His marmalade sandwich has always seemed every bit as definitive as the blue duffel coat, battered suitcase, and impeccable manners. But now Paddington Bear's decision to try Marmite in a television advert has prompted his creator to defend himself from the accusation that he is selling out.
Michael Bond has responded to criticism that he compromised Paddington Bear's reputation by allowing his creature to be used for the commercial purposes of Marmite, ditching his beloved marmalade in the process. Bond has revealed that he wasn't consulted on the decision to allow Paddington to try Marmite. He said he wanted to quell "an ill-founded rumour doing the rounds that I was responsible for the script of a television commercial featuring Paddington Bear testing a Marmite sandwich, adding that one of the reasons may have been that Marmite paid me a truly vast sum of money".
"I should be so lucky – particularly since I didn't write it", he said in a letter to The Times, adding: "I have to report that although Paddington found the sandwich interesting, bears are creatures of habit. It would require a good deal more than the combined current withdrawals from Northern Rock to wean him off marmalade, if then."
In the television advertisement, Paddington pulls out one of his traditional marmalade sandwiches. Before taking his first bite, he thinks aloud "maybe I ought to try something different". A double-decker Routemaster bus with an advertisement for Squeezy Marmite drives by, and Paddington is convinced he should try it. In the next shot, he is seen squeezing Marmite on to his bread, before taking a bite and saying: "Mmm ... really rather good."
Paddington & Company, which owns the rights to Paddington's image, was paid an undisclosed sum by the multinational food group Unilever for the advertisement. Paddington & Company's managing director is Karen Jankel, Mr Bond's daughter.
So does Paddington's new-found fondness for Marmite suggest that father and daughter aren't on speaking terms? Not according to Ms Jankel. "We haven't fallen out. Our relationship is strong enough to rise above this," she said. "My father was upset about this because from his point of view, as the creator of Paddington, this rather goes against the grain. It was my decision to let Paddington eat Marmite and I believe this is a good association for him to have. Paddington Bear and Marmite are two great British institutions, and it's great that they should flourish together."
Jankel said she did not regret allowing Unilever to use the Paddington Bear brand. "The point is that as Paddington sees it, Marmite is not a substitute for marmalade – it's just something he tries, and likes," she said. "But the response has been staggering, and speaks volumes about his enduring appeal. Many people have a very strong and nostalgic attachment to Paddington Bear, and there was genuine concern that he'd changed fundamentally. Yet I simply don't believe that he's sold out."
Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Bond said: "It wasn't until the point of no return that I got to hear about it." He also said he doubted that his creation would really want to switch to Marmite from marmalade in any case. "He would never convert," Bond said. "The thing about children's characters is these things are set in stone."
Paddington Bear first appeared in the book A Bear Called Paddington in 1958, and has been in 10 books since. Originating in Darkest Peru, the character quickly became the star of a hit animated series in the Eighties, narrated by Michael Hordern.
The author is sceptical about whether Paddington will favour marmalade over Marmite permanently. "Squeezy Marmite may spread well," he said, "but it doesn't have any chunks."Reuse content