Michael Bond, the creator of beloved children’s character Paddington Bear, has died at the age of 91 following a short illness.
Bond’s publisher, HarperCollins, said the author died at his UK home on Tuesday local time.
Born in 1926, Bond began his career as a cameraman at the BBC and was inspired to create Paddington after seeing a ‘lonely’ teddy bear in a shop window on his way home from work in 1956.
“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 of Bond in a statement.
Bond’s books proved so popular they have been on shelves ever since they were first published in 1958 and have inspired statues, toys, a television series, a feature film and have become the face of tolerance for refugees.
— Raven Crime Reads (@ravencrime) June 28, 2017
Paddington, the impeccably polite stowaway from Peru, turns up at London’s 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 2014 movie Paddington sparked a resurgence of interest for the character.
Over his lifetime, Bond penned 150 books, including his first title A Bear Called Paddington, and 25 others about the marmalade-loving bear in iconic duffle coat, hat and wellingtons.
His final instalment of the book series, Love from Paddington, came in the form of letters written to Paddington’s aunt Lucy in Peru, telling her about his new life in London.
Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, who starred in the 2014 movie, said the Paddington story was fun, but had an underlying theme of tolerance.
“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,” Bonneville said at the film’s launch.
That theme of tolerance became particularly important as refugee numbers surged throughout the world over the last decade.
Paddington became a symbol of compassion for the UK initiative Project Paddington, under which children send teddy bears to refugee children with notes of welcome and support.
Project Paddington has seen more than 25,000 bears sent to refugee children in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.
He has said he was inspired to create the character after he bought a small toy bear on Christmas Eve in 1956 when he saw it left on a shelf in London department store Selfridges and felt sorry for it.
Bond took it home as a present for his wife and named it Paddington because they were living near the railway station of the same name at the time.
He started writing stories about the bear for fun, but after 10 days realised he had a book on his hands and sent it to his agent.
Publishers did not immediately see its potential, but it was eventually accepted and the book was published in October 1958.
By 1965, the books were so successful he was able to give up his job at the BBC. They have now sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 40 different languages.
So sorry to hear that Michael Bond has departed. He was as kindly, dignified, charming & lovable as the immortal Paddington Bear he gave us
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) June 28, 2017
Born on January 13 1926, Bond was educated in Reading.
During the Second World War, he served in both the Royal Air Force and the British Army and began writing in 1945 while stationed with the Army in Cairo, selling his first short story to a magazine called London Opinion.
So sad to hear the news about Michael Bond. I adored his books when I was little and on meeting him in 2013 to photograph him when the film came out I found he was the most lovely, kind-hearted and gentle person. He even wrote me a handwritten letter to say thank you which I’ll cherish. He couldn’t have been more inspiring and wonderful human. (This is the actual original Paddington too – he had looked after him so carefully ever since he found him alone on that shop shelf on Christmas Eve 1956). Top guy. #tatler #michaelbond #paddington
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Bond had said he wanted the Paddington adventures 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.”
Bond is survived by his wife and two adult children.