BBC cameraman Michael Bond felt a pang of sympathy for the teddy bear he spied sitting alone and unloved on a shop shelf on Christmas Eve in 1956. So he bought the bear and gave it to his wife, Brenda, as a present. Ten days later, Bond had written the first of many books inspired by the stuffed toy – A Bear Called Paddington, published on 13 October 1958. It chronicles the discovery of the Peruvian bear sitting on his suitcase at Paddington railway station, with a label around his neck that read: “Please look after this bear”.
The hungry little “stowaway” tells the Brown family, who happen upon him, how he had travelled from “darkest Peru” to Britain, hiding in a lifeboat, after his aunt Lucy went to live in a “home for retired bears”. All he had to go on during his long journey was a jar of marmalade. The Brown family take pity on him and offer him a home, despite the initial misgivings of Mr Brown, who works as a stuffy risk analyst in the City. Named after the railway station by the Browns, the hapless Paddington goes off to live with his adoptive family for many an amusing misadventure.
During the Second World War, Bond, Paddington’s creator, had been moved by the sight of thousands of children with cardboard tags around their necks. Even though the children were being sent away for their safety, the name tags implied a certain dehumanisation. In the opening chapter to A Bear Called Paddington, Mrs Brown tells her husband, “And for goodness’ sake, when you get a moment, take that label off his neck. It makes him look like a parcel.”
Despite the book being 57 years old, the theme of migration and flight is perhaps more relevant today than ever, given the heated political rhetoric over immigration and the ‘migrant crisis’. As part of Paddington’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2008, Bond wrote a new, updated book in the series for the 21st century: Paddington Here and Now. In it, little Paddington finds himself in trouble with the police and is questioned over his “refugee” status. “There is this side of Paddington the Browns don’t really understand at all”, said Bond, “what it’s like to be a refugee, not to be in your own country”.
Also on this day
On this day in 1884, Greenwich was chosen as the prime meridian of longitude, settling the matter of time once and for all. Read more here.