SPECIAL FEATURE A grand goodbye to Michael Bond

SCBWI-BI member Kate Rosevear remembers Michael Bond, creator of the much-loved Paddington Bear.

Towards the end of 2017, I went to a memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral which was held to celebrate the life of the great children’s author, Michael Bond. Most famously, Michael was the author of A Bear called Paddington, but this book was only one of his many publications, during a career spanning many decades. Many of his other books do, of course, also feature Paddington, but he also created a lot of other characters, some for children and some for adults.

I love St Paul’s Cathedral anyway, but the setting was even more special as it features in the new Paddington film, Paddington 2, in addition to which, it will also be the setting for the last Paddington picture book that Michael wrote, Paddington at St Paul’s, which is due to come out later in 2018.
I got there early, and, asking the doorman on the side door which way I should go, was told, ‘You need the posh doors, round the front.’ It seemed fitting that such a spectacular location, including use of the ‘posh doors’, had been set aside that day, to celebrate Michael’s life and achievements.

Paddington 2 film poster

When I got inside, I was sat almost right under the dome, next to the statue of Nelson. I could feel a real sense of community and like-mindedness amongst the assembled crowd; some were family members, some were celebrities who had known Michael or who had featured in the Paddington films, and many, like me, were just children’s book fans for whom Paddington was a special character, almost a real person, who had instilled so much humour and adventure into our younger selves. But for everyone present, Paddington had been a big part of our lives.

Several members of the family spoke, escorted to the front one by one, by the fabulously-dressed but terrifyingly-formal, cathedral Wandsmen. Michael’s daughter spoke movingly about how her father was always writing ideas for characters down in notebooks, and three of his grandchildren - grown-up now, but really brave, just the same, in front of such a crowd – read out excerpts from some of his books. His publisher talked about how Paddington always remained a big part of the author’s life, and how he had said of Paddington, ‘He isn’t me, but I wouldn’t mind being him!’ He also spoke about how, when faced with a tricky business decision, Michael would often ask,
Well, what would Paddington do?
Hearing this, it occurred to me that you couldn’t go far wrong in life, when following the advice of a bear with such a keen eye for a bargain, as Mrs Bird used to say, as well as a strong sense of right and wrong!

The sermon referred to Paddington’s status as an immigrant, and an illegal immigrant at that, and spoke about how the Paddington books promoted inclusion. Finally, three actors from the latest Paddington film, read out some of the tributes that the family had received from members of the public. Many of these echoed my own feelings, and reminded me something that had happened to me when I was about five years old. My mum had been reading me a chapter from a Paddington book for a bedtime story. When she’d finished, she’d left the room, and I’d sat in bed holding the book and stared fixedly at the cover, desperately wishing that I could read, so that I could get on to the next chapter. Looking around the cathedral, I could see that some groups of school children had been invited, and I hoped that they too might have had a similar experience.

When I can out of the cathedral (through the ‘posh doors’, of course), an amazing sight met my eyes. Standing at the top of the steps I was looking down into a sea of cameras and photographers, all gathered at the bottom, and ready to take pictures of the celebrity guests as they left the service. It felt right that the press should be there too, to record the event for posterity. As I walked back to the station, clutching my Order of Service, I felt aware that although Michael’s life had been important nationally, it had also been significant for me personally, and for many others who had grown up considering Paddington to be a friend.

When I got home, the dog wanted to know if Paddington liked animals, and I was able to reassure him that although nothing was said about dogs, the publisher had mentioned that Michael had been a life-long fan of guinea-pigs, and allowed his guinea-pig pets to roam freely about his house. The dog seemed to find this acceptable and he nodded solemnly. In many ways he is a very traditional dog, and there is much about him that reminds me of Paddington, not least of all his hard stare; which he always uses if you promise to save him a piece of toast, and then forget, as I often do.

So, goodbye to Michael Bond, but hopefully not goodbye to Paddington. With his strong values and community spirit, I hope that the books will live on, for many generations to come.

Header image: A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Fortnum

Kate Rosevear writes as Catherine Rosevear. She lives in Cambridgeshire with her husband, two children and a Tibetan Terrier. Since taking a career break two years ago, Kate has written a series of early middle-grade mystery/fantasy children's books, called 'Roman Magic'. She self-published the first book in the series, The Secret of the Wooden Chest in 2017 and hopes to publish the second, Mystical Moonlight, in 2018. Kate writes a regular blog about books, writing and dogs, which can be found at www.catherinerosevear.wordpress.com 

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