Saturday, May 24, 2008

Paddington Bear

The publication of a new Paddington book by Michael Bond, Paddington Here and Now, inspired me to dig out this old article, which I co-wrote with Mel for Teddy Bear Club International back in 1997. How I ended up writing for a teddy bear mag has a rather simple and dull explanation: I was editing a magazine for the same company and Teddy needed some articles for their early issues while they were still trying to establish a group of writers. I think we ended up writing five articles for the first three issues. Mel eventually went on to edit Teddy Bear for a few years.

"Please Look After This Bear—Thankyou"
by Melissa Hyland

After the success of Rupert and Winnie the Pooh from the Twenties onwards, many other teddy bear characters appeared in children's literature, such as the Beano's Biffo the Bear and Joan G. Robinson's Teddy Robinson books. But none of these had quite the impact of the bear who made his first public appearance in 1958, at Paddington train station.

Although Paddington Bear was named after that very spot where he was found in the books, his real-life origin was at Selfridges in 1956, where a man called Michael Thomas Bond was doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Born in Newbury, Berkshire in 1926, Bond had already had quite a varied career, serving in the Royal Airforce and the Middlesex Regiment of the British Army in the Forties, before working as a cameraman for BBC Television, London, from 1947-1966. Little did he realise that when he bought that forlorn looking teddy sitting alone on Selfridge's shelf, it would be the start of something so big.

Bond gave the teddy to his wife Brenda for Christmas, and they named him Paddington, since they were living near that London train station at the time. It wasn't long before Paddington had inspired Bond to write a story about him and although the tale was initially written for his own amusement, after ten days he realised that here was an entire book ready to be published. A Bear Called Paddington, was released by Collins in 1958, charmingly illustrated by Peggy Fortnum and introduced Paddington to his readers as a little brown bear sitting at the train station near the Lost Property Office, with only a sou'wester and a battered briefcase containing a jar of his favourite food—marmalade. He was spotted there by Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who had come to meet their daughter Judy from school, and when they saw the label round his neck saying 'Please look after this bear. Thankyou.' they decided to take him home and make him part of the family.

However, looking after this bear was to prove quite a chore, as the Browns soon came to realise. Paddington was very good natured and keen to help his new family in any way that he could, but his inquisitive nature and clumsiness often meant that even the simplest chores could become a recipe for disaster. In A Bear Called Paddington for example, he winds up falling into a tray of cakes at the railway buffet, and at the Brown's house, he floods the bathroom and has to be rescued from the tub by Judy and her brother Jonathan! But Paddington was always so well meaning that the Browns and Paddington's best friend Mr. Gruber were always ready to forgive him. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said of Mr. Curry, the Browns' very grumpy and unpleasant neighbour, who didn't like Paddington at all and only ever referred to him as 'Bear!!!'—usually when something had gone wrong. Of course, his dislike passed right over Paddington's head, and the friendly little bear was only too willing to do favours for Mr. Curry, with predictable results.

It was a formula for success, and Bond found himself adding to Paddington's adventures, writing one a year until 1981, making a total of 26 in all. Everyone loved this cuddly, teddy bear like character, who behaved more like a human child or bumbling adult and was simply accepted as just another person by those around him. There was also the pleasure of anticipation in Paddington's stories, as readers knew straight away that, no matter what he was doing, something was going to go wrong, with hilarious results. In this way, he appealed both to children and to the adults who read his stories out to them.

Paddington's popularity grew, with his books being read in England, the United States and throughout the world. It wasn't long before Bond was writing television and film scripts for his bear as well as books and 1976, the first episode of Paddington aired on British TV. The series of five minute episodes was made by UK (Filmfair) Animation and aired on BBC 1 in the famous 5.40 pm slot, just before the early evening news. Quite a few programmes intended for children achieved cult status amongst adults and teenagers through being shown at this time, such as The Magic Roundabout and The Wombles, and similarly this increased Paddington's appeal to an even wider audience.

The Paddington TV Show had the distinction of being narrated by veteran actor Sir Michael Horden—somewhat different from his roles in Edward the Seventh and King Lear, but at least he was able to add a wealth of acting skill to his part! Whenever I hear Paddington 'speak', it will always be in that soft, impeccably English voice that Horden created for him, and no-one could ever match the gruff bluster he gave to Mr. Curry. The show featured a furry model Paddington, animated by Ivor Wood against a two-dimensional static background, and even the human cast were nothing more than paper cut-outs. This was an especially clever touch, for two reasons - first of all it underscored Paddington's 'otherworldliness' and the fact that he stood out in British human society almost as an outsider, while everyone else was a part of it and tended to blend in with their surroundings. Secondly, it emphasised Paddington's softness and cuddliness, being the only three-dimensional object in the whole programme, and of course, his being a teddy bear made you want to reach out and hug him all the more.

Naturally, the toy manufacturers were only too happy to oblige and soon there was a great demand for Paddington related products. As a result, Bond set up his own company to merchandise the bear, and soon Paddington and Company were producing hundreds of products, such as figurines, money boxes, stationary and of course, soft toys. All these were based on Paddington's TV persona, who had a blue duffel-coat added to his original ensemble of black floppy hat, suitcase and label, and some versions also have red wellingtons—much more appropriate to the English weather. For the most part though, the TV Paddington remained true to the books, still being accident-prone and extremely partial to marmalade sandwiches. I've always loved the adorable way his muzzle went up and down when he ate them in the television programme!

The very first soft toy version of Paddington was produced by British designer Shirley Clarkson in 1972. She then went on to create many more, including Paddington's relative Aunt Lucy whom he was always referring to, and who actually made an appearance in two episodes of the TV show, when she came to pay him a visit. Unlike her nephew, Aunt Lucy had grey fur and had more of a taste for boiled sweets than marmalade, but she did wear a similar floppy black hat, along with a long skirt, several shawls and a pair of spectacles. Clarkson held world exclusive rights to Paddington Bear until 1976, but now supplies solely to the UK, while Eden Toys have produced Paddington in the US since 1975.

Even today Paddington has lost none of his appeal, and there are still at least 200 products bearing his name, such as a computer game and his own brand of marmalade, along with duffel-coated teddies in wellington boots. He even had a single in 1983, 'Cross My Paws and Hope to Die', from Paddington Bear's Magical Musical, which also had songs like 'Everlasting Toffee', 'Marmalade 'n Me' and 'Bearobics'. Bond is still being approached by people wanting to commit Paddington to film, and the 1990s saw a new TV series, made by the American children's animation company Hanna Barbera. This series used the more traditional cel animation technique and was based more on the style of Peggy Fortnum's book illustrations, but despite being updated and more technologically superior, many fans feel that it lacks the charm of the original show.

But Paddington himself is still up there with all the other famous bears, having the distinction of an archive all to himself at the London Toy and Model Museum at Craven Hill and it's also interesting to note that since 1978, a 45 inch teddy bear has had pride of place at Paddington Station. So, no matter what turn Paddington's fortunes take in the future, there will always be a little bear standing there, waiting for someone kind enough to take care of him.

Further information:
  • 'Capturing the bear essentials of Paddington' by Michael Glover (The Times, 7 May 2008), an article about Paddington's original artist Peggy Fortnum and new artist Bob Alley.
  • If you're a fan of the recent Marmite advert, you can also find a 'making of' on YouTube, which also includes the advert at the end.
(* The pictures of Paddington are by Bob Alley (colouring by Mark Burgess) and are © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. The photograph of Michael Bond with the the first Paddington made by Shirley Clarkson © The Times. All are derived from The Times Magazine (3 May 2008) which includes an interview with Bond by Kate Muir and an extract from the new book entitled 'Paddington Spills the Beans'.)

1 comment:

  1. i am trying to contact the manufacturers of paddington bear, if anybody has any ideas please do not hessitate to contact me at thankyou



Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books