LONDON, United Kingdom — British children’s writer Michael Bond, the creator of the much-loved fictional 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 darkest Peru sold more than 30 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 duffel 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.
Bond based Paddington’s arrival at the train station on his memories of Jewish refugees arriving in London just before the outbreak of World War II, the British newspaper The Telegraph quoted him as saying in a 2014 interview.
“I remember their labels round their necks and then I remember going to the cinema and seeing on the newsreel that Hitler had moved into some new country and seeing footage of elderly people pushing prams with all their belongings in them.
“Refugees are the saddest sight, I still think that,” he told the paper.
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 duffel coat reading: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
Bond told the Telegraph that another character, Dr Gruber, Paddington’s friend who owns an antique shop, was inspired by a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.
“I’ve such a clear picture of Dr Gruber. I wanted someone foreign because he was based on my first agent, a lovely man, a German Jew, who was in line to be the youngest judge in Germany, when he was warned his name was on a list, so he got out and came to England with just a suitcase and £25 to his name,” he said.
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.”
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 meters) tall.
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 specializes in that very thing of stopping people doing it.”
He said the practice was “wrong,” adding that characters like Paddington Bear were “sacred.”