Daddy, Paddington & Me

Karen Jankel was two months old when her father, Michael Bond, published the first Paddington book. She reveals why the little Peruvian bear will always hold a place in her heart...
Paddington first came about on Christmas Eve 1956. In those days my father was working as a television cameraman for the BBC, but he was an aspiring writer in his spare time and was always on the lookout for ideas. On this particular day he was waiting for a bus on London’s Oxford Street and it started to rain. He went into Selfridges for shelter and found himself wandering into the toy department, where he saw a bear sitting all alone on a shelf. Being the kind of man he is, he couldn’t possibly leave the bear there by himself, so he bought him and took him home to give to my mother for Christmas.

They were living in a small flat fairly near to Paddington Station at the time, and my father had always thought that Paddington would make a good name for a character. He looked at the bear, sat down at his typewriter and began to write. In a very short space of time, he’d found he’d written an entire book.

He sent it to his agent, who said he liked it very much, except there was one problem: my father had written that Paddington came from Africa, but there were no bears in Africa! My father did a bit of research and found there are bears living in the foothills of the Andes in Peru, which he described as ‘Darkest Peru’ because it sounded a bit more mysterious.

The first book was published on 13 October 1958, when I was exactly two months old. By the time I was of the age to be aware of Paddington he was very much a part of the family. The books were in the family home and the very bear my father bought was still there too. He’s always been part of my life, so he’s very real to me.


Writers often put themselves into their characters and my father shares many of Paddington’s characteristics: he is naturally polite, gentle and a charming man. He also has a strong sense of right and wrong, as Paddington does. People are drawn to Paddington, and they’re drawn to my father too because he has a nice twinkle in his eye.

I remember whenever we went anywhere, my father would not be without an old envelope or something tucked in his wallet that he could write on. If he had an idea he’d jot it down, even if it were only one or two words, so that he could use it later on in a book. He frequently read the books to me, sometimes before they were published but never before they were fi nished. He’s a man who likes to get things right.

With hindsight it’s inevitable that I would end up working for the family business. Back in 1981 I was working in publishing but I wasn’t particularly happy in my job. Paddington had gone on to television so the merchandising had really taken off , and my father had employed someone to run the business side of things for him. The trouble was this man had to refer back to my father all the time, so he was fi nding he had less and less time for writing. Of course I had grown up with Paddington, so my father asked if I would like to take up the job, just as a stopgap while I decided what I wanted to do career-wise. Thirty-three years later, I’m still here. I approve all licences to use Paddington and get involved with some of the creative aspects too. It’s turned out to be the most wonderful job.

Paddington has been named Britain’s favourite animated character, which I think is absolutely right. Paddington has an appealing nature, and I think people like the fact that he doesn’t intentionally get himself into trouble. He’s not naughty – things simply happen to him – but you always know that he’s going to come out all right in the end. That speaks to people everywhere as we’d all like life to turn out that way – to have the upper paw, as it were.


I think we also have a lot to learn from him. He’s a stranger in a foreign land but he’s totally accepted. He shows that if we have confi dence in who we are, a strong sense of right and wrong, and if we are kind and polite to other people, then we can fl ourish anywhere.

I always say that if Paddington walked into the room and sat down, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. He really is like a very close family member. That’s why watching him being brought to life in the fi lm is incredibly moving, because it is like seeing somebody that you feel you’ve known all your life, and suddenly there they are. It was lovely to hear his voice too. It was a diffi cult thing to get right because no one’s really heard Paddington speak before (Michael Hordern narrated the television series, but he wasn’t actually speaking in the first person, even though people tend to associate the voice with Paddington).

One of the reasons the film’s producers thought of Colin Firth was because he has this wonderfully British, mature voice. It was only when they put his voice together with the animation that the director and producer, and Colin Firth himself, realised it just wasn’t working. A quick hunt began to find another voice and they found Ben Whishaw, who I think brings Paddington to life perfectly.

I’m immensely proud of my father and what he’s done. I’d like to think people will enjoy the fi lm and will carry on reading the books, because that’s where it all began. Above all, Paddington will continue to be a very important member of our family.

Paddington is in cinemas now.