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Paddington, our Oldie of the Year 2022. By Gyles Brandreth

Blog | By Gyles Brandreth | Nov 23, 2022

The Oldie of the Year Awards 2022: Harry Mount, editor of the Oldie; Jeremy Paxman; Karen Jankel, daughter of Michael Bond, Paddington's creator; Paddington; Jane Goodall; Sian Phillips; the Duke of Kent; Gyles Brandreth

By royal appointment, this is Paddington’s year.

We had the judges’ lunch to choose our Oldies of the Year in late September, just a week after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Even before we had chosen our starters, we had agreed that this would be a year when a salute to someone associated with Her Majesty might be appropriate.

One of us (me) suggested honouring all the Queen’s living ladies-in-waiting with a group award. But, according to our unwritten rules, we don’t do group awards. (A TOOTY is not the George Cross; it’s more the OM.) Someone else suggested honouring Terry Pendry, the late Queen’s groom, but, looking him up, we found that he is only 72, which feels a bit young for an Oldie award. Eventually, unanimously, we settled on Paddington Bear as our Oldie of the Year.

For most people, the highlight of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June was Paddington at Buckingham Palace. In the film, our ursine hero offers the sovereign one of his trademark marmalade sandwiches, but the Queen reveals she doesn’t need it because she already has her own, hidden in her handbag.

We loved the moment because we loved the Queen (and she played her part so well: truly, neither Olivia Colman nor Imelda Staunton could have done it better) and we love Paddington. He may have come from darkest Peru, but he is now an undisputed National Treasure.

Paddington made his first appearance in a children’s book by Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington, originally published in October 1958. Twenty more books by Bond quickly followed and the bespectacled bear – with his hat and duffel coat, his battered suitcase, his endearing courtesy, and his equally endearing ability to get into all sorts of scrapes while trying so hard ‘to get things right’ – found his way into the hearts of children and parents across the globe. Paddington books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

The first Paddington toy was created in 1972 by Gabrielle Designs, a family business run by Shirley and Eddie Clarkson, who gave their prototype bear as a Christmas present that year to their children, Joanna and Jeremy Clarkson. (Yes, that Jeremy Clarkson.) It was Shirley Clarkson who made Wellington boots a standard part of Paddington’s wardrobe. She needed boots on the bear to help him stand upright.

I first met Mrs Clarkson in the 1980s when my wife and I opened our Teddy Bear Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon. I first met Michael Bond in the 1970s when he was making the Paddington television series in which the bear was a six-inch high articulated figure whose limbs were painstakingly adjusted between each frame in the filming to enable him to move. Michael Bond wrote the words and Michael Hordern delivered them. And when they finished theseries in 1980, Bond generously gave me the little Paddington and props from the sets – his bed, his armchair, his kitchen stove – which you can still see if you visit the Teddy Bear Museum, now located at Newby Hall, near Ripon in North Yorkshire.

‘Things are always happening to me,’ says Paddington in one of Michael Bond’s first books about him, ‘I’m that sort of bear.’

In 1994, the British Channel Tunnel team chose Paddington as the first item to pass to their French counterparts when the two sides of the tunnel were linked. In 2014 and 2017, Paddington and its even better sequel, Paddington 2, were international cinematic hits. For the first film, Colin Firth was cast to voice the bear, but according to Bond’s family (who were given a say in the matter), Firth didn’t sound quite right. So Ben Whishaw was brought in and is now, without doubt, the accepted voice of Paddington.

The Queen was born in the same year as Michael Bond - 1926. Sir David Attenborough OM was born in that year, too. For the service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral to mark the Queen’s ninetieth birthday, Michael Bond wrote a short piece celebrating their shared vintage and Sir David read it to the congregation.

1926 was also the year when Winnie the Pooh made his first appearance in print. The Queen was fond of Pooh as well as Paddington. (She also, she once told me, had a soft spot for Rupert Bear, but that’s a tale for another day.) Today, we are saluting Paddington, a right royal bear for all seasons and our undoubted Oldie of the Year.

PS. Michael Bond found the original Paddington in a shop near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve in 1956, but he meets our TOOTY age requirement because Paddington, like the Queen (who had her actual birthday on 21 April followed by an official one in June), has two birthdays every year, one on 25 June and the second on 25 December, which makes him twice the age you think he is.