The period leading up to Christmas in the UK has a built-in, comfortable predictability, which I’m sure ultimately contributes greatly to the cosiness of the festive season. Houses and streets are illuminated by flashing lights of variable quality and taste, Christmas markets become a feature of almost every town, carol services provide one of the few occasions when church pews can expect to be full, and the tinny music that characterises shops throughout the year gives way to equally discordant renditions of kitsch Yuletide pop songs.
Similarly predicable, and anticipated with equal amounts of enthusiasm or indifference, is the inevitable Christmas blockbuster film, released just in time to attract an audience of children and families as they get into the mood for the coming celebrations. Sometimes these films prove to be a great success and well beloved of the public, in which case they will become an annual feature on our Christmas television screens. Others appear as a damp squib and disappear, forgotten to all but a few cinematic diehards, never to be seen again.
This year there is considerable ground for optimism that the major end of year release, a film based upon the adventures of Paddington Bear, a long established hero for many children and not a few adults, will be a great hit with audiences. Reviews of the film have been wholly favourable, and the few people I know who have seen, it state categorically that it is a joy for children from the ages of five to ninety, (why it is unsuitable for ninety five year olds I don’t quite understand). The film Paddington appears to have achieved that elusive quality, shared with others such as Mary Poppins, of being able to attract both adults and children alike to enjoy a shared cinema experience.
Michael Bond, the eighty eight year old creator of Paddington Bear recalls how
“I bought a small toy bear on Christmas Eve 1956. I saw it left on a shelf in a London store and felt sorry for it. I took it home as a present for my wife Brenda and named it Paddington as we were living near Paddington Station at the time. I wrote some stories about the bear, more for fun than with the idea of having them published. After ten days I found that I had a book on my hands. It wasn’t written specifically for children, but I think I put into it the kind things I liked reading about when I was young.”
“A Bear Called Paddington” the first book was published in 1958 and has been followed by many others. The bear, attired in duffle coat and hat became an immediate favourite with children and continues to educate and entertain through his extraordinary mishaps in everyday situations. I have always found the character appealing, as he often rails against bureaucracy and petty regulations, challenges convention and cant, and has a strong sense of justice. When reading the books to children I have at times felt that I could hear the author’s somewhat non-conformist voice coming through the text.
This morning on BBC Radio 4 Michael Bond was interviewed about his books and the film, and made a number of interesting observations about how childhood has changed since he first started writing the Paddington books more than fifty years ago. In particular he reflected on the fact that children are expected to grow up much more quickly than they used to, and that they lose their innocence at an early age.
Clearly we cannot turn back the clock. Notions that there was ever a “golden age” of childhood are probably unfounded and change is inevitable. But there was something particularly sad in the tone of voice with which this respected writer suggested that the pressures on today’s children are greater than in the past.
It is indeed sad that the time to play and explore, that was a formative feature of many of our earlier years, is now undervalued by many who make and implement educational and social policy. Although the pressures are not as great here in the UK as in some other countries, the rush to formalise learning and leave the adventures of play behind is increasingly apparent.
Thank goodness for the joyous spirit that can still be instilled in children by writers such as Michael Bond. I do hope that for many years to come, Paddington Bear will be thriving on his favoured diet of marmalade sandwiches and debunking the pomposity at which he has laughed for the past fifty and more years.
Michael Bond wrote a new short story of Paddington Bear to celebrate his new venture into film. To hear the actor Jim Broadbent, who plays a major role in the film, read the story, click on the link below.