Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Paddington Returns

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Paddington Returns

Article excerpt

New versions of popular children's books generally introduce a token ethnic character or two to reflect the diversity of Britain today. Postman Pat's round gained Ajay and Nisha Bains, an Asian couple who run the railway station; the new Famous Five books, about the offspring of the original characters, feature George's Anglo-Indian daughter, Jyoti. But Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond, who has just published his first new story for more than 30 years, had immigrants in his tales from the start. Not only is the duffel-coat-wearing protagonist a stowaway from "Darkest Peru", but one of his closest friends is also an incomer: Mr Gruber, the antiques dealer who shares elevenses with the bear every morning, is Hungarian.

The issue never came up, though, until the publication of the latest volume, Paddington: Here and Now. In it, our hero is innocently pruning the roses one afternoon when a sinister stranger approaches him, and starts asking tricky questions about whether he is "a refugee from some foreign clime". As ever, the hapless bear "tries so hard to get things right", but ends up being interviewed by the police about his missing travel documents.

It's certainly a more thoughtful representation of immigrant life than you'll find in almost any children's story. But what do Peruvians think about the fact that their representative in the UK- the only one of their countrymen considered worthy of a monument here--is a hapless refugee who ignores Peru's feted national cuisine in favour of marmalade sandwiches and cocoa? …

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