Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Rupert the Bear

Enduring anthropomorphic UK newspaper comic strip featuring a bear cub or teddy bear with a white face, red jumper, yellow check trousers and matching check scarf. He achieved enormous popularity through publication in the Daily Express and in colour albums in the 1930s-50s, and still commands a considerable readership today. The strip's longevity owes much to the timeless quality of its Pastoral setting (the village of Nutwood), its charming fantasy and Fairytale themes, and its fascinating cast of characters which include quaintly dressed humanized animals, trolls, giants, elves and a wide variety of human types dressed in all kinds of exotic costume. Rupert's regular playmates are Bill Badger, Algy Pug, Edward Trunk the elephant and Podgy Pig, all of whom dress in the style of the 1920s. The stories draw upon most traditional sources and are recounted with great appreciation of a child's-eye view of the world, filled with magic and wonder, but with a loving mummy and daddy at home.

The Little Lost Bear began in the Daily Express, rather unobtrusively, in a single frame with two four-line verses underneath in November 1920. Its creator was Mary Tourtel (1874-1948), the wife of a night news editor and herself an already established children's illustrator. There was no consistent format for the feature in its early days: it could vary from one to four frames per day, but eventually settled to one, with the story narrated in verse underneath. It was an immediate success and reprints in book form were tremendously popular.

On Tourtel's retirement in 1935, the artwork and stories were undertaken by Alfred Bestall (1892-1986), in whose hands the strip reached its greatest heights of success. Bestall's ability to depict both the idyllic rural surroundings of Nutwood and the fantastic lands to which Rupert is transported gave the feature a particular attractiveness. He established a format of two frames per day, displaying a remarkable talent for storytelling, and a new series of quarterly books (the Rupert Adventure series) was begun along with regular annual reprints (in colour from 1940), which during one period each attained sales figures in excess of one and a half million. The Adventure series continued until 1963, although Bestall did not write them and had assistance from Alex Cubie and Enid Ash on the drawing. His last Rupert frames were published on 22 July 1965; subsequent artists have included Cubie, Lucy Matthews and John Harrold. One of the most successful writers has been James Henderson.

Merchandising of Rupert has included jigsaw puzzles, china plates and mugs, soap, chocolate bars, paper tissues, ladies' underwear and Games of all kinds. A tv puppet series was first broadcast in 1970; an animated Rock Video was made for Paul McCartney's "We All Stand Together"; this won a BAFTA. In the "Schoolkids' Issue" (1971) of Oz magazine a drawing of Rupert copulating resulted in celebrated legal proceedings. In about 1983, Paul McCartney bought the rights to make Rupert cartoons and issued the single "We All Stand Together" to popularize the first in the series.

Rupert is still (1996) published regularly in the Daily Express, and coloured reprints of old stories are serialized in the Sunday Express Magazine. [RT]

further reading: Rupert: A Bear's Life (1985) by George Perry.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.