Cheers and laughter greeting the survival of the Government’s public sector pay cap, emanating from the fat, affluent arses settled on the Tory benches, doesn’t exactly make one feel proud to be British. The PM’s praise of how the emergency services performed in the recent disasters to have befallen the country has a hollow ring to it when a magic money tree can buy DUP support but can’t provide a pay rise for those dealing with the disasters on the front-line. More than that, though, it was the absence of both dignity and humility on the winning side as the result of the vote was announced, receiving the news in a manner that implied delight in the misfortune of others, something that serves to reinforce the low opinion so many have of Parliament.
However, when confronted by such an ugly and unedifying spectacle, it’s worth remembering that there are some out there who illuminate our parade rather than rain on it, some who exist to bring pleasure into our lives rather than maintain misery. One such person was Michael Bond, whose death at the age of 91 was announced yesterday. Bond was the author of the Paddington Bear books and also the producer of the memorable animated Paddington series that once curtailed the daily children’s TV schedule on BBC1 before the real world elbowed its way into the picture again via the news. I have to admit the version of the theme tune accompanying the closing credits still induces a sadness that ‘my telly’ is over for another day, even though it’s been over for decades.
Like his illustrious bear predecessors Winnie the Pooh and Rupert, Paddington is an anthropomorphised creature, and in his distinctive hat and duffle coat stands as one of the most recognisable characters in children’s literature; personality-wise, he is (to use a much-derided word) nice. His charming, child-like inquisitiveness with the world he arrives in from Darkest Peru often lands him in trouble and creates trouble for those around him, but he is an innocent abroad and his kindly nature, coupled with his very English politeness, makes him impossible not to warm to. Provide him with enough marmalade sandwiches and he’ll be your friend for life.
The first of the Paddington books appeared in 1958 and the last just three years ago. I first became aware of the character, though, via the short stories that for many years appeared in the annual ‘Blue Peter’ book. Then, of course, there was the original Film Fair series that debuted in 1975, bringing the loveable bear to a wider audience than ever. Seven years previously, Michael Bond had created another immortal animated series also produced by Film Fair for BBC1, ‘The Herbs’. With each character named after an actual herb, the likes of Parsley the lion and Dill the dog still immediately re-enter my head when browsing the herbs and spices shelves at Sainsbury’s, which I suppose is testament to the impact the series had on an impressionable infant imagination.
As animals, bears seem uniquely enduring as children’s characters, stretching all the way back to the trio that found Goldilocks in their abode; perhaps the connection with teddy bears is important. If we’re lucky enough, a teddy will be our first bedtime companion, and I guess it was to be expected that this bond would be played upon by authors. The aforementioned and long-running success of both Pooh and Rupert no doubt gave Paddington’s creator the idea he’d probably be onto a winner if he added another bear to the animal farm of children’s fiction and he was right. Paddington’s ongoing popularity led to a successful animated movie in 2014; a sequel is scheduled to be released this year. There’s even a statue of him at the London station from which he took his name.
The 1970s TV series was narrated by Michael Horden, whose marvellous rich voice was one of many in a long line of inspired choices to narrate children’s series during this era. Another was Brian Cant, whose death last week I marked in a post; his narration covered the entire ‘Trumptonshire Trilogy’, which had a longer run on television than even Cant’s lengthy stint on camera in both ‘Play School’ and ‘Play Away’. Michael Bond’s creation was more well-known than the creator himself, but his death, coming so soon after the death of Cant and of John Noakes, is one more sobering reminder of time passing. Happily, all three lived to a ripe old age and the magic they wove stays with those of us for whom it was pivotal to our formative years.
The mood of the moment sometimes appears to be so relentlessly bleak that when someone leaves us whose contribution was joyous and made us smile, it’s inevitable we feel sad at their departure. When the nasty, unpleasant and hate-fuelled seem to have the biggest platform of all, it’s only natural we celebrate a benign legacy and mourn the loss of that legacy’s creator. We could do with a few more of them, and a little less of the other.
© The Editor