Michael Bond, the English children’s book author who created Paddington Bear, the genial marmalade aficionado from deepest, darkest Peru, has died. Introduced in 1958 with the children’s novel A Bear Called Paddington, the duffel-coat-wearing ursine went on to appear in 21 bestselling and widely translated books written by Bond and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum and, later, R.W. Alley; star in three animated series and a very enjoyable live-action film; and become a global icon of children’s literature. According to the BBC, Bond’s death was announced in a statement from his publisher. He was 91.
The son of a postmaster, Bond was raised in Reading, Berkshire and came of age amidst the bombings, evacuations, and Kindertransport refugee trains of World War II. These would later be cited by Bond as a key inspiration for Paddington Bear, an orphan who is taken in by the human Brown family after being found at London’s Paddington train station, and for his friend Mr. Gruber, an antiques shop owner whose origins as a Jewish refugee are hinted at in the books. The latter was also partly based on Bond’s friend and literary agent, Harvey Unna, who came to England after fleeing Nazi Germany. (That connection is made more explicitly in the 2014 film Paddington.)
After surviving a German bombing raid that killed more than 40 people in the same building, the teenage Bond left his job as an assistant at the BBC to enlist, first with the RAF and then, after a medical discharge due to a recurring problem with motion sickness, with the British Army. In 1947, he returned to the BBC, where he worked as a cameraman for the national broadcaster’s newly re-opened television network. Bond, who sold his first short story as a 19-year-old stationed with the British Army in Cairo, continued writing and publishing short fiction during his time at the BBC. The chance purchase of a teddy bear near the Paddington station on Christmas Eve in 1956—combined with memories of wartime Britain and of his own mild-mannered, obsessively polite father—led Bond to write A Bear Called Paddington. However, he continued at his day job until 1965, by which point he had published half a dozen successful children’s novels about Paddington Bear, suffused with a wry sense of humor and values of kindness and hospitality.
In addition to the Paddington books—which spawned several popular adaptations and a lucrative merchandising business—Bond also wrote culinary-themed comic mystery novels (inspired by his own interest in French cooking) and a series of children’s books about the guinea pig Olga Da Polga. Peggy Fortnum, who illustrated most of Bond’s Paddington novels, died last year at the age of 96. Bond himself remained productive until the end of his life; his most recent book, Paddington’s Finest Hour, was published this spring. A second live-action Paddington film will hit US theaters in early 2018.