Obituary: Paddington creator got custody of the original toy bear, which was 'very real' to him

Michael Bond arrives for the world premiere of Paddington in Leicester Square in London.
Michael Bond arrives for the world premiere of Paddington in Leicester Square in London.PHOTO: EPA

(NYTimes, Washington Post) - For Michael Bond - the genial British writer whose ursine creation, Paddington Bear, became one of the most beloved characters in the animal kingdom of children's literature - the story began on Christmas Eve 1956.

He was shopping for his wife at Selfridges department store and grabbed, as a stocking stuffer, a teddy bear that sat lonesomely on a shelf. They named it Paddington, after the London train station Bond used for his workday commute.

He was a BBC cameraman at the time but satisfied his literary bent by writing on the side. Looking at the teddy bear, and summoning his memories of the child refugees he had seen in British train stations during World War II, he began writing a story about a bear from "darkest Peru" who is sent to England alone when his aunt enters a nursing home.

"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 told The Guardian in 2014. "So Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there's no sadder sight than refugees."

After 10 days he had a completed novel, which William Collins & Sons bought for 75 pounds. A Bear Called Paddington, published in 1958 with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum, was the first in a shelfful of books about Paddington's adventures and misadventures that have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and have been translated into at least 40 languages.

By the time Bond died at his home in London on Tuesday at age 91, Paddington Bear - with his immediately recognisable duffel coat, floppy hat and Wellington boots - had joined Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit and A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh among celebrity literary animals, spawning television series, films, soft toys and other merchandise.

"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."

Thomas Michael Bond was born in Newbury, Berkshire, England, on Jan. 13, 1926. Six weeks later, his family moved to Reading, where his father worked for the post office.

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

He 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. 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 did not limit his work to Paddington or to print, but animals did dominate his work. In 1968 he created The Herbs, an animated British television series with characters including Dill the Dog, Sage the Owl and the popular Parsley the Lion, who was rewarded with his own spinoff series.

For adult readers he wrote of Monsieur Pamplemousse, a culinary detective with a dog named Pommes Frites.

The Paddington book series seemed to end in 1979, but in 2008, to celebrate the bear's 50th anniversary, he 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 married Brenda Mary Johnson in 1950, and they separated in the 1970s. He married Susan Marfrey Rogers in 1981. She survives him, as do a daughter, a son and three grandchildren.

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, he 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."