Please Look After This Bear: A Tribute to Michael Bond
I used to be a child who took great delight in habits. When I was ill, I watched The Aristocats; when mum and I had days out in Stratford, we always went to the ice cream boat for ‘square’ ice cream; and when some particular family friends came to stay, I was read a chapter of Paddington Bear book as my bedtime story. I loved S reading Paddington to me because he was so very good at the voices. When read by him, Mrs Bird became shrill and East End, Mr Brown was a bit daft, whilst Samuel Gruber sounded incredibly wise and learned. Although I often read the Paddington stories to myself, having them read to me was an experience I will always cherish.
Yesterday I was saddened to hear of the death of Michael Bond at the age of 91, a man who I will always consider to be one of the greatest authors to have ever lived. Paddington Bear was a character I will never tire of reading about; a bear with a kind heart, impeccable manners, and an incredible ability to mess things up without meaning to. Paddington books might not have dynamic, exciting plots, but they are full of little episodes to which we can all relate. Accidentally losing something or somehow becoming embroiled in a situation we never envisioned is part of the human experience. We all have a little bit of Paddington inside of us.
The character of Paddington is introduced in the novel A Bear Called Paddington, published in 1958. He is sitting on his suitcase wearing a funny hat and a label around his neck which reads, ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’ This small detail was based on the labels that Bond remembers seeing around the necks of child evacuees on newsreels during the Second World War. It marks Paddington as an immigrant, an illegal one no less, who is seeking a new life in a country on the other side of the world. Finding a home with the Brown family, Paddington quickly wins their hearts, as well as the reader’s. He becomes part of their family and for the past fifty years to children all over the world, he has become a beloved character and friend.
The stop motion tv series was a childhood staple of mine. We had it all on VHS, and I’m pretty sure that it was one of the videos I managed to wear out by over-watching. Disappearing into a nostalgic, idealised London in which everyone ate elevenses and no problem couldn’t be solved was always joyous. The recent 2014 film is a similarly wonderful viewing experience. I went to see it with my parents not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by how utterly charming it was. Bond’s cameo was a touching addition, showing how he continued to watch over his creation throughout the years.
However, Bond didn’t just create Paddington. He was also behind more of my childhood favourites – the tv series The Herbs and The Adventures of Parsley. I’m not sure I am entirely capable of conveying just how much I adore those two television shows. Dill the Dog was my favourite character, and I still sing his song to myself on a regular basis. I also make myself chuckle remembering the absurd and brilliant storylines – the wry humour of which completely passed me by as a child. My favourite was called ‘Works of Art by Dill’ when Dill held an art exhibition including paintings such as ‘White Cat in a Snow Storm’ and ‘Black Cat in a Coal Cellar’. The commentary on Modern Art went well above my head but I still found it funny, such was Bond’s skill at constructing jokes.
Without a doubt Michael Bond will be fondly remembered for the creation of his best loved character, Paddington Bear. They remain as popular these days as they ever were, with Paddington merchandise still very much in demand for children. For me, however, his legacy will be slightly different. It will be of a worldview that teaches kindness and good intentions above all else. Of a gentle humour and wry way of looking at things that is entirely British. I will carry with me the importance of good manners and a willingness to help others, no matter what they may look like or where they come from. If I ever have children, I will play them The Herbs and The Adventures of Parsley. More importantly, I shall read them the adventures of a small bear from Darkest Peru called Paddington. I might even attempt the voices.