Campaign to free the Pooh Five: a scandal that would rock Seven Acre Wood

Click to follow
The Independent Online
He always considered himself a very ordinary sort of bear, but, as Rosa Prince reports, the whereabouts of Pooh sparked an international dispute when an MP who found him languishing in New York Public Library called for his return to Britain.

Americans have responded angrily to demands by the Labour backbencher Gwyneth Dunwoody that the original Winnie the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga be repatriated to their homeland.

After finding the dolls sitting forlornly in the New York Public Library, Mrs Dunwoody tabled a Commons question to Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, asking him to get the dolls back.

She said: "Just like the Greeks want their Elgin Marbles back, so we want our Winnie the Pooh back, along with all his splendid friends."

But the Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, has vowed to keep the dolls in America. He broke off from his busy schedule yesterday to visit the exiled dolls at the West 53rd Street library. Accusing the Labour MPs of using "fightin' words", he said: "We will do anything we can to keep them here." Spokeswoman Colleen Roche added: "He just wanted to reassure the bear that he is safe on American soil."

There is speculation that Pooh's plight may even be raised at today's meetings between the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and President Bill Clinton. A spokesperson for the White House said: "We do not expect this to be on the formal agenda of the meeting between President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair although we would not exclude that it could come up in discussions."

The bear that would become Winnie the Pooh was bought from Harrods by the author A A Milne in the early 1920s for his son Christopher Robin. The other dolls joined Pooh over the years, although Kanga's baby, Roo, was lost by Christopher Robin in a Surrey apple orchard and the whereabouts of Wol the owl is unclear.

The dolls became models for the artist Ernest H Shepard, whose beautiful line drawings accompany the Winnie the Pooh books.

In 1947, Milne's American publisher spied the dolls in the corner of the author's living-room and asked if he could take them on a promotional tour of the US. The Pooh Five never saw England again.

The dolls were donated to the New York Public Library in 1987 and have been kept in a bullet-proof display case ever since. They are seen by 750,000 visitors each year.

Ms Dunwoody said she was unfazed by the tough talk of the famously hard line Mayor Giuliani. "I am happy to do battle with the Mayor of New York, any day he likes ... he says I use fighting words - well I do. We want Winnie the Pooh back - and all his friends. This is where they belong, not in some stuffy glass case in New York."

Rudolph Giuliani (right), the Mayor of New York, cradles the original Winnie Pooh, one of five of AA Milne's toys (above) donated to the New York Public Library in 1987 which Mr Giuliani yesterday vowed to keep in the US after Gwyneth Dunwoody MP called for their return to Britain. Left, media reaction in the Big Apple to the demand

Photographs: Reuters/AFP