For four decades, Paddington has remained a favorite of kids, and he has been an international licensing star for nearly as long. His books have sold more than 25 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages. He has inspired two television series and a number of musical stage plays.
This year, Paddington celebrates his 40th anniversary as a publishing entity, and to commemorate his entrance into middle age, the Copyrights Group, licensing agent for the property, has signed deals with 15 companies in North America to create product ranging from sleepwear, to plush toys, to collectibles. They join the 200-plus licensees already producing Paddington merchandise around the world.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, the company that published the first Paddington book, A Bear Called Paddington, in 1958, released anniversary editions of the early stories last September, and a new novel, Paddington and the Christmas Surprise, last December. U.S.-based Eden has issued special 40th anniversary hangtags with all of its lines of Paddington product, including plush toys, musical mobiles, puppets and place mats. Sears is developing and distributing its own line of Paddington clothing and sleepwear for infants to be sold throughout its North American stores.
These are heady days for the bear originally from Peru, who is adopted by an English couple. Last November, a 29-foot-high Paddington balloon floated its way through Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, further confirming the property’s ubiquity. David R. Buckley, president of Copyrights America, the North American arm of the Copyrights Group, says Paddington’s appeal reflects the general mood of the market right now toward classic properties.
‘Having 40 years of history as a publishing property, Paddington is definitely a strong classic,’ says Buckley. ‘He speaks longevity, continuity and high quality-three things both manufacturers and retailers are looking for these days.’
Driving much of the action surrounding Paddington is a new cartoon series, the first 13 episodes of which began airing last September in Canada on Teletoon, in the U.K. on ITV and in France on Canal J and TF1. (As of yet, there is no U.S. broadcaster showing the cartoon.) The Adventures of Paddington Bear, a co-production of Montreal, Canada-based Cinar and Protécréa of France, draws on stories from the classic Paddington books and incorporates new storylines Cinar wrote in cooperation with Paddington author Michael Bond.
The challenge for the producers was to create a series that was faithful to the look and the feel of the Paddington books, says Cinar president Ronald A. Weinberg. To accomplish this, his company opted for a warmer, more organic-looking style of animation, similar to what Cinar used in realizing the cartoon Madeline. Cinar signed deals with Time Life Kids and PolyGram to distribute the animated series on video in North America and in the U.K., respectively.
In 1996, Cinar acquired an interest in some revenue streams derived from the sale of Paddington product after purchasing FilmFair, the British-based company that produced the original Paddington television series. With Paddington already a part of its library, Cinar’s decision to create a cartoon based on the property became academic.
‘With the recognition of this character present everywhere from Japan to Latin America, it seemed like a desirable property for us to build an animation series [around],’ says Weinberg.
Paddington’s popularity among children and its ever-increasing stature as a licensed property came as a pleasant surprise to its creator, Michael Bond, who initially thought the sensibility of the stories was too British to appeal to kids outside of the U.K. Bond got the idea for Paddington after buying a small bear that he felt sorry for in a London toy store.
In A Bear Called Paddington, Mr. and Mrs. Brown spot a small bear dressed in a blue duffel coat and a red floppy hat in a railway station. Around his neck is a tag that reads: ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’ The Browns adopt the bear and call him Paddington after the name of the station in which they found him. In the first book, as in the subsequent 12 novels Bond wrote, readers watch Paddington use his naiveté and grace to deflate the pomp that attends the daily observances most of the adult humans around him hold dear. It is this childlike view of life, Bond explained in a press release, that is the reason why Paddington continues to appeal to young and old. ‘The advantage of having a bear as a central character is that he can combine the innocence of a child with the sophistication of an adult.’