Paddington: The Man Behind The Bear + history

After Paddington 2 aired on BBC1 tonight (and was a total delight as always) BBC2 aired a documentary about Paddington, his origins and his author. I’d never seen it before and it was unexpectedly sad and powerful, especially when going into Michael Bond’s experiences in World War II. Here’s some stories from the past, featured in the doc, which are still (very, very) relevant today.

Michael Bond’s own words regarding his family’s sheltering of refugees (from a 2010 letter:)

“We took in some Jewish children who often sat in front of a fire of an evening, quietly crying because they had no idea what had happened to their parents, and neither did we at the time. It’s the reason why Paddington arrived with the label around his neck.”

A reminiscence from Peter Joseph, of the Windrush generation:

“Paddington Bear came here [London] in 1958. I arrived the 3rd of November 1956, and I’m sure that he had a better reception than I did, because I had a hell of a lot of fuss. We were seen as a subspecies, and that’s how it remained for a very long time.”

And a passage from Bond’s autobiography:

“In October, I made my final journey back to the UK. In Gibraltar, where we stopped for a few hours, there was a small open ship moored a little way apart from all the others. It was packed to suffocation with Jewish refugees, men, women and children making their way to Palestine. And for the first time, as I gazed down at them, I felt ashamed to be British.”

It’s funny to think of a cute little teddy bear being a political symbol, but…

There’s in a line in the first movie, “People in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the country side where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.” But of course, those particular strangers were English: it’s those other ones we don’t like.

Do watch The Man Behind The Bear if you can. It should be on the BBC iplayer. (I don’t know how you get into it outside Britain unfortunately, but I can try putting some clips from it on YouTube at some point maybe?)

In the meantime, don’t forget to utilize your Long, Hard Stare appropriately.