As a CGI Paddington comes to the big screen with his movie opening this Friday, Will Gore looks back at how author Michael Bond first brought this loveable, bumbling bear to London
When I was a kid in the 1980s there were plenty of cartoon bears vying for my (limited) attention. SuperTed, Yogi and Winnie the Pooh all did their bit to keep me entertained, but the bear that probably cheered me the most was that unassuming, kindly one who hailed from ‘Darkest Peru’.
I spent countless mornings watching Paddington’s many adventures. Memories of exact storylines are hazy but chaos was, I recall, a defining feature, as were marmalade sandwiches. Now my affection for Paddington is about to be jogged, as I suspect it will be for a number of big kids like me, by a big budget film adaptation and a new exhibition dedicated to the character.
The film sees a CGI Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw, star alongside Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, who play Mr and Mrs Brown, the kind-hearted couple who take him in. Peter Capaldi takes a break from Dr Who to play Mr Curry, the Browns’ bad tempered neighbour, but the real villain of the piece is played by Nicole Kidman; her character, called Millicent, is an evil taxidermist with a grudge against bears.
The film, called simply Paddington, is released on November 28 and looks likely to be one of the big family hits of the festive season. Creator Michael Bond, who wrote the first Paddington book, A Bear Called Paddington, in 1958, is happy to see his creation finally make it to the cinema screen. ‘More than 57 years have passed since I wrote the first book and I’m quietly delighted that a live-action feature film of Paddington is being made,’ he has said.
To coincide with the film’s release, a new exhibition, entitled A Bear Called Paddington, has now opened at the Museum of London. The exhibition traces the genesis of the character, its many adaptations and the fandom that surrounds it. Bond, now 88, created the first Paddington book after finding a lone bear on a shelf in a London department store on Christmas Eve in 1956 and buying it for his wife. When she unwrapped the gift, they named him Paddington after the nearest tube station to their home.
It would be easy to say that ‘the rest is history’, but the fact is Paddington is far from a thing of the past. Bond has continued writing Paddington novels and picture books through the years, with the latest novel, Love from Paddington, recently released. There will be some who know this beloved bear only from the books, while others, like me, who will have their Paddington recollections based on the animation created in the 1970s, with its stop-motion animation and 2D backdrops. There has been another more recent cartoon version, too, and presumably some young children will discover Paddington for the first time through the film.
This broad appeal, as well as the character’s phenomenal success (more than 150 books featuring Paddington, with his adventures translated into more than 40 languages), is something the Museum of London is hoping to reflect in its exhibition. The curator of the showcase, Hilary Young, says it’s been an enjoyable challenge to create something that does justice to all the different aspects of Paddington and the different memories people have of him. ‘There is a different Paddington for each generation but the challenge is helped because Paddington is strong as a character and the appeal for the adult is the same as for the child,’ she says.
The exhibition has been supported by Michael Bond and his family. Almost all of the exhibits come from their private collection, including a signed and very well-thumbed first edition copy of A Bear Called Paddington belonging to the author’s daughter, Karen Jankel. There is also the original typewriter that Bond wrote Paddington at Work and Paddington Goes to Town on after leaving his job as a cameraman at the BBC in 1965 to become a full-time writer. Other exhibits include examples of Paddington in translation, such as a Hebrew version from the 1960s, and quirky memorabilia from Japan (Metro tickets, ski passes and yoghurt pots) where Paddington is apparently huge.
Along with the film and the upcoming exhibition at the Museum of London, Londoners are also about to see a proliferation of Paddington’s popping up as 50 statues of the bear, all designed by a range of celebrities and artists, are to be placed in different locations around the capital. Bond himself as designed one of the Paddington Trail bears and others have been done by the likes of Emma Watson, Michael Sheen and Benedict Cumberbatch, whose bear will be part of the Museum of London’s show. There is also another Paddington exhibition at the House of Illustration and a Paddington display at Selfridges.
How has such an unassuming little bear endured for so long? In working on the Museum of London exhibition, Hilary Young says she’s been able to find an answer. ‘His popularity is based on the fact he’s a well-meaning, optimistic character,’ she says. ‘There’s always a little bit of chaos around him, but everything turns out alright in the end.’ And based on my own fond memories of Paddington, it’s an assessment that sounds just about right to me.
Paddington is released in cinemas on November 28. A Bear Called Paddington is on at the Museum of London until 4 Jan 2015. For more information, visit the website:
This article has been amended from the print version, which incorrectly stated that the original Paddington teddy bear was found on a shop shelf in Paddington station