can think of...  Heyer's Gervase Frant in The Quiet Gentleman and her Hugo Darracot in The Unknown Ajax, Peeta Mellark in Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, Stephen Kenyon in Mary Jo Putney's One Perfect Rose.  

Who are your favourite beta heroes? 

Who shines in their own ordinary way? 


  1. Okay, Meg, my love...there's a little bit too much of that pirate on display. lol

    I ADORE the beta. The hero of my first published book (long story short, it's currently seated with my agent waiting for us to find it a new home) is a beta. Most of my heroes end up being a mix, but I just adore stories with Betas. In fact, I'm not fond of the alpha. Oh all right. I'll say it. I hate them. Who in their right mind would go with that guy (at least the way most of them are portrayed in romances nowadays)? but the beta? Yup. He's the best friend you go crying to when your world gets flipped upside down. *sigh*

    1. :-D there is too! Not that I'm looking - not my cup of tea. I'm all about the unobtrusive guy in the bowler hat ;-

  2. Terrific post, Meg!! The beta is a sadly under-appreciated and under-used character - and yet, you are so right - they are the ones who we run to, the ones who understand that loving less to do with what happens between the sheets and more to do with knowing our favorite song, how to mend our broken teacups and are always just an arm's length away. :)

  3. Great post, Meg -

    Alphas, betas,..zetas, I don't much mind which letter of the alphabet a hero is assigned as long as the emotional connection is strong.

    Re Mr Benn? I'm quite sure his life would have been greatly enhanced if he'd copped off with Florence from the Magic Roundabout a time or two. :)

  4. Well, Mr Benn, that takes me back...though as a five-year-old, he had me riveted!
    I think probably most of us end up with the nice guys, sometimes I crave a little more excitement, but then when I see these Hollywood rakes, I'm quite happy with my lot in life! After all, we can learn together and create excitement's all about the emotional connection Incy mentions!