Yesterday, it was announced that Michael Bond CBE, had died, aged 91. It was one of those deaths I read about and felt genuine sadness. Michael Bond, and his wonderful creations, are a big part of a lot of happy childhood memories. His stories make me think of my family, my grandparents in particular.
Bond wrote a children’s television series, The Herbs, which was filmed in gorgeous 3D stop motion model animation. First aired in the 60s, my grandparents had the whole thing on tape, and I remember watching it endlessly. During the summer holidays when I was small, I always stayed with my grandparents one night a week while my parents were at work. I vividly remember sitting in the living room in their house, watching these lovely old shows.
Most important of all though, was of course, Paddington Bear. In 1956, on Christmas Eve, Michael Bond bought the last stuffed bear on the shelf in Selfridges, as a present for his wife. They named the bear Paddington, after the station they lived near. Bond began to write stories about this bear, and in 1958, A Bear Called Paddington was published in hardback. Since then, Paddington Bear has featured in more than 20 books in 30 languages, which have sold 300 million copies worldwide. Paddington has also starred in three television series, a movie (with a second currently in production), a series of adverts for Marmite, a collection of stamps and a marketing campaign for Golden Shred marmalade.
My Gran loved Paddington. She owned a lot of Paddington merchandise, mostly in the form of stuffed bears. The best bear though, was this friendly chap.
In 1971, Shirley Clarkson made two stuffed bears for her children, Joanna and Jeremy (yes, that Jeremy Clarkson). The next year, Clarkson’s company, Gabrielle Designs became the first Paddington licensee and began to mass produce these bears. Gran being quite a Paddington fan, she heard about the release of these bears and she had to have one. That year, it was the only thing on her Christmas list.
These beautiful bears weren’t cheap, but Granddad dutifully set off to Hamleys, and bought the bear. These bears by Gabrielle Designs have become real collectors items, and in good condition can sell for up to £150. Gran’s bear has been well-loved, so he’s certainly not that valuable anymore, not that we’d part with him anyway.
When I was small, Paddington lived on the landing, where he was stood on a little stool underneath a bookcase full of photo albums. With no concept of his advanced age, or indeed, future value, I liked to play with Paddington and would clatter about the house and garden, with Paddington in tow. Gran made a pair of pyjamas for one of my dolls, but they ended up being much too big. I realised the pyjamas were a perfect fit for Paddington, so his famous outfit was always swapped for his new night gear in time for bed, whenever I stayed. Paddington stood up well to such undignified treatment, and even though at that time I’d have probably told you my favourite bear was Winnie the Pooh, Paddington was already occupying a special place in my heart.
When my grandparents moved house, Paddington went along as well and took up a new position standing on a chair in the front hall. He stayed there, watching over the kitchen, until my Gran died. After that, Paddington came to live with me. He’s moved house several times with me since then, and he always has pride of place in my living room. He’s an extremely popular gentleman, and visitors tend to find themselves taking him down from wherever he’s standing, and sitting with him in their laps. After a few swan dives from the top of my bookcase, he’s now standing on the floor in front of the bookcase, where he can keep an eye on everything that’s going on. Wherever I move next, Paddington will come too and take up his traditional guard position.
His coat and hat are faded now, and at some point he acquired a charity pin badge in his hat (my Gran added this at some point, and I won’t remove it). He might not be of interest to a toy collector anymore after a little too much love and sunlight, but he’s a very important member of my family. This bear, and Paddington in general, are always associated with my grandparents, for me. Whenever I pass through Paddington station, I have to go and visit the life size Paddington statue, even though I’ve seen it a hundred times. Paddington has been in my life for as long as I can remember, and I know he’ll always stay with me.
Thank you, Michael Bond, from me and my Gran, for my lifelong friend, Paddington Bear. Rest in peace.