Paddington bear’s illustrator, Peggy Fortnum, dies at ninety-sixth

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 4:52 AM

and Mrs. Brown. They spotted him on the platform, sitting alone on an elderly leather suitcase and sporting an odd-looking hat and a handwritten label that implored, “Please see after this bear.” The bear sprang from the imagination of Michael Bond, a BBC cameraman who'd bought a forsaken teddy bear in Selfridges, the London dept store, on Christmas Eve in one thousand nine hundred fifty-sixth as an eleventh-hour gift for his wife.

Paddington bear’s illustrator, Peggy Fortnum, dies at ninety-sixth

He was an orphaned immigrant from “darkest Peru” who took his title from the Central London railway Sta where he was rescued by an agreeable English couple named Mr. and Mrs. Brown. They spotted him on the platform, sitting alone on an elderly leather suitcase and sporting an odd-looking hat and a handwritten label that implored, “Please see after this bear.”

The bear sprang from the imagination of Michael Bond, a BBC cameraman who'd bought a forsaken teddy bear in Selfridges, the London dept store, on Christmas Eve in one thousand nine hundred fifty-sixth as an eleventh-hour gift for his wife. It inspired him to write “A Bear Called Paddington,” published in 1958.

But it fell to Peggy Fortnum, a British illustrator, to envision what this small, brown, furry, lonely bear would see like. After photographing Malayan bears at the London Zoo, she depicted, in black and white with pen and ink, an endearingly frumpy refugee with a floppy hat and duffel coat – ignoring her London art tutor’s advice that she never draw animals that talked and wore clothes.

The character – his coat became blue and his hat red – was soon immortalized, along with Winnie-the-Pooh, Tiny Bear and the Berenstain Bears, in the ursine literary pantheon.

Fortnum, who went on adorn a series of Paddington books until one thousand nine hundred eighty-three, died on March twenty-eight exterior London. She was 96.

Years after the originals had been published, some of her drawings were colored in by other artists, including a niece, Caroline Nuttal-Smith. Still later, other illustrators picked up the mantle; the latest book was published in 2014.

“He had to see real,” Fortnum wrote of the bear in her unpublished memoirs. “People who saw him had to believe in him, just as they believe in Winnie-the-Pooh.” She added: “You see, I don’t love whimsy or sentiment. This bear had character. I felt a genuine rapport with this brainless innocent who always came out on top.”

Margaret Emily Noel Fortnum was born in London on Dec. twenty-three, one thousand nine hundred nineteen. Her father, Arthur, was a naval officer. Her mother, the former Mary Hay, was the daughter of a Gov of Tobago.

Fortnum briefly attended Tunbridge Wells School of Art in one thousand nine hundred thirty-ninth, but after witnessing the Nazi bombing of London in World War II, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s department of the British army. During her service she was injured when she fell out of a troop carrier and was running over by a truck. After recovering she enrolled in the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.

There she was taught by John Farleigh, a wood engraver, who, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph, predicted a grand future for her, with one caveat: “so long as you don’t illustrate talking animals wearing clothes.”

Her first commission came in one thousand nine hundred forty-fourth, for Mary F. Moore’s “Dorcas the Wooden Doll,” the legend of a toy that comes to life. She proceeded adorn more than eighty books, including Noel Streatfeild’s “Thursday’s Child” (one thousand nine hundred seventy) and Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon” (one thousand nine hundred seventy-two).

Fortnum married the artist and sculptor Ralph Nuttall-Smith. He died in one thousand nine hundred eighty-eighth. She's survived by two nephews, the sculptor John Fortnum and the film historian Kevin Brownlow. Brownlow said she'd died of complications of dementia in a nursing residence in Colchester, northeast of London.

Fortnum’s illustrations drew compliment from critics and authors alike. The Times Literary Supplement wrote: “Her line is exquisite in its loose and nervous rhythm; she can create movement with what, out of context, would be a meaningless squiggle; she can propose by a few doodles a storm-clouded sky or the hidden recesses of a candlelit room.”

Bond, who conceived Paddington, was quoted by The Telegraph as saying that her illustrations captured the bear’s character completely. He added, “Those sketchy drawings were of a living, breathing creature, with the spirit of Paddington about them: his incurable optimism, his gullibility.”

Maybe that was because Fortnum never doubted the bear’s back story.

“I believed in Paddington; I believed he really existed,” she wrote. “I felt a bit love this animal myself.”

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