Happy Birthday to Paddington Bear, who turns 58 today!
Author Michael Bond based Paddington Bear on a teddy bear left sitting all alone on a shelf in a London store close to Paddington Station on Christmas Eve, 1956. Suddenly feeling sorry for the lonely-looking bear, he bought it on impulse as a present for his wife.
Having already written a number of plays and short stories, Bond was working as BBC TV cameraman to bolster his income. While working on the children's programme Blue Peter he became interested in writing a children's book. Seeking inspiration, he happened to notice the bear and in 10 days had finished his first story.
He passed it to his agent and on October 13th, 1958, “A Bear Called Paddington” was published by William Collins and Sons. It tells the story of how the Brown family find a lost-looking bear wearing an old hat and duffle coat and sitting on a battered suitcase in London's Paddington Station. Tied to his coat is a label which reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
It transpires that the bear has travelled from “Darkest Peru” as a stowaway, sent by his aunt Lucy who had gone to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. The bear claims: “I came all the way in a lifeboat and ate marmalade. Bears like marmalade.”
He says that no-one can understand his Peruvian name (later revealed to be Pastuso), so the Browns decide to call him Paddington after the place where he was found. Living at the Browns' home at 32 Windsor Gardens, Paddington embarks on a series of adventures, lovingly told in more than 20 books written by Bond between 1958 and 2014
Paddington is always polite and kind-hearted, although he does like to give “hard stares” to people whose actions he disapproves of, especially the Browns' next door neighbour, the curmudgeonly Mr Curry. Despite always trying hard to get things right, Paddington has a knack of innocently getting into trouble, though things tend to turn out right in the end. His love of marmalade sandwiches, often stored under his hat, is a recurring theme.
The Paddington books soon became very popular, since translated into 30 languages and selling 30 million copies worldwide. After it was revealed in 1965 that Bond had worked on Blue Peter, special Paddington stories ‒ in which he got mixed up with the programme itself ‒ appeared in the Blue Peter annuals for many years, later collected together in two books.
In 1972 the first Paddington Bear stuffed toy was manufactured by Gabrielle Designs, a small business run by Shirley and Eddie Clarkson. The prototype Paddington was made for their children Joanna and Jeremy Clarkson, the latter now famous as the outspoken presenter of Top Gear. Shirley Clarkson gave the stuffed bear small Dunlop Wellington boots to help it stand upright. The toy sold so well that Dunlop could not keep up with demand for the small boots!
By 1975 Paddington had his own TV series, produced by Michael Bond and London-based animation company FilmFair. It had an extremely distinctive appearance in which Paddington was a three-dimensional stop-motion puppet but all other characters were two-dimensional colour drawings, set against backgrounds that were often sparse black and white line drawings. The series was narrated by well-known actor Michael Hordern.
Two more animated TV series followed in 1989 and 1997, both using a more traditional 2D cartoon format, and in 2007 Warner Brothers announced it was planning a Paddington Bear feature film. It was released in 2014, with actor Ben Wishaw voicing the computer-animated character of Paddington. In 2015 the studio announced it was in talks about a possible sequel.
These days visitors to Paddington Station can still find the little bear sitting on his suitcase, in the form of a bronze statue created by sculptor Marcus Cornish.