A farewell to Michael Bond, creator of Paddington
PUBLISHED: 14:38 20 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 November 2017
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The memorial service has been held for Paddington creator Michael Bond who died in June and lived in Maida Vale, not far from the train station whose name he gave to his famous creation
Amid the splendour of St Paul’s Cathedral, where scenes in the new Paddington 2 movie were shot, family, friends and fans gathered to bid farewell to Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear, beloved of children of all ages, whose stories were “kind of parables” for our time.
Bond, who died in June aged 91, wrote some 150 books, including the Olga da Polga series, based on his own guinea pig - his concern for her welfare provided an excuse to leave parties early. But it was Paddington, who made his debut in 1958, inspired by a humble glove puppet, for which he will always be remembered. Susan Dickinson, then children’s publisher at Collins – who received that first manuscript in the mail – was among those present at the service. She paid Bond £75 for the project, and commissioned illustrator Peggy Fortnum to bring Paddington to life. The rest is history.
Among early readers of A Bear Called Paddington was nine-year-old Barry Fairweather – who wrote to Bond and was invited to tea, thus beginning a friendship that endured until Bond’s death. He told the Ham & High that it was Bond who encouraged him to become a scriptwriter.
Such kindness was typical of Bond, whose politeness and gentle, inquiring nature, inherited from his own father, he bestowed on Paddington. Ann-Janine Murtagh, his last editor, spoke of the “strength and humility” that was common to author and bear, their shared desire for “kindness, justice, tolerance and hope”. When all else failed the famous “hard stare” would do the trick. Bond’s contribution to the world of literature “should not be underestimated,” she said, praising his “absolute genius at creating characters”.
His daughter, Karen Jankel, born two months before the first Paddington adventure, recalled her father’s generosity “particularly with his time”, never refusing an autograph – even when holding a pen became difficult. He was a man who found humour in every situation, a dispenser of “witty one-liners”; multi-talented, forever making notes; a Francophile, though he never mastered French. Women found him irresistible, and he them – it was no coincidence, said Jankel, that so many women were present at St Paul’s. But no matter: everyone got on, all part of a happy family of which Paddington was an important member. If Bond was unsure what to do in a situation, he would always ask himself: what would Paddington do?
Bond’s four grandchildren read from his work, while Hugh Bonneville and Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris, who play Mr Brown and his children in the films, read extracts from the many tributes sent to the Bond family from people around the world, including a Canadian who poignantly recalled that Paddington had been “friend and confidant during some very painful childhood years”. Another said: “You must have been a very special man to have created such a lovely character. I love Paddington Bear as much today as I did as a child back in the Seventies.”
Throughout the service, much was made of Paddington’s noble attributes, and of the Brown family’s acceptance of someone “other” in their family – a refugee bear from Darkest Peru. In his sermon, the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel said that Bond knew that “people needed looking after and he reached out to millions of children and adults through the art of storytelling… God’s wisdom is much closer to Paddington’s than some of our great leaders’ wisdom”.
He spoke of the children whose arrival on Kindertransport in the 1930s is commemorated with a statue at Liverpool Street, drawing parallels with the bronze across town that marked the arrival of a small bear – who now seems so much bigger than the station after which he was named. The Bible, he said, tells us we have a duty to show “hospitality to strangers”.
Music by the Cathedral Choir included John Rutter’s setting of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine”, while among the prayers was the request “Heavenly Father, please look after this author. Thank you.”
Among the congregants were fellow authors Michael Morpurgo and Lauren Child, Stephen Fry, who read the Paddington audiobooks, and Marcus Cornish, who sculpted the bear.
Donations in memory of Michael Bond should go to the charity Action Medical Research, which for 65 years has helped children.