New book and film are just the bear necessities - Emirates24|7

New book and film are just the bear necessities

Bond, 82, says nobody would be surprised to meet a talking bear in real life. (AP)

It's 50 years since Paddington Bear arrived from Darkest Peru at the eponymous London station, wearing a bush hat with a label around his neck saying, "Please look after this bear. Thank you".

To celebrate the anniversary, his creator Michael Bond has now penned a new book, Paddington Here And Now, the first in 30 years, which brings Paddington into the modern world. Now he faces issues like car clamping, anti-burglar paint and surveys involving people with clip-boards.

Despite the passing years, Paddington has retained his wonderfully human traits, remaining well-mannered, easily confused and often outraged at injustice. But always dignified.

Bond, 82, a similarly noble gentleman, refused to take an advance from the publishers just in case he couldn't deliver the goods. He needn't have worried. Paddington reappeared in his mind and once he did, it took Bond just three months to finish the book.

Indeed, the bear who loves marmalade sandwiches has a reality about him not seen in other children's characters. Fans send Bond pictures of themselves with Paddington from all over the world, as if he's part of their family.

"I picture him as being a real character and if I met him going along the street I wouldn't be surprised," says Bond. "Nobody in the book ever says, 'Oh gosh! A talking bear!' because that would prick the balloon. When they meet him they treat him as a slightly strange adult from a foreign land, but they never query his existence." It's not only Bond, his characters and his young readers also humanise the fictional bear.

British Conservative leader David Cameron, he reveals, was out for dinner with friends when they realised there were 13 in the party. Several guests were superstitious, so the restaurant owner nipped upstairs and emerged with Paddington Bear, sitting him on another chair with them.

Bond adds: "Years ago I was at a signing in Australia and I was always being asked on to the flight deck because the crew wanted to see Paddington. On one occasion I had taken my seat when they sent me a message asking if Paddington could stay up on the flight deck because he wanted to try landing the plane!"

The anniversary celebrations continue with the publication of a variety of Paddington re-issues and new formats to mark this 50th year, but Bond is also excited about a forthcoming movie involving Harry Potter producer David Heyman, which will combine live action and computer-generated imagery. Bond, who won't be writing the screenplay but will have script approval, hopes Warner Bros will take on Stephen Fry as the voice of the famous bear.

"He's done a recording of the new book and made a super job of it. He's a slightly bear-like character himself.

"He went to Peru to make a film for the BBC two or three years ago, showing where Paddington lived and so on and really enters into the spirit of Paddington."

Originally from Newbury, Berkshire in the United Kingdom, Bond was brought up in a place where books were part of the furniture.

"It was as natural to read a book as it was to have breakfast. My mother used to go to the library every Friday and come back with an armful of books." Many of Paddington's personality traits are taken from Bond's father, a civil servant.

"My father was totally impractical. He was a very polite man. He was never without his hat. I have pictures of him going bathing on the Isle of Wight with his hat still on, in case he met somebody else bathing and had nothing to raise," he says.

"But he wasn't afraid of authority. If he thought something was wrong he would certainly stand his ground."

Bond lived in the English town of Reading during the war (Paddington was the London commuter station from there) and remembers seeing many refugees with luggage labels round their necks with their names and addresses on them, which provided the inspiration for Paddington's label.

He became a BBC cameraman and, after producing some short stories and radio plays, his agent suggested he adapt a TV play for children.

His first book, A Bear Called Paddington, was published in 1958 and he went on to write a series. By 1967 his books were so successful that he gave up his job at the BBC to write full-time.

To date, the Paddington Bear books have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and are available in more than 40 languages.

When the series spawned a TV spin-off, which at its peak attracted seven million viewers and a flurry of licensing requests, Bond's world went into merchandising madness. "It was a very stressful time," says Bond. "And it didn't do my first marriage any good.

"People used to come to me with merchandise and I used to think, 'What would Paddington think about it?' If I felt he wouldn't like it I used to say no. Somebody came to me one day with toilet rolls and he wanted to put a picture of Paddington on the rolls. That was an easy decision. Somebody else arrived with a waste paper bucket with a detachable Paddington head on it. That was also easy to say no to."

He says it wasn't difficult bringing Paddington into the modern world because he becomes such an integral part of this life. "Writing a book is a bit like having a baby," he explains.

"You live with these characters for eight or nine months or however long it takes, it becomes part of your life and everywhere you go you think of lines of dialogue. Then, when it's published you get a period of post-natal depression because suddenly it's left you."

He still has the original bear which he bought his first wife Brenda as a Christmas stocking-filler in 1956, which was the prototype for Paddington. He says it doesn't look anything like the book illustrations or TV character, which came later.

He shares custody with his ex-wife and says it's all very amicable. Bond now lives in London with his second wife Sue and also spends much time in Paris, where he rents a flat. On the odd occasion he passes through Paddington Station, he can see the bronze statue of his creation in all its glory. "It's very nice. The statue's based on one of Peggy Fortnum's original drawings and people do sit on the marble plinth eating their sandwiches."

Bond hasn't ruled out more Paddington books because he hasn't tired of him, he says, and he thinks the character still has appeal in the modern world. "His good manners are quite disarming to people. He has quite a good life living with a nice family and has space, which is something which is getting difficult to find," he says.

"People admire Paddington for his sense of right and wrong. People slightly wish they were Paddington, in a way," he reflects. "I wouldn't mind coming back as Paddington in my next life."



The bear facts

Paddington lives at the imaginary 32, Windsor Gardens near Paddington Station in London with the Brown family and their formidable housekeeper, Mrs Bird

- Paddington's friend Mr Gruber keeps an antiques shop in the nearby Portobello Road

- When he went to live with the Browns, they got him a blue duffle coat

- In Peru his name was Pastuso

- His possessions include an old bush hat, a pair of Wellingtons, a brown leather suitcase and his treasured scrapbook

- He often has a marmalade sandwich tucked under his hat in case of emergencies

- Paddington was chosen by English tunnellers as the first item to pass to their French counterparts when the two sides of the Channel Tunnel were linked in 1994

- Like the British queen, he has two birthdays: June 25 and Christmas Day – December 25 

- He made his TV debut in 1975 in a puppet animation narrated by Sir Michael Hordern

- In the late 1990s a brand new, fully animated cartoon series was made by Canadian firm Cinar. Unlike the earlier series, all the characters were given voices

- An avid traveller, Paddington ventured into sea with Sir Richard Branson in 1986 when Branson attempted to break the Blue Riband world speed record for a transatlantic crossing

- The official website, www.paddingtonbear.co.uk receives more than 1.3m hits a month

 

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