The story behind Paddington's calypso songs

By Tim Masters
Arts and entertainment correspondent, BBC News

image source, Studio Canal
image captionBen Whishaw voices the marmalade-loving bear from 'darkest Peru'

The director of the new Paddington movie explains how the film's soundtrack came to include classic calypso songs.

As the Paddington film opens this weekend, audiences will be expecting plenty of mishaps involving a marmalade-loving bear from "darkest Peru".

But they might be surprised at a soundtrack packed with calypso songs which hark back to the music of the immigrant community who were settling in Notting Hill - where Paddington bear makes his home - around the time when Michael Bond began writing his classic children's books.

"My wife introduced me to this brilliant, but largely neglected music," explains the film's director, Paul King. "This is the music being made in the place where these books were written, by people who arrived on these shores.

"It felt like such a glorious gift - they are really upbeat positive songs - for the most part - all about that experience."

One of the songs King heard was Lord Kitchener's London is the Place for Me.

Lord Kitchener, real name Aldwyn Roberts, was a Trinidadian musician among the passengers on the Empire Windrush, the ship which brought hundreds of Caribbean immigrants to the UK in 1948.

image captionLord Kitchener on the BBC show Caribbean Cabaret in 1951

He sang London is the Place For Me to a Pathe News crew as he disembarked at Tilbury.

The song, performed in the film by D Lime - featuring Tobago Crusoe - came to King's attention on a compilation from Blur frontman Damon Albarn's Honest Jon's record label.

Inspired by what he heard, King emailed Albarn's agent and explained he was trying to track down some of the performers.

"I expected no reply," he recalls. "Or I hoped for a name of someone who might be able to help. What I didn't expect was Damon to say he'd love to be involved, help put a band together and use his recording studio.

"It's extraordinary how Paddington opens doors - people have such fondness for the character."

image source, EPA
image captionMichael Bond's first Paddington book was published in 1958 - the 88-year-old author has a cameo in the film

Ben Whishaw voices the bear in the live-action film, which also stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Peter Capaldi and Nicole Kidman as a villainous taxidermist.

The film made headlines earlier this month when it was rated a PG by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

The calypso band that was put together to record the songs for the film make several on-screen appearances, including a snowy scene in Windsor Gardens, where Paddington lives with the Brown family.

"It adds to the magic of our London that there's always a band playing the song that happens to reflect your feelings," says King.

The director, who also co-wrote the screenplay and previously worked on The Mighty Boosh, makes the point that Paddington is an outsider who is trying to find a home.

Michael Bond has said the character was partly-inspired by watching newsreels of children being evacuated from the capital during World War Two. The children wore a label around their necks and carried all their possessions in a suitcase.

In the story, Paddington Bear arrives in London with the label: "Please look after this bear. Thank you."

"Paddington is certainly an outsider and he's trying to find a home," explains King. "There's something special about London. Without trying to be political about it, big cities can feel like safe places for people who feel a little bit different.

"If you have unusual tastes in music or fashion, or you're from a different group of people, big cities - certainly when I was growing up - felt like an exciting place to go because you could find like-minded people."

Paddington is released across the UK on 28 November.

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