Rupert Bear

(a history by David Lister)
Rupert appeared (and still appears) every day in the British newspaper "The  Daily Express". It must be one of the longest running children's cartoons in  a newspaper anywhere in the world. 

In the 1930s there was a vogue for children's cartoons in British newspapers.  Teddy Tail appeared in the Daily Mail and "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred" in the  Daily Mirror. The Express decided that they should have their own cartoon and  turned to Mary Tourtel, who was the wife of one of their sub-editors. She  invented the little bear, Rupert, devising the stories and drawing the  illustrations herself. 

The first Rupert cartoon appeared on 8th, November, 1920. Two drawings  appeared each day, with a short text of story beneath them. Mary Toutel  continued to draw Rupert until 1935, when her eyesight began to fail. Casting  round for someone to take over, The Express asked an artist and magazine  illustrator named Alfred Bestall to fill in for six weeks. So Alfred Bestall  took over, but the six weeks extended for thirty years until he retired in  1965 and other artists took over. The cartoon continues in the Daily Express  to this day. 

Rupert continued to appear daily throughout the war, despite the extreme  restrictions on the availablility of newsprint. The Rupert stories were  situated in the idyllic English countryside into which the War was never  allowed to intrude and It was thought that Rupert added a little haven of  normality in a chaotic world and that he was good for public morale. The  number of pictures was, however, reduced to one a day. 

Relentlessly, day by day Alfred Bestall drew the cartoons for a small fixed  wage. He was a much better artist than mary Toutel and Rupert slightly  changed under his hand. He was a genius at inventing stories that would  fascinate children. His stories remain the classic Rupert stories and have  never been equalled either in ingenuity or in art. 

For Christmas, 1936, it was decided to publish an annual containing a  collection of the Rupert stories printed in the Express during the previous  year. The first Annual was a substantial quarto book in a hard cover, printed  in black and white with red tinting. The Rupert Annual has been printed every  year since then and it appears around August or September, in time for  Christmas. (I still buy mine each year and, except for three early editions,  I have a complete set.) 

Like the daily cartoon, the Rupert Annual continued throughout the War,  although it was reduced to a paper-back, still of quarto size. It was not  until 1952 that hard covers were resumed. As if to compensate, in 1942 (at  the height of the War!) the Rupert Annual came out in full colour, as it  still does. 

The Rupert Annual was one of the only children's annuals to survive the War,  but when it ended in 1945, it was thought that many new annuals would be  introduced and that the Rupert Annual would face competition. It was decided  to improve the attraction of the annuals by the introduction of other  features, such as games and colouring pages. Alfred Bestall hit upon the idea  of including paperfolding. He had been interested in folding paper since he  was a child and, of course, the drawing of the diagrams presented no problem  to him. 

Even before his death, Alfred was beginning to gain public recognition, and  appeared in radio and on television. After he died a Rupert society was  founded called "The Followers of Rupert" which continues to flourish. Books  were published about Rupert and Alfred Bestall, including an "Index of  Rupert", which lists every daily cartoon and every episode of every Annual,  including cartoons that have been published overseas, as in Holland. There  have been many Rupert books of various kinds, which are also listed, but the  Rupert Annuals remain the backbone of the Rupert tradition. So far as I know,  however, the Rupert Annuals have not so far been republished in the United  States, despite the fact that I know Rupert and his stories appeal just as  much to American children as they do to British children just like Halloween costumes.

About seven year ago a beautifully produced facsimile of the first Rupert  Annual of 1936 was published and this has been continued every year since, so  that last year the facsimile for 1943 was reached. Curiously there have  sometimes had to be small changes to comply with present day "political  correctness"! (for example, the "Golliwog" became just "Golly".) Now even the  facsimiles are collectors pieces and fetch good prices on the second-hand  market. But a copy of the first annual in good condition would cost well over  £1,000 and with the extremely rare dust cover, would probably fetch much  more. The early editions up to about 1945 fetch a hundred or two pounds each,  but more recent annuals, especially from 1970 onwards, can be bought  second-hand for a few pounds. 

I count myself very privileged to have know Alfred Bestall and to have  enjoyed Rupert and the Rupert Annuals. They have greatly enriched my  paperfolding experience for so many years of my life and I remain a Follower  of Rupert. 

David Lister Grimsby, England.

D.Lister891 AT aol DOT com