(London) More like Mr. Grumpy or Mr.me Joker? With its round or square and colorful figures, the series of children’s books Monsieur-Madame celebrates its 50th birthday, surviving the death of its British designer Roger Hargreaves thanks to the investment of his son Adam.
“It’s incredible that we have reached half a century, it’s a very long lifespan for a series”, rejoices Adam Hargreaves in an interview with AFP. Fifty years after the publication of the first book in 1971, “it shows the strength of my father’s idea.”
He himself is no stranger to the genesis of Monsieur-Madame, where the heroes adopt the name of the character or behavior of which they are the icon.
At the origin of this series is indeed a question from little Adam to his father, “one of those impossible questions which children have the secret”: “What does a tickle look like? »Armed with his pencils, his father then creates for Adam Mr. Chatouille, a little orange man with a blue hat and incredibly long arms.
The character becomes a book that knows a huge success, soon joined by a cohort of friends. The heroines will not appear until 10 years later. Since then, 250 million small square books of this river series, marketed in 30 countries, have been sold worldwide, including one every 12 seconds last year in France.
Ambitious, Roger Hargreaves had according to his son realized early enough the potential of his series, which humorously explores human attitudes-qualities as faults. “But I don’t think he imagined that Monsieur-Madame would last fifty years and be such a success, ”says Adam. “He would have been absolutely delighted! “
Based on emotions
The story of colorful little men could have ended in 1988 when Roger Hargreaves suddenly died at the age of 53. Adam, who worked on a farm, but had “always liked to draw”, then decides to take up the torch.
“The hardest part was the idea of creating something new. I saw it as an idea of my father, ”says the author, who did not feel legitimate for“ six or seven years to start creating new characters ”.
Adam obviously finds inspiration in “human emotions and characteristics”, but still a lot in his father’s heritage, returning “often to browse his books” when he is “stuck”.
“A lot of people think that following in my father’s footsteps is something very difficult emotionally,” he explains, but “on the contrary I find comfort, it brought me closer to him”.
Perhaps out of nostalgia, there are things that Adam refuses to change: the “unique style” of the father’s design, the decoration of the interiors – “definitively frozen in the 70s” -, the telephone handsets “at the Ancient “.
Because the strength of Monsieur-Madame for him lies in its timelessness. The characters are “based on us, our emotions, which evolve little”, he explains, “the children receive the series in the same way as 50 years ago, the idea does not need to be modernized ”.
However, Monsieur-Madame remains firmly anchored in the spirit of the times. In recent years, Adam Hargreaves has signed some surprising collaborations, transforming heroes of the cult sci-fi series Doctor Who or the Spice Girls into characters.
“During the pandemic, Monsieur-Madame were able to help the children understand how they feel, ”he hopes, believing that“ Mr. Grumpy can show them in a fun way what anger is and how to deal with it ”during confinement.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the series, young readers are called upon: they have until March 31 to vote in favor of two new characters, between Mr. Quiet, Madame Gentille, Madame Courage, Madame Energy or Mr. Artist.
The lucky ones will thus join the big family of 100 characters, some of whom were created only for France at the request of the publisher Hachette, in order to make up for the backlog among the ladies.
At 57, Adam has no plans to put down his brush for the moment. But this dad hopes that when retirement rings, the family story will continue: “Who knows, maybe in 50 years another generation of Hargreaves will draw and write.” Monsieur-Madame ! “.