Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear

'I fought off bullies with wordplay'
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The Independent Online

Michael Bond, 80, is the author of the 70 Paddington Bear books, which have sold 30 million copies in 40 languages, including Latin and Mandarin. He has also written the Olga da Polga series. The latest in his adult detective series, Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Militant Midwives, is out on 2 April

As I recall, in one of the Paddington books, the Brown family get a visit from the school inspector, who says that Paddington must go to school. He duly goes and ends up serving the school meals - rather disastrously - and, although he's not actually expelled, he's asked not to come back again. Paddington had, of course, been educated by his Aunt Lucy, who taught him English in Peru after he lost his parents in an earthquake. She decided that it was no life for a young bear in the Home for Retired Bears where she lived, so she sent him to England.

There's nothing sadder than refugees. I have a vivid memory of seeing, when I was about 13, boys in Reading with labels round their necks and carrying suitcases. They had been uprooted from the East End at the beginning of the war and sent away by parents who thought they might never see them again. That's why I gave Paddington a label round his neck saying, "Please look after this bear".

I was born in Newbury in 1926, and we moved to Reading, where I went to a "council" school that was rather rough. I didn't stay there very long - my mother didn't like it because the children had to have a lie-down after lunch in blankets that were rather unclean. My parents weren't Catholics, but they sent me at about seven to a Catholic school called Presentation College - my mother liked the rich purple of the blazer, although it faded in the summer, so the colour only lasted one season.

I was not totally happy there. It was quite a strict school, run by Brothers who carried rubber straps and were fond of using them. When I went, the school was in an old house and there were about 25 pupils. It started to expand and a proper school was built with a laboratory, which they showed to new parents. I don't think that, being Catholic, they believed in science, and they kept the laboratory locked. I was well taught in the basics, like tables, but no one set my mind afire. I don't think the Brothers had been taught to be teachers.

There was a lot of bullying. Most children have a defence mechanism; I had wordplay. I remember making up a sentence: "The verbosity of your impudence is atrocious, and if you do not resume your former attitude I shall be bound to administer adequate punishment." That stopped my tormentors in their tracks, and the other boys were impressed. Brother Ambrose, who had it in for me, called me up on stage and said, "Tell the boys what it means". That deflated me. I had no idea.

I wasn't a very good student. At home, I made a marionette theatre with big revolving stages. That was my main occupation, and school took me away from it. I never actually put on a show because the theatre was up in the attic and, during an evening performance, the light would have shone through the gaps in the tiles. During the blackout, this would have been a beacon for enemy planes. That left matinées, but no one wanted to come in the daytime, and my mother didn't like heights. I got my main pleasure from building it.

I left Presentation College at the age of 14; by then, war had broken out. Before I had left the college, I went in one morning and some large Dutch boys were smoking in the classroom; they had been evacuated.

I realised the full horror of the war when The Magnet, the boys' magazine in which Frank Richards used to write a complete Billy Bunter story every week, was stopped because of the paper shortage.

jonty@jonathansale.com

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