The Paddington Books

In 1958 a book was published that told of Mr. and Mrs. Brown going to London’s Paddington station to meet their daughter, who was coming home from school. At a crowded railway platform they noticed a small bear wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sitting on a battered suitcase. Around the bear’s neck hung a label that read: PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR. THANK YOU.

They questioned the well-mannered bear and learned he was from Darkest Peru. He had been raised by his Aunt Lucy, but when she had to go to the home for retired bears she told him to emigrate to England, which he did by stowing away in a ship’s lifeboat. (It was never explained how he ended up at a combination railway and London Underground terminal.)

Mrs. Brown convinced her reluctant husband they needed to let the poor bear stay with them. The young bear informed her that no can understand his Peruvian name, so she gave him the name Paddington, after the station where he’d been found.

The family soon learned Paddington was a good-natured and polite bear who wanted to do be helpful, but Darkest Peru is much different than London, and he kept getting into situations he’d never experienced before. When Mrs. Brown went off to meet her daughter’s train her husband bought hungry Paddington a cup of tea and a bun. Alas, Mr. Brown wasn’t familiar with the ways of bears, so he chose a large cream and jam bun, which Paddington ate by standing on the tabletop and getting sticky filling all over his whiskers and fur.

When the bear arrived at his new home he was told he needed a bath, but modern plumbing is confusing when you were used to bathing by sitting in a puddle. He filled the bathtub nearly to overflowing, and after getting into the tub was afraid he’d drown, so he used his hat to bail out some of the water. Oh dear, that made a bit of a mess …

Paddington was taken to a large department store and discovered all kinds of ways to accidently get into trouble. Fortunately most people understood he wasn’t trying to misbehave. (The few who thought themselves too important to bother about the bear’s problems received a certain hard stare – learned from Aunt Lucy – that made the most hoity-toity person squirm.)

He preferred the small shops in his own neighborhood, and turned out to be a shrewd shopper when he was sent out to run errands for the Brown family. His favorite shopkeeper was Mr. Gruber, who had a second-hand store, and would sometimes acquire valuable antiques. Paddington became good friends with Mr. Gruber, and got into the habit of sharing “elevenses” with him – a cup of cocoa and a bun at eleven in the morning.

Mr. Gruber taught his friend about antiques, but Paddington didn’t always listen well enough to the story he was being told. Once Mr. Gruber said that in the past a poor artist might reuse an old canvas by painting a picture over top of another one, and sometimes the hidden painting had been painted by an artist who became famous.

At the Brown’s house a painting was being stored in a canvas bag, and Paddington meant no harm when he decided to remove some of the paint in search of a hidden picture. Then he tried to cover up the damage with random strokes of bright paint, not knowing that Mr. Brown had painted the picture, and it was an entry into a local art show. It’s a good thing some judges like modern art …

Author Michael Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington sold well, and so he wrote other Paddington novels. Over time the chapter books were joined by Paddington toys, a British television series, and short picture books based on television episodes. Two recent movies have been popular.

The last new Paddington book was published in 2017, shortly before Michael Bond’s death. Not many book series have the same author producing new stories for 59 years!

If you’d like to read any of Paddington Brown’s adventures the books are still in print. And since over 30 million Paddington books have been sold it shouldn’t be hard to purchase used volumes.

I own a few of the novels, and when everyday life seems a bit overwhelming I take a short vacation by seeing what the small bear from Darkest Peru is up to at 32 Windsor Gardens, near the Portobello Road market. There are always some good-deeds-gone-awry there, but everything turns out well in the end.