A very special birthday bear - Paddington | Action Medical Research

A very special birthday bear

Karen Jankel, daughter of Paddington creator Michael Bond, shares her memories of Paddington Bear™…

25th June is a special day for me as it’s Paddington’s summer birthday. Paddington has always been a part of my life since my father’s very first book, “A Bear Called Paddington” was published exactly two months after the day I was born.

In fact Paddington began life even before I did. My father was working as a television cameraman for the BBC when he came up with the idea for his first book. On a very wet Christmas Eve in 1956, he took shelter in Selfridges in London. He wandered into the toy department to escape the rain and saw a bear all alone on a shelf. He couldn’t leave it there, of course, so he bought it for my mother.

The first Paddington Bear story was begun after Christmas and was never intended as anything other than a writing exercise. My father was inspired by the bear which was sitting on the mantelpiece and he called him Paddington because he lived near the station at the time and thought it would make a good name for a character.  Although he never set out to write a book, the story was snapped up by publishers and on 13 October 1958, A Bear called Paddington was published by HarperCollins. 

So Paddington has always been a part of our family and he almost feels like a brother to me.  Many of the things I did growing up would somehow find their way into the stories so that when I was learning to ride a bike, Paddington took part in the Tour de France and when I took my driving test, my father wrote Paddington Takes the Test.

Paddington has been involved with Action for nearly 40 years following a chance meeting between my father and Action Medical Research’s founder, Duncan Guthrie. Duncan decided to make the most of this opportunity and asked whether, through Paddington, my father could offer his support to the charity.

At the time, my father was literally inundated with approaches from all manner of charities, all wanting to make use of Paddington in some way.  He couldn’t possibly say yes to all of them, much as he may have wanted to. However, when he started to hear about the work of Action Medical Research he suddenly became very excited.  Here was a charity that really did help a huge range of people, not just the old or the young, but anyone who already suffered or potentially might suffer from any number of diseases or disabilities.

Unbeknownst to Duncan at the time, there was something else working in his favour. It so happened that I’d been born with a debilitating hip condition which meant I’d spent many years in hospital as a child, so my father was all too aware of the desperate need for medical research into the vast range of medical conditions which can affect us all. Not only did he have to witness his own daughter having operation after operation into a condition which, if spotted early enough, would have been easily treated but he also got to see on a daily basis all the other children in the ward, some of whom were still suffering from the after-effects of polio - which, thanks to the work of Action Medical Research, is now a thing of the past.

At first Paddington’s involvement in the charity was quite small but as the years have gone by, that commitment has become much greater. In 1981, I started working with my father and soon became personally involved, liaising with Action Medical Research on their use of Paddington.

A few years later, the need for medical research into genetically inherited diseases became particularly clear to me when my first daughter Robyn (pictured above right with Karen and a furry friend) and then, subsequently, my son Harry were both born with the same condition as I had. Robyn’s case was not diagnosed until she was almost 10 months old so she spent a number of months in hospital on frames and in plaster casts. But at the time Harry came along, a researcher funded by Action Medical Research was working on a system for early diagnosis of the condition: his case was caught early and the treatment was far simpler and less traumatic.

When my third child India was born five years later, doctors had developed an even more successful technique for early diagnosis in cases where there was a high risk of the condition occurring. It used none other than ultrasound which was initially developed for use in pregnancies and can be listed amongst Action Medical Research’s past successes.  Fortunately this showed her to be born without the condition, which was a huge relief as it would have been difficult to juggle all those hospital visits with the new role I had taken on just two weeks earlier, that of a trustee of Action Medical Research.

That was in 1992 and today, although no longer a trustee, I am still totally committed to the work the charity does and Paddington, of course, is totally behind us. 

Those of you who have read the books will know that he’s very careful with his money but although he likes to watch the pennies, Paddington is prepared to spend them, as long as he believes he’s getting value for money. This is something which my father recognised in Action Medical Research all those years ago when he first gave his support. After all, any charity which has, quite literally, touched the life of every person in this country has got to be worth more than a few pence of any bear’s hard-earned bun money!

People often ask me how old Paddington is – the truth is he doesn’t know. When Paddington was first found by the Brown family at Paddington station, he wasn’t sure how old he was so they decided to start again. Because he’s such a special bear, the Browns decided he deserved two birthdays, just like the Queen.

To honour Paddington’s summer birthday I like to celebrate with a cup of tea and a marmalade sandwich… which I’m sure Paddington would approve of.

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