Please look after this bear. Thank you.

“Things are always happening to me. I’m that sort of bear.” ~ Paddington Brown, Gentleman Bear

The resident Paddingtons are all in a tizzy because today is Michael Bond’s 85th birthday!

The alphabet soup kitchen is full of furry creatures in duffle coats, bush hats and Wellingtons, busy eating making eating marmalade sandwiches, sipping tea and burying their snouts in little cups of cocoa. They’ve also been reading a few of Mr. Bond’s charming stories aloud. Like all good bears, they never tire of hearing about themselves.

I’ve been reading a little more about Michael Bond, who received an OBE (Officer, Order of the British Empire), for his services to children’s literature. He’s definitely a man after my own heart, for not only did he rescue a teddy bear left behind on a Selfridge’s shelf (the inspiration for Paddington), but he’s also a diehard Francophile and lover of fine cuisines and wine.

Besides his books about Paddington Bear, Bond has also published a series about Olga da Polga (a guinea pig with a big imagination), and he continues to add new installments to his adult culinary mystery series starring Monsieur Pamplemousse and his faithful bloodhound Pommes Frites.  

I’m assuming Mr. Bond likes marmalade. It would seem terribly un-British not to. Sir Winston Churchill was quite passionate about it, considering it to be an essential part of a proper English breakfast along with bacon and eggs. Paddington’s friend Mr. Gruber speculates that marmalade helped Churchill win the war, and we tend to agree. We always stock marmalade in the alphabet soup kitchen in order to avoid any riots, baker strikes, untoward growling, or the terribly unsettling hard stare. Besides, you never know when you might accidentally saw a dining table in half, and need a little marmalade to glue the pieces back together.


Did you know that it took Bond just a little over a week to complete the first book, A Bear Called Paddington (1958)? There are twelve full-length novels in the series, the most recent of which, Paddington Here and Now, was published in 2008 to commemorate Paddington’s 50th Anniversary. After Bond completed his first draft of A Bear Called Paddington, he sent his agent Harvey Unna this letter:

I have just completed the rough draft of a book-length children’s story. It is about the adventures of a bear called Paddington and I think it has possibilities. At the moment it runs to about twenty four thousand words in eight chapters. I think it would probably be suitable for children of about eight plus. Before I begin the harder chore of rewriting and retyping it I thought I would seek your advice. I am wondering if it would be possible to market it and also if you deal in such things. If it is and you do perhaps you would be kind enough to let me know and I will continue the good work.
 
Harvey wrote back right away:
 
I do indeed handle children’s books and there is certainly a wide market for children’s material, although it is also a very competitive market. In order words, it has got to be good. I should certainly advise you to go ahead.
 
Bond sent Unna a revised draft a month later, and Harvey replied:
 
I have now read your novel, A Bear Called Paddington, and I think it is quite a publishable tale and I like it well. My spies tell me, however, that you have slipped up in that there are no bears in Africa, darkest or otherwise. The race of bears in the Atlas mountains has been extinct for centuries. Children either know this or should know this and I suggest that you make suitable amends, for which purpose I am returning herewith the script. There are plenty of bears in Asia, Europe and America, and quite a few on the stock exchange.
 
Unna shopped the manuscript to 7 or 8 publishing houses, until William Collins & Sons purchased it with an advance of £75. Paddington soon became a British institution, with 35+ million copies sold, translated into 40 languages. He’s also been very successful with worldwide licensed merchandise; the first Paddington plush bear was produced in the mid 70’s by Gabrielle Designs, and through the years, several other companies, including Eden Toys, Steiff, and Yottoy, have successfully marketed our favorite marmalade-eating friend. 


Gabrielle Designs Paddington meets Aunt Lucy.

Paddington is truly a tireless worker who shows no signs of stopping. In 2006, his likeness graced a Royal Mail first class stamp:

In 2007, he appeared in Marmite TV commercials (albeit to somewhat disastrous results). Loyal fans objected to his choosing a Marmite and cheese sandwich over his traditional marmalade.

Most recently, Paddington has been pushing Robertson’s Golden Shred Marmalade (which makes a lot more sense):

I was not introduced to Paddington until I was an adult. While teaching 9th grade English in Wimbledon, one of my students gave me a Paddington ruler. I then began noticing Paddington all over London, moreso than his tubby predecessor, Winnie the Pooh. Pretty soon I was purchasing Paddington cereal bowls, mugs and stationery, reading all the books, and making pilgrimmages to Paddington Station. 

      

When I started teaching in Knightsbridge, my students and I would go out for elevenses during third period, either having tea at Harrods, or buying buns at a tiny bakery in Walton Street. And of course, most Saturdays, I would head over to Portobello Road (the Notting Hill end), imagining that any one of those quaint antique shops was the place Paddington shared buns and cocoa with Mr. Gruber. 


bluebluewater/flickr

After moving back to the States, I got myself into real “trouble,” by collecting Paddington plush bears. In the late 70’s, Eden Toys began making Paddingtons with different outfits — tennis player, jogger, magician, artist, doctor, golfer, jogger. Whether he’s dressed in his traditional blue duffle coat or bright yellow slicker, I still can’t resist him. Suffice to say, it is never dull around here, with Paddington inhabiting almost every room in the house. Things can get pretty sticky, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Paddington Cook (left) is the latest addition to the family. He magically appeared on our doorstep last week, complete with oven mitt, cookie cutter, and recipe for Gingerbread Teddies. Naturally, he wants his own cooking show.

  
      A batch of Gingerbread Teddies just for Mr. Bond!

And to think it all began because an only child, who grew up to be a BBC cameraman, missed his bus one rainy Christmas Eve (1956), took refuge in a department store, and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a lone teddy on the shelf over the holidays. He’d already finished his Christmas shopping, but scraped up seven shillings and sixpence to bring the bear home to his wife. That says a lot about a man, don’t you think?

HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. BOND!!

 

 

MORE

♥ Paddington’s official website.

♥ Fabulous article about Michael Bond and Paddington’s 50 Anniversary in the Sunday Times.

My post featuring Paddington Here and Now and My Book of Marmalade. Also contains a pic of our Paddington closet.

♥ Did you know there’s an annual Marmalade Festival? It’s being held next month in the Lake District, with Paddington as official patron.

♥ More 2011 Comfort and Joy posts here.


**Special ((hug)) to Becky Levine, loyal Paddington fan!

“All in all, he decided, it just wasn’t his day. He wiped his paws carefully on Mrs. Bird’s apron and, after looking around in vain for a large enough bowl, scraped the dumpling mixture into his hat. It was a lot heavier than he had expected and he had a job lifting it up on to the stove. It was even more difficult putting the mixture into the stew as it kept sticking to his paws and as fast as he got it off one paw it stuck to the other.” ~ from Paddington Helps Out

*Letter excerpts from The Life and Times of Paddington Bear by Russell Ash and Michael Bond (Pavillion Books, 1988).

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.