De origen humilde, estudió en las universidades de Oxford y Newcastle donde se graduó como ingeniero eléctrico. En 1983, escribió en colaboración con el guionista Richard Curtis la famosa comedia The Black Adder.
Sus primeros trabajos como actor fueron en Not the Nine O'Clock News (1979), que se convirtió en un gran éxito. Ha obtenido diversos premios, como el Emy Awards y British Academy Awards por las categorías de programas televisivos de entretenimiento. Actuó en varias películas como Pleasure her Majesty (1976), Read on Time (1982), las diversas encarnaciones de la serie de TV The Black Adder (1983), Funny Business (1992) y Bean (1997). Es conocido por su interpretación del excéntrico personaje Mr. Bean en la serie de televisión de 1989 y llevada a la gran pantalla con el título Bean, the ultimate disaster movie, en 1997.
Actualmente está casado con Sunetra Sastry.
La película que estrenó en 2004, "Johny English" también es considerada como un rotundo éxito.
Su carrera hacia el triunfo empieza con "The Black Adder", "la ViBora negra", "L'escurçó negre", en 1983, serie emitida en el Reino Unido y en España.
The success of Not the Nine O'Clock News led to his starring in the medieval sitcom The Black Adder, which he also co-wrote with Richard Curtis, in 1983. Despite a mixed reception, a second series was written, this time by Curtis and Ben Elton, and first screened in 1985. Blackadder II followed the fortunes of one of the descendants of Atkinson's original character, this time in the Elizabethan era. The same pattern was repeated in two sequels Blackadder the Third (1987) (set in the Regency era), and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989), set in the First World War. The Blackadder series went on to become one of the most successful BBC situation comedies of the 1980s.
Atkinson's other famous creation, the hapless Mr. Bean, first appeared the following year in a half-hour special for Thames Television. Several sequels followed at irregular intervals, before the character transferred to film in 1997. Entitled Bean, it was directed by Mel Smith, his former co-star from Not the Nine O'Clock News. It supposedly made Atkinson £11 million in fees as writer and actor, and allowed him to buy a McLaren F1 car. As of 2006, a second film is in production, which Atkinson says will be the last time he plays the character.
Atkinson has made appearances at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, which also airs on television. He was present at the fifth festival in 1987 and the seventh in 1989.
In 2003, Atkinson was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy , and in a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
In June 2005, Atkinson led a coalition of the UK's most prominent actors and writers, including Nicholas Hytner and Ian McEwan, to the British Parliament in an attempt to force a review of the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill — on the grounds that the Bill would give religious groups a "weapon of disproportionate power" whose threat would engender a culture of self-censorship among artists.