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Amanda Hodges | Freelance Journalist » A Writer Called Bond
17 February 2010 by Published in: Interviews Tags:, , No comments yet

Amanda speaks with Paddington Bear creator, Michael Bond for Berkshire Life Magazine.

Michael Bond recalls standing on the platform at Reading station as if it were yesterday. “I remember at the start of the war that trains from London were arriving with evacuees. They were all wearing a label around their neck with their name and address on, so I gave Paddington a ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you’ label. It just felt right.”

“Paddington will always stick to his duffle coat and marmalade sandwiches; it’s part of his strength, people are quite envious of his way of life as the pace of life has increased so much.”
Michael Bond

This is how Michael Bond relates the germ of an idea that led to the creation of this nation’s favourite bear – the inimitable Paddington Bear. His fiftieth anniversary is being commemorated by the publication of Paddington Here and Now. Paddington’s new adventure is firmly rooted in the modern metropolis, with mention of the London Eye, Oyster cards and illegal immigrants but his spirit is timeless as Bond emphasises…

“It’s thirty years since the last long book. It was difficult in the beginning to get into the swing of it but time was a plus; the world’s changed a lot but Paddington is exactly the same. He will always stick to his duffle coat and marmalade sandwiches; it’s part of his strength, people are quite envious of his way of life as the pace of life has increased so much.”

Bond was born in Newbury in 1926 and grew up in Reading. Having left school at fourteen he initially worked in a local lawyer’s office. “One of the nice things about it was that in those days, to save money, they didn’t post letters to anybody in Reading so I used to take letters around to all the various places.”

After gaining experience as an engineer he subsequently entered the Forces then, returning home, spotted an advertisement bearing the unlikely words ‘Wanted: someone interested in radio’. With an ease acknowledged as “extraordinary compared to how things are today,” he got the job and began a new phase of his career.

“I worked at the Monitoring Services in Caversham because when I was small my great hobby had been making radio sets. I always wanted to get into TV as I was interested in photography. Eventually I got to London and spent the next fifteen years there.” Bond was a BBC cameraman, initially commuting from Reading then gravitating to Notting Hill from where the first Paddington book emerged.

A Bear Called Paddington appeared in 1958, inspired by a toy bear purchased one Christmas for his wife. “I wrote the first book very quickly as it caught my fancy. I had a blank sheet of paper and started to doodle. I didn’t intend to write a book, certainly not a children’s book ‘ Peggy Fortnum’s wonderful illustrations captured what Bond calls ‘the spirit of Paddington, a living, breathing creature.”

Bond’s hero was given the duffle coat and hat that he owned plus a penchant for marmalade reflecting the author’s own taste. Paddington’s credibility as a talking bear was tacitly accepted. “The funny thing about bears is that they have this strange quality of being semi-real. I believe very much in Paddington myself. If the author doesn’t believe in the character why should anybody else?”

Bond is clearly very fond of his bear. “I admire his optimism. He’s got his feet firmly on the ground. In retrospect I think he’s like my father, a very polite man who always wore his hat. We used to have holidays on the Isle of Wight and he’d roll up his trousers, go in the sea and keep his hat on in case he met anyone; there’s a lot of Paddington in that.”

But everything changes and his hometown, unlike Paddington himself, reflects the passage of time. “I realised how different it was because last year Reading University gave me an honorary degree. I thought how nice, haven’t been for ages and was looking forward to it but didn’t recognise anything.”

As a young boy Bond grew up in a more rural Reading. “One of my jobs when small was going around to collect any manure the horses had left behind.” He recalls a time when the advent of electricity caused considerable consternation. “I can remember when we had gas in the first house, then had electricity installed and my mother having a discussion as to whether we should have one power point or two!”

Later on his attendance at a particular school was determined less on academic credentials than its aesthetic appeal.

“I went to school at Presentation College in Bath road, a Catholic school I attended because my mother liked the colour of the blazer! They were a wonderful purple colour and in a good summer they used to fade like mad.”

Not only is there the new book but also the prospect of a live-action feature film appearing in the near future. “They’re working on the script but things with films take a long time. What’s nice is that it will be made here and, although Warners is doing it, it’s being produced by the same man who did the Harry Potter films. He’s a keen Paddington fan so I have high hopes of it.”

Paddington perennially appeals but Bond’s also created Monsieur Pamplemousse and bloodhound Pommes Frites, a culinary detective series for adults plus of course The Herbs, familiar from television in the 1970s. Remember “I’m a very friendly lion called Parsley”?

“I work every day, if I didn’t I don’t know what I’d do. I think with writing it’s a kind of love hate relationship really. Whoever said it was one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration is absolutely right!’

Could another chapter for Paddington lie ahead? “I could easily be tempted you know. He’s nice to write about. I quite like situations where Paddington gets into some sort of trouble. I’ve got one in the new book where he has to go to the police station. That kind of thing is fun to write as I find myself laughing as well.”

An excerpt from “Paddington Here And Now”

‘May I ask how you got here in the first place?’

‘I came in a small boat’, said Paddington. ‘I was a stowaway.’

‘All the way from Darkest Peru?’

The interviewer raised his eyebrows.

‘I know a lot of you boat people are desperate, but that sounds like a world record to me. Your paws must have been sore after all that rowing.’

‘Oh, I didn’t have to row,’ said Paddington.’ The boat was fixed to the side of a big ship. It was my Aunt Lucy’s idea. I was a stowaway.’

‘All the same,’ said the man. ‘It can’t have been easy.’

‘It certainly wasn’t in the Bay of Biscuits’, said Paddington. ‘I had a job to stand up. The sea was so rough I nearly got washed overboard several times.’

‘Surely you mean the Bay of Biscay?’ said the man.

‘I called it the Bay of Biscuits,’ said Paddington firmly. ‘Someone was hanging over the ship’s rails and they let go of a Garibaldi by mistake. It landed on my head so I had it for dinner. I felt much better afterwards.’

‘How many b’s are there in Garibaldi?’ asked the man as he wrote it down.

‘There aren’t bees in a Garibaldi,’ said Paddington. ‘They have currants instead.’

Taking a deep breath the interviewer reached for his eraser. ‘This Aunt Lucy of yours,’ he continued. ‘Can you tell me more about her?’

‘Well’, said Paddington. ‘She’s very wise. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be here at all. Besides, she taught me all I know.’

Paddington Here and Now is out now, published by HarperCollins.

After reading the article, Michael Bond wrote to Amanda saying:

‘I must say it’s a very sumptuous piece, deserving a special place in Paddington’s scrapbook.

I’m also very impressed with the article..and enjoyed reading it.’


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