During the construction of the Channel Tunnel in 1990, when teams from either side met in the middle and connected the UK to Europe for the first time since the Ice Age, British workers chose a Paddington soft toy as the first item to pass through to their counterparts. (The French brought champagne).
Paddington is a British icon, but it is the fact he is not British that makes him an icon. In a world that seems bent on building barriers and demonising difference, he cuts through these constructs with politeness and deference, with heart.
Born while the wounds of war were still healing, the marmalade-addicted bear from darkest Peru celebrates his 60th birthday next year. His creator, Michael Bond, drew directly on his memories of what he saw of the Kindertransport – children from Europe arriving with whatever belongings they could carry and a note around their neck – and later the evacuees fleeing London during the Blitz.
The books have sold more than 35 million copies, spawned a much-loved television show and inspired a hit movie that grossed over £190m. Its sequel is out now in cinemas, made by the team behind the Harry Potter films. But instead of looking to other children’s classics, producer David Heyman cites the Frank Capra masterpiece Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a major inspiration.
“It’s about seeing the good in places where others might not,” Heyman says. “That’s a good message, in a world where we’re all a little too willing to judge a book by its cover.”
In Paddington 2, our hero is sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit, but overcomes all obstacles with resolve and enthusiasm.