Letter: In a muddle over Rupert Bear

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From Mr Victor Watson

Sir: The opening paragraph of David Brazier's article about Rupert Bear ("Rupert loses his bearings", 24 November), which links the decline of the economy and the British Empire, the low esteem of politicians and the collapse of the Royal Family with Rupert's loss of faith in "law-abiding upright behaviour" was a model of muddled thinking. Poor Rupert! - "the last standard-bearer of public decency and civil conduct is falling prey to the malaise of our times".

Brazier's central point derives from a comparison of Alfred Bestall's wartime Rupert annuals with those of today. A fictional character who has endured for almost 80 years will inevitably change. The culture of the Thirties and Forties is not the culture of the Nineties, and the readers of that time are not the same as the readers of today.

Some of these changes are for the better: I notice that Mr Brazier has nothing to say about the unacceptable race stereotypes that no longer appear in Rupert annuals.

The astonishing thing is that Rupert has changed so little. He still combines two almost impossible ideals: a child's ideal of perfect freedom in an expanding but ultimately safe imaginative world, and an adult's ideal of perfect child behaviour. Rupert is to children what they would like to be, and he is to parents what they would like their children to become.

Mr Brazier reserves his most ferocious criticism for a story in which Rupert assists some stranded space-travellers. He contemptuously complains that "the only principle here seems to be that we should be kind to aliens in trouble". Try saying that to today's very young readers, David Brazier, and you would find that, in their developing moral awareness, they would tell you we should be kind to aliens if we meet any.

I suspect that Mr Brazier has got hold of a couple of Forties annuals and compared them with a few recent issues. If he had looked more closely, he would have seen that even in the early annuals stories of villainy are considerably outnumbered by stories in which something has just gone wrong and Rupert helps to put it right. For very young children, at the centre of their reading is the idea of Rupert as a helper.

None of this silliness would matter if it were not for the fact that the serious subtext of his article is really to do with punishment. Brazier is critical of the contemporary Rupert because his moral condemnation "is reserved for 'institutional crime' that society visits upon itself, such as pollution", and he accuses him of being like church leaders who "studiously avoid censure of the activities of lawless individuals". Brazier is not really interested in Rupert at all; he might be more at home with Noddy.

Yours sincerely,

Victor Watson

Homerton College

Cambridge

27 November

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