our first honored guest!

 

                

Before Paddington, there was Pooh. And before Pooh, there was Rupert!

Hats off today to Rupert Bear, one of the oldest and most enduring humanized bear characters in children’s fiction. What, you say you don’t know him? I didn’t either, until I got into bear collecting, and learned that Rupert is actually 6 years older than Pooh, and 8 years older than Mickey Mouse. This also makes him the longest running children’s comic character in history.

    
                      "Nutwood in Spring," by John Harrold

Now, if I had grown up in the UK, Rupert would have been a household name. He was created by children’s book illustrator Mary Tourtel, and first appeared in a Daily Express comic strip in 1920. Mary’s husband, a night editor for the Express, wrote the captions for Mary’s pictures. The stories took place in the idyllic English village of Nutwood with Rupert and his friends Bill Badger, Pong Ping, Algy Pug, and Edward Trunk, among others, and included adventures with fairies, pirates, unicorns, wizards, knights, crooks, and magic carpets.


                            "Flight of the Firebird," by John Harrold

Though Mary created Rupert, we must credit Alfred Bestall (who stepped in after Mary retired), with improving the stories and plots and creating the classic Rupert story format familiar today. This enables readers of various ages to appreciate the stories on 4 levels — by following the summary headers of the strips, by reading the two line verse captions under each frame, by reading the prose narration of the story, or by simply enjoying the pictures in sequence.

      
                        "The Mysterious Garden," by John Harrold

Bestall also created additional art for the Rupert Annuals, first appearing in 1936 and continuing today. After Bestall retired at the age of 90 in 1973, several other artists have taken up the mantle, including John Harrold, whose illustrations are featured in this post. The Annuals have enabled children to fully embrace Rupert, whose stories, unlike those about Pooh, take place in a contemporary setting, complete with a cosy home and supportive parents. 

      
             Rupert Bear Annual No. 72, Egmont Books, Ltd., 2007

American children may know Rupert through his animated television series (sample Rupert cartoon here), which has aired on Nickelodeon and CBS. A new series, "Follow the Magic," features a decidedly younger Rupert, who, strangely enough, looks more like Pooh. As far as I know, this series only airs in Great Britain.

But guess who else loves Rupert? In 1984 Sir Paul McCartney and Geoff Dunbar created a short animated film called "Rupert and the Frog Song," which features Paul’s "We All Stand Together," (also included on his Pipes of Peace album). After noting that his own children loved Rupert as much as he did, Paul dug out his old Rupert Annuals and set to work. He initially wrote music for a full-length film, but plans were shelved. Still, the short film won a British Academy Award, and the video of "We All Stand Together" won a Grammy in 1986 for Best Music Video — Short Form. (Watch it here.)

Rupert will be 88 in November, and shows no signs of slowing down. With over 50 million books sold, an appearance every morning in the Daily Express, a much anticipated Annual published every year, as well as prints, videos, DVD’s, and assorted memorabilia for sale, Rupert’s longstanding, continuous appeal to young and old alike is definitely something to cheer about. Hip hip hooray!

                           

All Rupert Bear images posted by permission, © Entertainment Rights Distribution, Ltd./Express Newspapers 2007. All rights reserved.

*The John Harrold images included in this post, as well as several others, are available as signed, limited edition glicee prints through Art of Illustration.

 

6 thoughts on “our first honored guest!

  1. That bear looks awfully familiar. I’m trying to think where I would have seen him before–I’m definitely too old for the TV show you talk about.🙂
    My mom grew up in England during WWII. I don’t remember her having one of these books, but I think I’m going to send her your link & ask if she remembers Rupert and if she somehow was responsible for my exposure to him.
    Love the Teddy Bear theme. I came to your blog during the Pie sessions, and I have no idea how you decide what themes to switch to or why! Do you have an earlier post that gives the whole raison d’etre?🙂

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  2. It’s highly likely that your Mom knows Rupert if she grew up in England. His popularity has been non-stop ever since 1920. During the War, especially, people sought the comfort and safety of bears — Pooh and Rupert were logical choices.
    Thank you for liking this month’s theme! I don’t have a post explaining why I do themes; when I started the blog I chose a food theme overall because of my first book, Dumpling Soup, and also because I’m in the groove of writing food-related stories, so any research I do for those I can use in my posts. The themes also keep me on some kind of track – otherwise, I’d be blogging all over the place (mole removal, moustaches on women, etc.) — although I purposely do some weirdo posts now and then just because. With a theme, I’m also not panicking so much day to day about what to blog about.

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  3. Rupert

    I have the fondest memories of Rupert — next to Sir Paul, no less! Don’t remember exactly how I acquired my copy of Rupert, years ago; maybe traded something for it. I remember feeling like I had something very valuable and unique, perhaps the first child in America (I imagined) to own a book that came all the way from England. ~ Lois

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