In early 2014, with a new Paddington Bear film in theaters, I asked the character’s American artist, R.W. Alley, about the source of this fuzzy traveler’s uncommonly perpetual appeal.
“In children’s eyes, Paddington is an uprooted peer, alone in the world, looking for a family and a safe home,” Alley said of the bear created six decades ago by Michael Bond. “As Mr. Bond tells it, Paddington is the child, name tag strung around his neck, having just escaped by train the dangers of the adults’ world war, now waiting on a station platform to be taken in by a kind family.
“Mr. Bond and his daughter Karen Jankel, who oversees the business end of things, have guarded and grown this basic story for over 50 years,” the artist continued. “That is the key.”
“Mr. Bond” was a gentlemanly Englishman who birthed a literary empire not long after spotting a lone teddy bear on Christmas Eve in 1956—a furry stocking stuffer that he took home near Paddington Station.
Two years later, “A Bear Called Paddington” was published, and this warm, smiling creature began to win hearts the world over. With an expressive face beneath a floppy brimmed hat, this unassuming London transplant from “deepest, darkest Peru,” with a parcel tag and a taste for marmalade in tow, became the star of children’s books, a TV series and the big screen—including “Paddington 2,” due out next January, with Ben Whishaw voicing the title star.
Alley relishes the fact that Paddington has always engaged the world as “a person,” and for that, he salutes the brilliance of Bond, who died Tuesday at home at age 91 after a brief illness, his publisher Harper Collins said.
Michael Bond was born in Newbury, Berkshire, England, in 1926, and began writing in his 20s after serving in the military during World War II.
Bond was 30 when he began dreaming up the world of Paddington, eventually enlisting illustrator Fred Banbery for the picture books, which have sold more than 30 million copies and have been translated into at least 40 languages.
In the ‘90s, Bond approached Alley—a cricket-playing American artist who was born in Lexington, Virginia, and raised largely in Maryland—about illustrating his creation for new U.S. editions of the picture books, for the new cross-continental imprint Harper Collins. Soon, the Rhode Island-based Alley was off to London to meet Bond and his wife, Sue; after some impromptu adjustments to his sample sketches, Alley passed the audition.
Bond and Alley teamed on creating Paddington’s new look of red hat, blue coat and yellow Wellington boots.
“It was, and still is, about animating a bear in a human world,” said Alley, who salutes such other Paddington artists as Peggy Fortnum.
In addition to his wife, Bond is survived by two children and four grandchildren.
“I don’t think a young reader could find a better companion in children’s literature,” Alley said, “than Paddington.”