Rupert Bear turned 100 on 8th November 2020
jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG Monday 23rd November 2020
Rupert Bear turns 100: How a Little Lost Bear found his home at the Daily Express
Whilst I was not posting to the Blog we celebrated 100 years since the first Rupert Bear Comic Strip appeared. Here’s some reflections on the creator.
A CENTURY ago almost to the day, a landmark letter was penned to the youngest readers of the Daily Express by “The Editor”. It began: “My Dear Children, I have splendid news for you…”
And indeed he did. They were to be introduced to a new friend, a small bear in checked trousers and a matching scarf, whose adventures they could follow in the newspaper each day. Herbert Tourtel, news editor at the time, wrote: “His name, by the way, is Rupert.” So it was that three days later on November 8, 1920, the now iconic character made his debut in a cartoon strip called Little Lost Bear in the pages of The Express where he still lives today. Drawn in ink with an upright body and human hands, Rupert was imagined as any typical boy.
His first tale took him on an errand to the market, seen off from his home by his father and mother, Mr and Mrs Bear. Told in a rhyming couplet, the series proved an overnight success.
Rupert’s escapades, although gentle, soon spread to distant lands full of mischievous animals, kings, ogres, witches and dragons. Vividly imagined, painstakingly drawn, every frame transported readers into a wonderland.
A century on, Rupert is now the world’s longest-running cartoon bear, older than Winnie-the-Pooh by six years and Paddington by 38 years. He is also one of Britain’s most beloved fictional characters. The Rupert Annual has sold millions of copies and generations of children have enjoyed his adventures.
Integral to that success has been the great skill of the handful of artists who have drawn him over the years – creator Mary Tourtel, followed by Alfred Bestall, Alex Cubie, John Harrold and current illustrator of the annuals, Stuart Trotter.
So, what was the secret of Rupert’s instant appeal? Children’s literature expert Julia Eccleshare believes the timing of his debut just a year after the end of the First World War was part of it.
“Mary’s drawings were like fairy tales because of the magic, witchcraft and unusual things happening but they also felt grounded and she made it feel like a slightly different world than the one we lived in,” says Julia.
“That is what people were looking for in 1920, a way of making childhood tie in with what was good still in England and at that time it was landscape.”
Rupert lived in a verdant land of lakes, meadows, crags and woodland.
“Children were taken away from the not-so-nice present and placed into a pretty countryside of fun and exciting adventures,” Julia says.
In Rupert’s first story he was slightly lumpen but this was soon changed to become a bear’s head on a small boy’s body. This clever twist mattered, says graphic arts historian Howard Smith and author of Rupert: The Bear Facts.
“He was a living epitome of a child’s toy and that’s what made him popular,” he says.
Rupert was invented because rival newspapers the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror had children’s animal cartoons – Teddy Tail, a mouse, in the former and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, a dog, a penguin and a rabbit, in the latter.
Express proprietor Lord Beaverbrook instructed Herbert Tourtel to come up with a circulation-boosting solution. And that solution was Rupert, a cartoon strip drawn by his own wife, children’s illustrator Mary Tourtel.
Howard Smith believes that Herbert may have been the “driving force” behind Mary’s shift to making Rupert more boylike.
“At that time, Herbert saw that there was justification for an anthropomorphic (human-like) character,” he says.
Such characters had surged in popularity in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – with caterpillars and cats – to Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
“However, they only really started to take off when people like Arthur Rackham, who was a quintessential English artist, started to illustrate the stories like Wind in the Willow,” Howard says.
“During the early Edwardian period, juvenile comic magazines gained in popularity introducing these kinds of characters,” he says.
Rupert’s chums, including Bill Badger, dog Algie Pug or elephant Edward Trunk, were also drawn with an animal head and childlike body.
But the casting of the star of the show may have been influenced by the growing popularity of the teddy bear, named after US President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, after he refused to shoot a bear during a hunting trip in Mississippi.
When presenting his findings to Lord Beaverbrook, Herbert pushed for his Mary to do the job, says Howard Smith.
“Mary later wrote that he had never even asked her – a commitment he was asking her to do day after day,” he added.
Born in Canterbury in 1874, she was a classically-trained artist who attended the city’s prestigious Sidney Cooper School of Art where she won a scholarship.
She met Herbert in 1898 when he was a budding but impoverished poet in need of an illustrator to help sell his collection of verse.
“Herbert thought her drawings were ‘splendid’ but he wasn’t actually looking at them at all, he was looking at her,” says Howard. “He fell absolutely in love with her.”
Mary excelled at animal drawings, particularly equine sketches, and achieved success with The Horse Book in 1901.
“She’d won trips to Switzerland and many prizes, she was extraordinarily talented,” says Howard. “The horses she drew were anatomically perfect.”
She had drawn the wildly popular Animals at Work series in 1919 and in the same year was commissioned by Sefton Fabrics to produce printed handkerchief samples on the same characters. An early Rupert-like figure, with Mrs Bear bedside him, appears on one set.
“We believe it’s the first sighting of Rupert,” says Howard, who believes Herbert may have encouraged Mary to adopt the designs for the Daily Express.
“They were discovered in a Canterbury attic by a funeral director in 1998 and now reside in Canterbury Museum.”
Rupert Bear’s first appearance in the Daily Express was in Little Lost Bear on November 8, 1920.
Mary’s lines may be viewed as simply drawn today but she was an impeccable artist of the period.
“The whole concept of printing in those days was simplicity,” says Howard. “An idea had to be simple because otherwise it didn’t reproduce well.”
Rupert’s early adventures under her tutorship were not typical of the typical children’s comic books, writes former Daily Express Rupert editor Ian Robinson in The Rupert Companion, A History of Rupert Bear.
“More like a cut-up storybook than a comic strip, it was finely drawn, eschewed speech bubbles and presented extended adventures, which often ran for weeks,” he writes.
“The tone was different too. Rupert had little humour but relied on excitement to keep its readers hooked. Tourtel blended suspense, danger and magic in a rich concoction that grew more thrilling as her stories developed.”
Mary’s tales were often quite dark, paying homage to the Brothers Grimm tales.
In Rupert and the Magic Toyman (1922), readers met a menacing toymaker who turned people and animals into wood, while evil dwarf Grimblegrouch was slain by a heroic knight rescuing the bear from death in Rupert, the Knight and the Lady (1925). Without dialogue, the rhyming text explained the story.
Mary drew on real-life events such as the fatal kidnapping of American aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby in 1932 followed by a ransom demand for $50,000.
That same year Rupert and his friend Margot were snatched by bandits who demanded the pair write ransom notes for one thousand pounds worth of gold.
Mary was 46 in 1920 when she took on Rupert. After Herbert developed tuberculosis and died in a sanatorium in 1931, she was devastated.
Fearing failing eyesight, she offered her resignation four years later. Living out her final years in Canterbury, she died in March 1948, a week after collapsing with a brain tumour.
During her 15 years in the Rupert chair, Mary had illustrated and written some 85 stories, all of them with meticulous care and imagination.
Her excellent line work is demonstrable in a recent colourisation of one of her cartoons. Most importantly, she gave the world Rupert.
By KAT HOPPS
DON’T FORGET TO LAUGH EVERYDAY
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE FOR THE DAY
“There are two days in the year that we can not do anything, yesterday and tomorrow”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Happiness is…A Rupert Bear Annual
GRANDAD’S ONE LINER JOKE OF THE DAY
“My mother made us eat all sorts of vitamins and supplements. One day I nearly choked on part of The Sunday Times.” – Milton Jones
Love is…in the air
WHAT IS THERE A SEASON FOR TODAY TURN, TURN, TURN …
A time to read the Rupert Bear Column in the Daily Express…A time to read the Rupert Annual
SOMETHING TO BE POSITIVE ABOUT & GRATEFUL FOR IN THE WORLD
I am grateful for the fun side of preparing and planning Christmas, even this Christmas, especially this Christmas.
SOMETHING TO LAUGH ABOUT
They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! – Napoleon XIV
They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! is a 1966 novelty record written and performed by Jerry Samuels (billed as Napoleon XIV), and released on Warner Bros. Records. The song became an instant success in the United States, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 popular music singles chart on August 13, No. 1 on the Cash Box Top 100 charts, No. 2 in Canada, and reaching No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
VIZ MAGAZINE TOP TIPS
TOTAL STAIRWAY TO EVEREST CLIMB CHALLENGE
Sunday 22/11/2020 DAY 232 – 12 Times – 120 Feet Cum Total – 27,840 Feet – (Goal 29,035 Ft)
©2020 Phil M Robinson