British children’s author Michael Bond, widely known for his books starring the duffle-coat-donning Paddington bear, died at his home in London on June 27 following a brief illness. He was 91.
Bond was born January 13, 1926 in Newbury, England and grew up in the nearby town of Reading. In an autobiographical essay for Something About the Author, he described a tranquil childhood during which he enjoyed playing various street games in his neighborhood and cricket with his patient father. Bond described his mother as an avid reader and both parents read to him from an early age, in a home where “books were part of the furniture.” A favorite memory was Bond’s introduction to Magnet, a weekly comics magazine, by his father.
As a teenager, with WWII already underway, Bond had a job doing clerical work in a lawyer’s office and later landed a position—by answering an advertisement—at the BBC, where he put his passion for building amplifiers and radio sets to good use. On his 17th birthday, in 1943, Bond volunteered to fly for the Royal Air Force, though he discovered during his training that he did not have a stomach for flying. Months later he was given the option to enlist in the army and was stationed in Egypt, where he used any down time to write a short story that was published in a London magazine. The following decade brought the end of the war, numerous freelance writing gigs, a return to the BBC (in television this time), and marriage, to his first wife Brenda. Their daughter Karen was born in 1958, the same year that his first children’s book, A Bear Called Paddington (HarperCollins) was published.
Bond had come across a small, lone stuffed bear in a London shop on Christmas Eve the year before. He purchased it for his wife and they called him Paddington, because their apartment was near the train station of the same name. Bond has said that first story was completed in a matter of days. Going forward he created numerous adventures for Paddington, as well as stories for characters that included Olga da Polga the guinea pig and Thursday the mouse. By 1965 he was writing full-time. In addition to his titles for young readers, Bond later wrote a series of adult detective novels set in France, featuring food inspector Monsieur Pamplemousse and his dog, Pommes Frites.
In all Bond published more than 200 books for children and; the Paddington books—the most recent one, Paddington’s Finest Hour (HarperCollins), was published this April—have sold more than 35 million copies. He was awarded an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 1997 and a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2015 for services to children’s literature.
Paddington has been a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and appeared on a British postage stamp. Since 2000, a bronze statue of the beloved bear stands in Paddington Station in London. And the feature film Paddington, produced by David Heyman, was released in 2014, with a sequel due later this year.
In a statement, Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books U.K. said: “I feel privileged to have been Michael Bond’s publisher—he was a true gentleman, a bon viveur, the most entertaining company, and the most enchanting of writers. He will be forever remembered for his creation of the iconic Paddington, with his duffle coat and Wellington boots, which touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations. My thoughts and love are with his wife Sue and his children Karen and Anthony.”
Bond is survived by his second wife, his children, and three grandchildren.