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Michael Brown and A Bear Called Paddington

by Joshua Winchester
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Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an usual name for a bear, for Paddington was the name of the station.

It is those opening sentences that introduce readers to one of London’s most celebrated residents, the brainchild of children’s author Michael Bond who is sadly no longer with us. He passed away on June 27, 2017, on his 91st birthday. Although he is gone, Michael has left behind a wonderful legacy of stories that have been delighting audiences for decades.

Paddington’s stories and the people in his life are well-known across the world thanks to Mr. Bond. He first introduced Paddington in 1958 with the book A Bear Called Paddington. The response was enormous and has lead to more books being written over the years (Mr. Bond’s last Paddington book Paddington’s Finest Hour was published in early June of this year). But this delightful bear has not confined himself to the printed page; over the years there have been three Paddington TV series (the most famous one being produced in 1975 by FilmFair), a movie released back in 2014 starring Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington with a sequel scheduled for release this November.

Now many authors both living and deceased talk at some point in their careers about how their most famous characters came to be. For Michael Bond and Paddington, this story came to light in an interview given for Radio Times in 2014. Mr. Bond noted in the interview that a bear he noticed on Christmas Eve of 1956, “…looked so forlorn that I bought him as a stocking filler for my wife, and I called him Paddington after our nearest railway terminus because it has a masculine ring to it; important but not overbearing, with nice, safe, West Country overtones”.

A year later while working as a cameraman for BBC, the first Paddington story came about on one of Mr. Bond’s off days:

“One such day found me sitting with a blank sheet of paper in my typewriter and not an idea in my head, only too well aware that the ball was in my court. Nobody else was going to put any words down for me. Glancing round in search of inspiration my gaze came to rest on Paddington, who gave me a hard stare from the mantelpiece, and the muse struck, along with what was destined to become the equivalent of a literary catchphrase. Suppose a real live bear ended up at Paddington station? Where might it have sprung from, and why? If it had any sense it would find a quiet spot near the Lost Property Office and hope for the best.”

Idea in hand, Paddington Bear was given life, and things never being quite the same since the bear from Darkest Peru came into the literary world. And now with the passing of Michael Bond, it feels a bit smaller now that his brand of creative storytelling is no longer with us.

It is safe to say, however, that Michael Bond cemented his place in the hearts and minds of children and adults the world over with Paddington Bear. Whenever families sit down to read another tale from the many adventures of Paddington, may they look at the name Michael Bond, and recall an author who introduced people to many whimsical and wonderful stories, each one just as memorable as the last.

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