“Seeing that something was expected of it the bear stood up and politely raised its hat, revealing two black ears. ‘Good afternoon,’ it said, in a small clear voice … The bear puffed out its chest. ‘I’m a very rare sort of bear,’ he replied importantly. ‘There aren’t many of us left where I come from.’ ‘And where is that?’ asked Mrs Brown. The bear looked round carefully before replying. ‘Darkest Peru. I’m not really supposed to be here at all. I’m a stowaway.'”
I have a confession to make, I love bears. To this very day I have a vast collection of them, boxes upon boxes of them are safely in storage and the rest, my most cherished ones, are in my sleeping quarters. The first two fictional bears to steal my heart were both incredibly adorable, and ironically British, They were, naturally, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington. I have already written about Winnie the Pooh and the real life bear he was based upon. http://www.smittenbybritain.com/the-real-winnie-the-pooh/
It must have been the late sixties or early seventies when I encountered my first Paddington Bear book- I would have been five or six. I no doubt would have read it at least once the day I was given it, perched on my bed, through my national health glasses, in the typical semi-detached house that were- and still are- highly prominent in England- and still are.
The highly successful series of Paddington books are written by Michael Bond. As Michael often tells it, it was on a chilly Christmas Eve in 1956 he noted a lone teddy bear in Selfridges near Paddington Station. (Paddington station is a central London railway terminus and London Underground station complex. Paddington is one of 19 stations managed by Network Rail.) The bear caught his eye and he purchased it for a present for his wife, and he, as you may have guessed named it Paddington. The bear also triggered Michael’s imagination- and ten days later he had finished the first story. That book- A Bear Called Paddington- was released by Williams Collins & Sons on October 13th in 1958.
And thus, Paddington was born. He is an exceedingly polite bear from darkest Peru, speaks impeccable English, and is invariably found in his blue duffle coat, large hat and well-battered suitcase- which can hold far more than it logically should and always, always I say, seems to have his favorite food inside- a perfect marmalade sandwich. He is also seen in his brightly colored Wellington Boots. (These boots actually came into being with the stuffed animal first in 1972- as they allowed it to stand up. In the books, shortly after, Paddington was given the boots as a Christmas present.)
In that first story the Brown family encounter a bear sat sadly on his suitcase at Paddington station that was tagged “wanted on Voyage,” and attached to his coat was a second label that read, “Please take care of this bear. Thank you.” Naturally the bond family adopts the bear and raises it as if it was their own child, naming it after the station where they found him. Playful mischief ensues in every tale. Each book embeds traditional British values, has a delightful charm and wit, and I feel is as enchanting today as when it was first penned.
We learn that Paddington was sent to London by his Aunt Lucy, one of the few relatives he has, and his famous hat was given to him by his uncle Pastuzo.
As Paddington puts it. “I came all the way in a lifeboat, and ate marmalade. Bears like marmalade.”
The Brown family take him to their home- 32 Windsor Gardens, off Harrow Road between Notting Hill and Maida Vale. Windsor Gardens really does exist- and it is indeed a most lovely and highly respectable area of London- but, in reality, there is no number 32. Paddington loves to visit the nearby Portobello Road Markets, and he has great skills of acquiring the best bargains. But here is a keen warning to those less familiar with Paddington, for he is not a bear to be crossed with! He does possess one very unusual skill that he claims was taught to him by his aunt Lucy- a hard stare. This stare makes the person being stared at feel flushed and extremely embarrassed.
“A Bear Called Paddington” has been in print uninterruptedly since its first release, and over 150 other titles have been released starred the iconic bear, including board books that are aimed at the very young reader. They have also been translated in to over forty different languages- and he is popular all over the world, Making Michael Bond one of the most successful children’s authors of all time.
There is a recurring cast of characters, all of whom are in some way entangled in Paddington’s misadventures. These include the family who adopted him which consists of Mr. Henry Brown, who works for the city of London and his wife Mary. Jonathan and Judy who may be twins- but it has never been clarified. Other regulars are the housekeeper Mrs. Bird, Mr. Gruber the friendly antique store owner, Mr. Curry the cantankerous next door neighbor, his Uncle Pastuzo, who is a bear of the world perpetually travelling, and of course his beloved Aunt Lucy.
In 1975 Paddington Bear hot British television screens. The series ran for four years and had two specials in 1980 and 1986. The show had an unusual and charming look to it as Paddington was a puppet and everyone and everything else was animation. The show has been seen all over the world- including U.S.A., and still pops up occasionally.
This is one of my favorite scenes:
Michael Bond, despite being 88, is still as busy as ever. He received an OBE in 1997. But I suspect Paddington is about to become even more famous- for not only is there a new book being released this year there is also a major movie release. The new book, “Love from Paddington,” is a collection of letters that Paddington has penned over the years to his aunt Lucy, who is safe and secure back in Peru at the retired home for bears. Paddington shall hit the screens in November starring Hugh Bonneville, Nicole Kidman, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Colin Firth, produced by David Heyman (fresh from the Harry Potter Franchise.)
Here is the highly enticing trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZxcwFb3w64