The cult of Paddington Bear

You’ve in all probability seen it by now. The drawing of the Queen, holding the hand of Paddington Bear as they stroll away from us into the good past. A single corgi follows alongside, trailing bunting. Marmalade sandwiches lie deserted within the foreground. On social media, folks of their hundreds have shared the picture, to which a caption has been added: “I’ve finished my duties Paddington, please take me to my husband.” The Queen exits, accompanied by a bear.

It wasn’t initially a picture of mourning. The sketch was drawn by the artist Eleanor Tomlinson in June to rejoice the Platinum Jubilee after she watched the brief movie of Paddington having tea with Her Majesty, nevertheless it has taken on a brand new that means within the wake of the Queen’s demise. Paddington, by some mysterious consent within the collective unconscious, has grow to be not occasion visitor, departing along with his host when the festivities have ended, however pleasant psychopomp: a contemporary reimagining of Charon who accompanies Britons to the afterlife. What we’re witnessing is the making of British mythology in actual time.

Together with prints of Tomlinson’s sketch, mourners have left Paddington Bear toys and marmalade sandwiches with wrappings bearing the legend “for later” exterior palace gates, as if as grave items, in such portions that workers have classed them as an environmental menace. Greater than 1,000,000 folks have appreciated a tweet from the verified Paddington Bear account that reads: “Thanks Ma’am, for every part.”

What unites these two figures? Monarchy, we inform ourselves, gives us certainty, continuity. Over the Queen’s 70-year reign folks got here to affiliate her reassuring sense of stability via change much less with the thought of monarchy than with Elizabeth II herself. Now, at a time of upheaval and uncertainty, we search for it embodied in the next energy. And the determine we’ve got chosen is Paddington Bear.

Paddington first appeared in print in 1958 – 5 years after the Queen’s coronation – in Michael Bond’s brief story assortment A Bear Referred to as Paddington. Bond had been impressed to give you the character, a bear from “darkest Peru” discovered at Paddington railway station with a be aware studying “Please Look After This Bear” tied round his neck, after watching footage of wartime evacuees arriving at railway stations. Due to additional well-liked tales, image books, movies and TV exhibits, he has remained a beloved determine to each subsequent technology of British youngsters. This well mannered, softly-spoken, sandwich-loving bear turned an emblem of Twentieth-century Britishness. (A Paddington teddy was the primary merchandise handed from British to French development staff when the 2 sides of the Channel Tunnel met in 1994.) Now Paddington, it appears, comforts us in grief, reassuring us that every one the values we attributed to the Queen – politeness, humility, widespread decency, a glint of mischief beneath the sense of public obligation – survive her nonetheless.

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If this Paddingtonification of Britain’s commemorative tradition appears instinctive to us, even inevitable, it additionally requires clarification. It’s, after all, weird {that a} beloved fictional bear has grow to be a consultant of British monarchy. Paddington and the Queen have occupied the identical visible discipline solely as soon as, in that sketch that runs simply wanting two and a half minutes (it was certainly a stroke of genius from the Royal Household’s press crew to ask comparisons between the 2 figures on this heat and fuzzy picture of the Queen in her later years). And but this was sufficient to completely unite them within the collective British imaginations.

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Partly it’s as a result of the Queen and Paddington have lengthy been separate representatives of just about similar values and beliefs of Britishness. At their most hopeful, they’re two symbols of how we want finest to think about Britain all through the post-war a long time: deferential to custom, however welcoming of cosmopolitanism; earnest, even solemn when required, however at all times with a way of humour; a rustic that wears its patriotism calmly, as a result of it’s comfy with its id.

The near-universal adoration of the 2 main movies based mostly on Bond’s books – Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017) ­– bookending as they did the EU referendum, might be learn as a form of collective protest on the divisions of Brexit Britain. In distinction to the aggressive nastiness of the Go away.EU marketing campaign the movies provided a imaginative and prescient of British society through which self-consciously old style good manners would in the end win the day, offering a grasp picture of a nation that welcomed its immigrants, and the place injustice may very well be overcome with kindness, marmalade and a well-aimed laborious stare. Because the 2000s a well-liked graffiti picture has depicted Paddington along with his duffel coat and suitcase, his expression virtually heartbreakingly benign, below the phrases “migration is just not against the law”.

However the symbolism of Paddington has undergone a refined shift in latest weeks. Within the contexts of Brexit and the House Workplace’s “hostile atmosphere”, this spirit of gentleness and custom was a spirit of resistance. Now, as monarchist deity, Paddington is appearing as institution figurehead. And Paddington has at all times had an ambivalent relationship with the British institution.

He’s, by his personal admission, an unlawful immigrant. In Bond’s tales “the authorities” are a daunting paperwork whose presence continually threatens catastrophe. No youngsters’s character can have had extra run-ins and near-misses with cops, judges, safety guards, managers, jail wardens and immigration officers. In the event that they catch him – and we all know this with out having to be advised – they won’t perceive Paddington’s goodness. They are going to punish him for his trouble-making, the unintended mishaps that come from not at all times understanding how Britishness works, in all its complexities, its hard-to-grasp desk manners. We all know whose aspect we’re on right here.

As a picture of what we want Britain to be, the cult of Paddington sits uneasily with the parallel spirit of authoritarianism that can be characterising Britain’s relationship to its monarchy. Mere toes from the toy bears and sandwiches, protesters are being led away, arrested and generally charged for shouting republican slogans or carrying indicators studying “Not my King”. More and more they’re holding up clean banners and items of paper, as a result of any disagreement or disruption is being forged as harmful and probably prison. A piece of the British public seems to be cheering this on. Many individuals, too, monarchists amongst them, are decrying this authoritarianism as totally un-British.

Paddington has grow to be an ever extra malleable determine, a comfy consolation we are able to undertake to imply all issues to all folks, an emblem entrusted with all our most vital feelings. However vital feelings can simply tip over into sentimentality, and one of many worst tales we are able to inform about British tradition is that beneath its sentimentalism lurks one thing nastier. Oscar Wilde, who understood the ability of kids’s tales, as soon as mentioned {that a} sentimentalist is somebody who desires the luxurious of an emotion with out paying for it. Is that this what Paddington Bear, in his later and extra royalist years, has grow to be – a simple shortcut to sentiment, a quaint image of patriotism? I’m unsure we’re taking care of this bear.

[See also: How the Queen changed Britain]

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