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Rupert Annuals

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The Adventures of Rupert the Little Lost Bear

Who has not heard of Rupert Bear? Resplendent in red jersey and bright yellow check trousers, Rupert is as popular today as he ever was, both with youngsters discovering his adventures for the first time, as well as those of us who remember him fondly from our childhoods. Most of us are familiar with the Rupert annuals, the first of which was published in 1936, but Rupert was in fact created long before then. He made his first appearance in the Daily Express in 1920 making him 90 years old this year! (2010)

Rupert's 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.

Rupert came about really because of the success of Teddy Tail, the product of 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 and so the editor contacted his deputy, Herbert Tourtel and asked him to come up with some ideas.

Mary Tourtel, a former pupil of Canterbury Art School, had already illustrated several children's books. These included A Horse Book (1901 Grant Richards) The Humpty Dumpty Book (1902 Treherne) The Three Little Foxes (1903 Grant Richards) The Rabbit Book (1904 Treherne) Old King Cole & Other Nursery Rhymes (1904 Treherne). The outcome was that Mary Tourtel created Rupert and the little bear first appeared in the Daily Express issue of 8th November 1920.

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". The book is small in format with cream pictorial covers and was published by Thomas Nelson. Although the contents list Chapters I and II these are really two separate Rupert adventures.

The stories are written in verse and every page has one picture, printed in brown and white, with a caption below followed by two verses. The book thus appeals to different audiences - young children just learning to read can read the captions and get the gist of the story while older children can read the verses. Not forgetting parents who will enjoy reading the verses to their youngsters too!

The first story, Chapter I, finds Rupert going shopping for his mother. She 'wanted honey, fruit, and eggs, And told him not to stray, For many things might happen to Small bears who lost the way'. And of course, Rupert does and they do! On his way home Rupert sees a bird which he is sure has come from Fairyland and, quite forgetting his mother's warning, decides to follow it and promptly gets lost! He finally meets 'some Air Balloons' who carry him through the air to a place where 'lives a bear, and all will say He's like you in the face.' Rupert thinks he is going home and is dropped down a chimney where he meets two characters who are to become his friends - Golli and Jacko the Monkey. The Air Balloon that followed him now says '"I've brought you to your father safe, I must no longer stay." But Rupert's face it longer grew, He lost his look of joy; I think there's some mistake," he said - "My Daddy's not a toy!"'

Poor Rupert - he's still lost. Happily, Jacko and Golli help him get out of the Nursery and Rupert goes on his way. He meets Bill Badger who invites him into his house - the front door is a hole in the hillside. Bill goes in, Rupert follows him - and of course gets stuck! Luckily Rex and Reggie Rabbit come across him - 'It was a funny sight To see two legs up in the air, Waving with all their might'! The pictures of this episode are very reminiscent of E.H. Shepard's depiction of A.A. Milne's Pooh Goes Visiting in which Winnie-The-Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's front door and Christopher Robin and all Rabbit's Friends and Relations help to pull him out. One wonders if Milne had Rupert Bear in mind when he wrote this delightful story.

Rupert makes lots of friends and has many more escapades and lucky escapes in this first story. While Mary Tourtel has invented many new characters to be Rupert's chums, in this story she has also drawn on well-known fairy tales. We see Sugar-Plum House which could be straight out of Hansel and Gretel but instead of the old witch, Mary has a 'great wolf with horrid eyes' living in the house which is very similar to the wolf in Red Riding Hood. And Rupert is finally rescued and taken home on horseback by no other than Puss-In-Boots! 

Chapter II sees Rupert out playing with his hoop when he suddenly comes across a mysterious door he hasn't noticed before. He goes through it to find himself in a 'lovely place' but before he's got very far he meets two swans, Simon and Sue, who warn him 'Turn back and go'; 'The Ogre GRUFFENUFF lives here - He'll eat you up, you know'. Rupert tries to find his way back with the help of Miss Tibbs, a kindly cat, but too late! He is captured by the Little Soldiers. 'They bring him to old Gruffenuff, Who looks at him and growls: "He is not fat enough for me, Lock him up! Don't mind his howls!"' Poor Rupert is put in a cage but help is at hand. Robin Redbreast flies to tell his mother who then hurries to the Wise Goat who, in turn, sends Robin to ask Jacko and Golli to rescue Rupert. But Rupert is caught as he tries to escape and is taken back to the Ogre who this time throws him in the dungeon.

With the help of Castle Mouse and Country Mouse, Rex and Reggie Rabbit come to his aid this time. '"We've found you, Rupert dear," they said. "Now with us you must crawl Down through the tunnel we have made Under the Dungeon wall."' But alas, Rupert is too fat! He gets stuck in the hole and the Gaoler and the Guards seize him and once more take him before Old Gruffenuff. The Ogre orders him to be locked in the highest tower. '"I'm tired of seeing you," he roars; "And you are getting thinner. One night you'll pass in the highest tower, And then - you'll be my dinner!"'

Well, Rupert does escape - you will have to read the book yourself to find out how and what happens to dreadful Old Gruffenuff. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

The Adventures of Rupert The Little Lost Bear was followed by a further three books in the same format with stories reprinted from the strips in the Daily Express. They were all published in 1922 by Thomas Nelson. The titles are:

The Little Bear and the Fairy Child 
Margot the Midget & Little Bear's Christmas 
The Little Bear and the Ogres

All are highly collectable and very difficult to find today and therefore command high prices. However, in 2002 Pedigree Books published reproductions of all four books, beautifully presented in a green slipcase under the title The Adventures Of Rupert and well-worth a place in any Rupert Bear collection.

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.

Contributd by Chris Tomaszewski

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