Teddy bear inspired a story and survived a marriage

Michael Bond
Michael Bond

NEW YORK • 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 in 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 toy 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. A Bear Called Paddington, published in 1958 with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum, was the first in a shelf-ful 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 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 both the Royal Air Force and the British Army.

He sold his first short story in 1945, to the magazine London Opinion. He began working for the BBC after the war and, even after A Bear Called Paddington was published, he did not immediately quit. It was only in 1965, with six Paddington novels, 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 Parsley the Lion.

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 the hero has his shopping cart towed and his immigration status questioned. Bond's latest novel, Paddington's Finest Hour, was published in April.

He married Brenda Mary Johnson in 1950, and they separated in the 1970s. In 1981, he married Susan Marfrey Rogers, who 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. One would call the other, he once told The Daily Mail, and say, "He feels like coming to you now."

Over the years, he 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."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Teddy bear inspired a story and survived a marriage'. Print Edition | Subscribe