In October 1958 a book was published about a little Peruvian bear who showed up at Paddington Station in London, England . Who would have thought that little bear would gain worldwide fame, have 26 books written about him and become a TV and film star?
After finishing my last book, I’ve decided to work on some children’s stories that I began several years ago. That means I get to read lots of children’s books and reacquaint myself with some fun childhood characters. Today is dedicated to that very British bear, Paddington.
Michael Bond, the man who created the now famous Paddington Bear, passed away on 27 June at the age of ninety-one. Fifty-nine years earlier, Bond was writing plays and short stories while working as a cameraman for the BBC when he was inspired by a teddy bear.
But the beloved Paddington Bear might never have existed if Michael Bond had done his Christmas shopping earlier. On Christmas Eve 1956, he realized that he could no longer put off shopping for his wife’s Christmas gift. Others, more forward thinking than he was, had already been to the shops and the shelves were nearly bare by the time he arrived. There was one lonely teddy bear sitting on the shelf who seemed to call out to Bond. He felt sorry for it and brought it home for his wife. They named the little fellow Paddington, since they lived near Paddington Station.
Paddington took up residence in the Bond home near Michael’s desk. One day as he was sitting down to write, Bond glanced over at the bear and began to imagine what he would be like – should he come to life.
He wrote a little story about a young bear who had stowed away on a ship from “deepest, darkest Peru” to England. He had survived the long voyage by eating the marmalade sandwiches that his aunt had packed for him. When he arrived in England, he found himself sitting in Paddington train station, wearing the sign that his aunt had put around his neck, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
Mr. and Mrs. Brown discovered the little forlorn bear, called him Paddington (after the station), and took him home to live with them and their two children. Since Paddington’s aunt, who had raised him back in Peru, had taught the young bear to speak English and had instilled good manners in him, he blended right into English life and the British people didn’t mind too much that he was a bear.
Paddington was a loveable and well-intentioned bear. He always tried his hardest, but he had a knack for making a mess of things. Then, of course, he would try to put everything right – usually making even more of a mess. Many times, the messes came from his marmalade sandwiches, which he loved and always kept an extra one under his hat.
After that first little story, Bond wrote several more, and after 10 days, he realized that he had a book. He titled it A Bear Called Paddington and it was published in October 1958.
That little Peruvian bear captured the hearts of British children and adults and went on to conquer the rest of the world. Bond wrote more than 20 books filled with Paddington’s adventures: The last one being published in 2017, not long before Bond passed away. The Paddington books have sold more than thirty-five million copies worldwide and have been translated into over forty different languages.
The character in the book came to life when the first stuffed toy Paddington Bears were made in the early 1960s by Shirley and Eddie Clarkson. They owned a small home-based business called Gabrielle Designs and the Paddington prototypes were given to their children, a young Jeremy Clarkson (now a British TV presenter) and his sister. The bears were a hit.
When the little bear in the book had arrived in England, his only article of clothing was his old hat which was a gift from his uncle. Then Mrs. Brown bought him a duffle coat to make him look less conspicuous. The Clarksons added little wellington boots to his ensemble so the bear would stand up. Bond liked the wellies so much that he later wrote them into his books.
Paddington Bear has become such a symbol of the UK that, in 1994, when the two sides of the Channel Tunnel were connected, a Paddington Bear was the first item to pass through it from the British side: When the Brits broke through the wall, they passed a Paddington Bear through to the French – what could be more British?
In February 2000, Paddington Bear’s contribution to British culture was honored with a bronze statue installed on platform 1 at Paddington Station. It depicts the little bear’s arrival at Paddington Station. He is sitting on his suitcase wearing his battered hat with a note tied around his neck “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
Paddington wasn’t only celebrated in books, stuffed toys and statues: He also became a TV star and has appeared in movies. The film, Paddington, was released in 2014, and Paddington 2 is set to come out in November. And this Paddington fan is looking forward to seeing it.
- For more about the Paddington Statue, see Paddington, Pooh, Pan, and Potter: Four Literary Statues in London.
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Photo credits: Photos 1,3,4,5,6 from Paddington.com Photos 2,7,8 are mine.
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