Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond dies aged 91

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Anita Gates

Michael Bond, the genial British author who created Paddington Bear, the polite, good-natured but disaster-prone little hero of children’s novels, picture and activity books, television series, and films, died at his home in London on Tuesday. He was 91.

The death was announced by his publisher, Harper Collins, which said that Bond had died after a short illness. It did not specify a cause.

Bond lived in the Maida Vale section of London, not far from Paddington Station, where his fictional creation’s story began. “Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform” were the first words of A Bear Called Paddington, published in Britain in 1958. The small brown bear is spotted at that station, seated on an old leather suitcase and wearing a tag that reads: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He has emigrated from “darkest Peru,” the Browns learn, because his aunt has gone into a home for retired bears in Lima.

The Browns take him home to 32 Windsor Gardens and give him a new life that includes their children, Judy and Jonathan; their housekeeper, Mrs Bird; a grouchy neighbour, Mr Curry; and a Hungarian-born antiques dealer, Mr Gruber.

Paddington came to be known for his distinctive ensemble of blue duffel coat with toggle fastenings, floppy felt hat and red Wellington boots. The books have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and have been translated into at least 40 languages.

“I am constantly surprised by all the translations,” Bond was quoted as saying on an official website for his creation, “because I thought that Paddington was essentially an English character.”

Certainly the character participated in some typical British activities in his books. They included London theatre, a cricket match, a visit to a waxworks museum, a riding competition and antiques shopping on Portobello Road. Paddington also had a known predilection for marmalade sandwiches. But most important, he is unfailingly polite with a strong sense of morality, and he always tries to do the right thing.

For Bond, the story began on Christmas Eve 1956, when he was working as a BBC TV camera operator. On his way home, he stopped by Selfridges department store and spotted a toy bear alone on a shelf.

“It looked rather forlorn,” he told the London newspaper The Sunday Telegraph in 2007.

He took the bear home as a stocking stuffer for his wife and soon began writing a story about it. After 10 days he had a completed novel, which William Collins & Sons bought for 75 pounds.

Thomas Michael Bond was born in Newbury, Berkshire, England, on January 13, 1926, the son of Norman Robert and Mary Frances Bond. Six weeks later, the family moved to Reading, where Norman Bond worked for the post office.

Michael Bond attended Presentation College, a Roman Catholic school in Reading, but dropped out of school at 14. During World War II, he served in the both the Royal Air Force and the British Army.

In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Bond said that the character had partly been inspired by his memories of child evacuees passing through Reading from London.

“They all had a label round their neck with their name and address on and a little case or package containing all their treasured possessions,” he said. “So Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.”

Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher of children’s books at HarperCollins, said Bond was a true gentleman and the most enchanting of writers.

Actor Hugh Bonneville, who played Mr Brown in the 2014 film Paddington, said it seemed particularly poignant to learn about Bond’s death on the last day of filming of a sequel. The new film is due out later this year.

“He leaves a special legacy: long live the bear from darkest Peru,” he said.

Bond sold his first short story in 1945, to the magazine London Opinion, and said later that he had written it outside a tent in Cairo. Over the next decade, he had numerous short stories published and radio plays performed, but “it was a good year if I made a hundred pounds,” he wrote in Third Book of Junior Authors.

He began working for the BBC after the war and, even after A Bear Called Paddington was published, he did not immediately quit his day job. It was only in 1965, with six Paddington novels on the world’s bookshelves, that he became a full-time writer.

He was always best known for Paddington, whose fame grew wildly in the 1970s after the first stuffed animal version was produced and the first television series became a hit, on the BBC in Britain and later on various networks including PBS, Nickelodeon and HBO in the United States.

Other series and television movies followed. The movie with live actors and a computer-animated bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, was released in 2014. 

Bond credited the spirit of Paddington with helping him through difficult times.

“There is something so upright about him,” he told the London newspaper The Daily Mail in 1998. “I wouldn’t want to let him down.”

Bond was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1997, and then a commander of the order in 2015, for services to children’s literature.

The Paddington book series seemed to end in 1979, but in 2008, to celebrate the bear’s 50th anniversary, Bond wrote Paddington Here and Now, in which our hero has his shopping cart towed and his immigration status questioned. Bond’s latest novel, Paddington’s Finest Hour, was published in April of this year.

Bond and his first wife decided on joint custody for the original Paddington bear, that Christmas gift of long ago. One would call the other, Bond once told The Daily Mail, and say, “He feels like coming to you now.”

Over the years, Bond received fan letters from adults who credited Paddington with feats of remarkable emotional support, and this did not surprise the bear’s creator. He told The Sunday Telegraph: “If I bumped into Paddington one day, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. He feels very real to me, you see.”

New York Times, Reuters

 

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