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© Museum of London

A Bear Called Paddington

18 November 2014 Jessica Johnston

“He couldn’t bring himself to leave the bear sitting all alone over Christmas so he bought it, took it home and gave it to my mother as a stocking filler.”

In his history spanning nearly sixty-years, the blue toggle coat, lopsided hat and little brown suitcase, prevail today, as unforgettable symbols of a bear called Paddington. The small stowaway from Darkest Peru, whose charming smile and optimistic spirit has captured the imagination of generations of children from across the globe. This winter, the world’s favourite well-mannered bear will make his big-screen debut in the new PADDINGTON film and to celebrate, the Museum of London has opened a new exhibition charting the story of Michael Bond’s cherished character from page to screen. London Calling had a lovely chat with Bond’s daughter, Karen Jankel, to find out what it was like to grow up with Paddington Bear.

London Calling: When did your father’s relationship with Paddington Bear begin?

Karen Jankel: Well it all began on Christmas Eve 1956. At the time, my father was working as a television cameraman at the BBC but he was also an aspiring writer and he loved to write in his spare time. That evening, he was walking down Oxford Street when it started to snow, so he stepped into the closest shop, which happened to be Selfridges, to take shelter. Whilst he was inside the store, he wandered into the toy department and there, sitting friendless on a shelf, was a bear. He couldn’t bring himself to leave the bear sitting all alone over Christmas so he bought it, took it home and gave it to my mother as a stocking filler.

LC: So how did this lonely bear from Selfridges make it onto the pages of your father’s novel?

KJ: After my mother received the bear, my parents sat him on the mantle piece. In the early part of 1957, my father was sitting down at his typewriter one day and stored away at the back of his mind was this idea that ‘Paddington’ would be a good name for a character. He would often pass through Paddington Station and every time he did he recalled how fond he was of the name but he wasn’t quite sure about the character. Then he saw the bear on the mantle piece and thought about what would happen if a bear was found in Paddington Station, so he started to write. He didn’t set out to write a children’s book at all, he just started to write as an exercise and he continued to write and within a few days he found that he had actually written an entire book.

LC: What was it like to grow up with Paddington?

KJ: Well Paddington has always been a part of our lives because I was born three moths before the first book was published, so I have quite literally grown up with him. Paddington was very much a part of our family and it has always been like that really.  He was very real to me; it was like having another member of the family. So this exhibition is particularly special for me and I hope others will enjoy learning all about Paddington and his fifty-six year journey to the big screen.

LC: What's one of your earliest memories of your father’s stories?

KJ: One of my very early memories as a young child, was going into a bookshop with my mother and seeing a whole row of Paddington books on the shelf and I actually thought my father had sat at his type writer and typed out every single one. I had no idea that they were actually printed and published.

LC: Tell us about the exhibition at the Museum of London...

KJ: The exhibition tells the story of Paddington from his first appearance in my father’s novel in 1958, to his debut on the small screen in 1975, to his forthcoming adventure on the big screen. This exhibition features some really special items including: an original illustration of Paddington by Peggy Fortnum, a typewriter used by my father and one of the original 3D Paddington puppets from the 1970’s TV animation. It was wonderful to be able to bring these items out again for display.

LC: What is one of your most treasured items in the display?

KJ: My first edition copy of the debut story ‘A Bear Called Paddington’ is a very special item. The book itself has been read so many times, so it’s actually rather strange to see people wearing white gloves and handling it with such enormous care, but the museum have done a beautiful job preserving the cover for me.

LC: What was your first impression of the 3D animated version of Paddington?

KJ: During the making of the film,when I first saw Paddington, he wasn’t wearing his hat or his coat, there was just a large image of his head but I was actually quite moved by it because it was bringing to life somebody who was so real to me. There he was on the screen, the brown bear I know so well and it was rather emotional and utterly wonderful! I am yet to see the film in its entirety but from what I have seen so far, I think they have captured the essence of Paddington.

LC: Finally, what is it about Paddington Bear that makes him so adored by generations of both adults and children from around the world?

KJ: He is quite a serious character who unwittingly gets himself into all kinds of scrapes but he always manages to come out alright in the end, which is what makes him so endearing. He is a very well mannered bear with a wonderfully optimistic spirit and he is someone who people just want to take home. He is a character that appeals to our best nature, grown-ups want to look after him and children want to be his best friend.

A Bear Called Paddington is on at the Museum of London from 14th November – 4th January 2015 (Admission is free). From 4th November – 30th December 2014 the public is invited to follow the Paddington Trail throughout the capital! And 28th November will see the release of the highly anticipated film, PADDINGTON.

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