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Alfred E. Bestall remembered
Some two months after Rupert Bear's 65th birthday, Alfred E. Bestall, his best-known illustrator, died on 15th January at 93 in a North Wales hospital. He had had an operation last year, when he nevertheless managed to write to Fun Club member Steve Morris from his hospital bed - much to Steve's delight. Mr Bestall was not Rupert's creator, but invented several new characters and brought Nutwood to life with extra detail. Herbert Tourtel of the Daily Express asked his wife Mary to dream up a competitor to the Daily Mail's Teddy Tail: Rupert was the result. He first appeared in The Little Lost Bear on 8th November 1920 - it was a single drawing only and Rupert did not appear daily at first; Herbert Tourtel wrote the verses beneath his wife's pictures. The country around the Tourtels' Bluebell Cottage, near Canterbury, was Mary's inspiration for Nutwood, but by 1935 failing eyesight had forced her to retire.
Alfred Bestall, an illustrator for Punch and Enid Blyton among others, was chosen as her successor and remained involved almost until his death. Certain rules were by now established: although a human-looking foot is occasionally sighted, Rupert must always be fully clothed; at least part of him must appear in every panel; there must be six horizontal stripes on the famous check trousers. Bestall suffered what John Lennon would have called "a nervous breadvan" through overwork in 1948, after which date assistants shared the load. He usually drew Rupert's head -difficult to get exactly right - and worked mostly on the annuals, which have appeared continuously since 1936. Rupert And The Frog Song was based on his inside cover picture for one annual. Lord Beaverbrook, War Minister as well as Express proprietor, kept Rupert going during World War II as a boost to national morale, other strips being suspended due to the paper shortage. In 1970 a TV puppet series inspired several stage productions and more recently a Rupert comic was launched. Then in 1985 came Rupert: A Bear's Life by George Perry with Alfred Bestall, published in the UK by Pavilion/Michael Joseph at £9.95.
Devotee Audrey Bateman put together a 65th birthday exhibition in Canterbury, very close to Mary Tourtel's birthplace, which ran from 19th November to 14th December with two readings from the books and a children's party on the last day. Some of the flavour can be glimpsed from the pictures above, together with a letter from a happy Nutwood resident.
With fans like Audrey, Paul and Linda, it's a happy thought that Alfred Bestall died knowing Rupert Bear's popularity remained undiminished.
CLUB SANDWICH No. 40 ©MPL COMMUNICATIONS LTD 1986 ISSN 0262-9054. PUBLISHED BY WINGS FUN CLUB, PO BOX 4UP, LONDON W1A 4UP
DESIGNED AND PRODUCED BY SING PRINTED IN THE UNITED KINGDOM BY PENSORD PRESS.