Obituary: Michael Bond

Michael Bond with Paddington Image copyright Getty Images

Michael Bond's Paddington Bear has become one of the classic characters in children's literature.

A chance encounter with a toy bear in a London shop spawned a long line of books, a BBC TV series, a feature film and a lot of merchandise.

A prolific writer, he also created The Herbs, featuring Parsley the Lion, which became a successful TV series and the tale-telling guinea pig, Olga da Polga.

And for adults there was Monsieur Pamplemousse, the retired detective turned restaurant critic and his bloodhound, Pommes Frites.

Thomas Michael Bond was born on 13 January 1926 in Newbury and raised in nearby Reading. One of his earliest childhood memories was standing by the railway line to watch the Cornish Riviera Express thunder past on its way from Paddington to Penzance.

Bond's father was the mild-mannered manager of the local post office and was the basis for the character of Paddington Bear, the unassuming ursine stowaway.

"My father was a very polite man and he always wore a hat," Bond said. "We'd go on holiday to the Isle of Wight and he used to go in the sea with his trousers rolled up and keep his hat on in case he met someone he knew and would have something to raise. He would have been mortified if he hadn't."

His parents instilled in him a love of books and he later remembered never going to sleep without a bedtime story.

Image copyright FilmFair
Image caption The Herbs first appeared on the BBC in 1968

Bond's happy childhood was interrupted when his parents sent him to a strict Catholic school where the Brothers kept discipline with heavy rubber straps.

Bond often suffered this brutal treatment, so much so that he left school at 14 and got a job as a clerk in a local solicitor's office.

A year later he was working for the BBC which, impressed with his hobby of building amplifiers and other electrical gadgets, gave him a junior job at a transmitter facility in Reading.

His budding career nearly came to a premature end when four German bombs fell on the building where he was working. Despite the ground floor being blown out he escaped unharmed.

In 1943 he volunteered for the RAF, later transferring to the army. It was while he was stationed in Egypt that he submitted a short story to the magazine London Opinion, which paid him seven guineas for it.

At that point he decided he quite liked the idea of becoming a writer.

Evacuated children

Bond returned to the BBC in 1947, working at Caversham Park which monitored foreign broadcasts. Three years later he became a BBC cameraman, working on programmes including Blue Peter, while continuing to write short stories.

On his way home from work on Christmas Eve in 1956, Bond spied a lonely teddy bear on the shelf in a shop window, and took it home as a stocking filler for his wife. He called it Paddington because they were living near Paddington Station at the time.

While musing over a typewriter and a blank sheet of paper, he wondered idly what it would be like if an unaccompanied bear turned up at a railway station looking for a home.

The seeds of the idea had taken root during the war when Bond saw newsreels of children being sent out from British cities to avoid German bombing. "I had memories of children being evacuated from London with a label around their necks and all their possessions in a suitcase, and this became part of Paddington as well," he said.

"Paddington Bear was a refugee with a label - 'Please look after this bear. Thank you', and he had a little suitcase."

Image copyright FilmFair
Image caption The BBC's Paddington series proved a success with both children and parents

A Bear Called Paddington appeared in 1958 with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum. Ivor Wood would later take over the drawings and he went on to develop the successful BBC TV series that first aired in 1976.

Wood came up with the idea of a three-dimensional puppet which moved, using stop motion techniques, against a two-dimensional drawn background. Bond wrote the scripts and the actor, Michael Hordern, narrated the stories.

During the 1960s, Bond turned out an average of one Paddington book a year but didn't feel secure enough to become a full-time writer until 1965, when he quit his job with the BBC.

Later that decade came the first of the Parsley books, featuring a lion and his friends including Sage the Owl and Sir Basil and Lady Rosemary. These books too were successfully translated onto TV by Wood and his company, FilmFair, first as The Herbs in 1968 and then The Adventures of Parsley which aired in 1970.

While aimed at children, it became cult viewing for adults who appreciated the dry humour which probably escaped the target audience.

Francophile

In 1971 Bond published the first of his Olga da Polga stories for children, featuring a guinea pig with a penchant for telling tall stories in the manner of Baron Munchausen.

Bond next turned to writing for adults with his Monsieur Pamplemousse books, the first of which appeared in 1983. The idea of a French detective who quit the police and became a restaurant critic came when Bond - a Francophile - was eating in a French restaurant.

Pamplemousse and his faithful bloodhound, Pommes Frites, travel the country, sampling menus and getting into a series of comic mystery adventures. The books are full of the wry humour that was Bond's trademark.

Image copyright StudioCanal
Image caption Bond described the 2014 feature film as 'charming'

But the popularity of his original creation never seemed to wane and Bond continued to write adventures for the little bear. As well as the books, a huge merchandising operation was built up and Paddington toys remained high on the wish list of new generations of children.

Designer Shirley Clarkson was one of the first licensees to produce the figure with his now famous hat, wellington boots and duffel coat. She made the very first Paddington Bear as a Christmas present for her young son, Jeremy (future presenter of the BBC's Top Gear).

In 2014 StudioCanal released a feature film of Paddington, with the bear voiced by Ben Whishaw. Bond, who had a cameo role, called the film "absolutely delightful".

Since 1958, more than 150 different Paddington titles have been published, and more than 35 million copies have been sold worldwide in more than 40 languages.

Bond was still writing in recent months, with Paddington's Finest Hour published in April of this year. It is a volume of letters from the bear to his Aunt Lucy in Peru - the relative who originally despatched him to London more than half a century previously.

Michael Bond was once asked why the popularity of Paddington had endured for children in the age of computers and video games.

"Paddington is eternally optimistic and always comes back for more, no matter how many times his hopes are dashed," he said.

"It's simply the joy of a little bear who is an outsider getting into scrapes and mishaps - always with the best of intentions - and coming out on top every time."

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