A character almost everyone is familiar with is Rupert Bear. Rupert is immensely collectable today and in particular the early annuals are very sought after. Although the first Rupert annual was published in 1936, Rupert Bear was actually created 16 years previously in 1920. His creator was Mary Tourtel, born in 1874 into a very artistic family and married in her early 20's to Herbert Tourtel who worked in printing and publishing.
As a child Mary was fond of sketching animals and eventually attended Canterbury Art School where she won a gold medal as the most outstanding pupil. Besides being a clever artist she was also an aviator and adventurer who pre-dated the more famous Amy Johnson by some years. With her husband in 1919 she had flown in a Handley-Page aeroplane breaking the record from Hounslow to Brussels.
But on to Rupert Bear - it all started with the success of Teddy Tail, the product of a talented illustrator, Charles Folkard, who since 1915 had held a regular place in the Daily Mail newspaper. Their rival newspaper, the Daily Express, decided they should have a similar feature. The editor contacted his deputy, Herbert Tourtel and asked him to come up with some ideas. The outcome was that Mary Tourtel created Rupert and the little bear first appeared in the Daily Express issue of 8th November 1920. Her husband also played a part - he wrote the verses which appeared with the drawings.
The first story "Little Bear Lost" ran to a total of 36 installments and in 1921 was published in a book called "The Adventures of Rupert The Little Lost Bear". Mary Tourtel wrote a total of 85 strips featuring Rupert, many of them finding their way into a series of books during the years that followed. Failing eyesight finally forced her to retire in 1935 and she died in 1948 aged 74.
Finding a successor was far from easy but after many interviews the right man was found in Alfred Bestall. Apart from being instructed to cut out all references to fairies, ogres and witches, Bestall was given a free hand to do what he liked with the character. The most siginificant change being the colour of Rupert's jumper which changed from Mary Tourtel's blue to the now familiar red.
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th Rupert annuals (1937-1939) all featured attractive paintings by Bestall on their boards. With the outbreak of World War II and the resulting paper shortage Rupert was restricted to only one pictures in the Daily Express. But he was lucky! Teddy Tail was dropped from the Daily Mail altogether. By 1942 paper stocks had fallen so low that although there was a full colour annual published that year, it had paper covers and a very restricted print run. Hence it is the most difficult annual to find today.
Bestall's long association with the Daily Express came to end when the company's chairman made a decision concerning the 1973 annual which Bestall was not consulted on and was furious about.
This was the decision to issue the annual with Rupert having a white face instead of the customary brown face. Bestall resigned immediately and refused to do any further work for the annuals. However the paper got so many letters of protest from irate readers that Rupert once again appeared with a brown face on the front cover of the 1974 annual.
Alfred Bestall died in January 1986 at the age of 93, a year after having received a richly deserved MBE honour from the queen. Rupert still lives on to this day in the very capable hands of artist John Harrold who took over the assignment in 1980.
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Contributed by Chris Tomaszewski.