'Absolute genius' Michael Bond remembered at memorial service

'Absolute genius' Michael Bond remembered at memorial service

A host of authors and illustrators, publishing chiefs, and high-profile actors were among those who remembered children's author Michael Bond CBE at a service held at St Paul's Cathedral today (Tuesday 14th November).

Bond, who is best known for his creation Paddington Bear, died in June at the age of 91.

Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, who have published Bond since A Bear Called Paddington was released in 1958, paid tribute to the author, saying: "I feel very privileged to have been Michael Bond's publisher for the last decade of his life."

She recalled meeting Bond at a celebration for Paddington's 50th anniversary held at the Peruvian embassy, where the character was awarded an honorary Peruvian passport, and spoke of his "disarming humility". Calling him "an absolute genius at creating characters", she said that his contribution to children's books and the world of literature "should not be underestimated", praising the "deeply held values of justice and compassion, hope and fairness" found in his writing.

She added: "Thank you Michael for all your wonderful stories with such wonderful characters and for giving us such fun and laughter over the years. Truly, we promise you, we will look after your bear."

Actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays Mr Brown in the "Paddington" films, and his co-stars Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris, who play his children, read out some of the messages that fans have sent to Bond's family since his death during the service.

Meanwhile HarperCollins UK c.e.o. Charlie Redmayne led a prayer during the service. Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s, and Hachette Children’s Group c.e.o. Hilary Murray Hill were also among the trade figures in attendance. Others paying tribute included Bond’s agent Stephen Durbridge, who gave a reading, Stephen Fry, and authors and illustrators including children’s laureate Lauren Child, Michael Morpurgo, Sarah McIntyre, Benji Davies and Katherine Rundell.

Bond’s daughter Karen Jankel also gave a tribute, in which she remembered his “witty one-liners”, “friendly demeanour” and his ability to “find the humour in any situation”. She said: “He was very generous, particularly with his time, and he replied to every fan letter he received. Even when he could barely hold a pen, he never refused a request to sign a book because he respected his fans as much as they respected him." She said of her father's most famous creation: "Paddington is an extension of our family, he is to all extents and purposes an extension of my father and so he will always be with us.”

Bond’s grandchildren India, Harry and Robyn Jankel, also spoke during the service to read extracts from his children’s books The Tales of Olga da Polga, It Wasn’t Me and A Bear Called Paddington.

The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, who delivered the service, called Paddington’s story “a sort of fable”, comparing the character’s journey to that of Jewish children who came to England from Germany in the Second World War. He said: “Michael Bond knew that people needed looking after and he reached out to millions of children and adults through the art of storytelling. God’s wisdom is much closer to Paddington's than some of our great leaders' wisdom.”

The St Paul's Cathedral Choir sang hymns and anthems throughout the service and the Fanfare from "Four Extemporisations" was played on the organ at the end. The St Paul's Cathedral Guild of Ringers rang "Stedman Cinques" after the service.

HarperCollins Children’s Books recently announced that it will be publishing Bond's final Paddington picture book in June next year, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the first Paddington Bear book. Paddington at St Paul’s is set in the cathedral, in what Murtagh referred to as “beautiful serendipity”. “Paddington 2” was released in UK cinemas last week, earning distributor Studiocanal its biggest-ever overall UK opening.