LONDON – British children’s writer Michael Bond, the creator of the much-loved character Paddington Bear, has died at the age of 91, his publisher HarperCollins said on Wednesday.
Bond’s famous series about a friendly teddy bear from “deepest, darkest Peru” sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and was turned into a blockbuster film in 2014.
“He was a true gentleman, a bon viveur, the most entertaining company and the most enchanting of writers,” Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books, said in a statement.
“He will be forever remembered for his creation of the iconic Paddington, with his duffle coat and Wellington boots, which touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations,” she said.
The inspiration for the character came on Christmas Eve 1956 when Bond, a writer and BBC cameraman, saw a lonely-looking teddy bear in a shop near his home close to Paddington railway station in London, and bought it for his wife.
– ‘Please look after this bear’ –
Bond published his first book, “A Bear Called Paddington”, in 1958, and more than 35 million books chronicling the bear’s adventures have since been sold worldwide.
In the books, the impeccably polite stowaway turns up at Paddington station with a battered suitcase containing a nearly-finished jar of marmalade, and a label on his blue duffle coat reading: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
The movie “Paddington” sparked a resurgence of interest, with exhibitions, statues and the publication of a new book of the bear’s adventures.
The author brought out a new story, “Love from Paddington”, on December 23, 2014.
The book is in the form of letters written to Paddington’s aunt Lucy, back in Peru, telling her about his new life in London.
Actor Hugh Bonneville, who in the film plays Mr. Brown — the hapless but friendly father who adopts Paddington — said the movie contained very simple themes.
“Apart from being 86 minutes of good fun, I suppose if there are some delicate emotional themes underneath, it’s about an evacuee, a refugee coming to a foreign country and having been told certain things about that culture to expect,” the actor told AFP at the film’s launch.
“Of course, the reality is very different.”
– ‘Dignified, charming and lovable’ –
Paddington finds a home, but has a “spectacularly sticky journey to get there,” Bonneville added, involving a car chase through London, and a taxidermist on his tail played by Nicole Kidman.
“It’s a glorious journey to go on for a small bear from Peru,” or at least for a computer-generated version of him standing three feet, six inches (1.07 metres) tall.
Actor Stephen Fry wrote that he was “so sorry to hear that Michael Bond has departed.
“He was as kindly, dignified, charming and lovable as the immortal Paddington Bear he gave us,” he tweeted.
Motoring presenter Jeremy Clarkson added that he had known him for 45 years “and rarely met anyone kinder or more gentle.”
Bond had said he wanted the trail to end when he passed away, telling The Times newspaper in 2014 that he was taking legal action to prevent sequels after his death.
He said he would “hate” further works, adding: “I have just made a will and gone to a lawyer in the City who specialises in that very thing of stopping people doing it.”
He said the practice was “wrong”, adding that characters like Paddington Bear were “sacred”.
In addition to Paddington Bear series, Bond also wrote a children’s TV series called “The Herbs” and a series of novels for adults about a French detective called Monsieur Pamplemousse.