90 years of Rupert Bear: exclusive interview with a collector and current illustrator Stuart Trotter

15 July 2011
imports_CCGB_rupert-large_63287.jpg 90 years of Rupert Bear: exclusive interview with a collector and current illustrator Stuart Trotter
EXCLUSIVE ONLINE CONTENT: Rupert Bear turns 90-years-old this year so Ann Evans caught up with a devout Rupert collector as well as the current Rupert illustrator, Stuart Trotter. ...
90 years of Rupert Bear: exclusive interview with a collector and current illustrator Stuart Trotter Images


The current Rupert Bear illustrator - Stuart Trotter

Among the handful of Rupert illustrators over the last 90 years, the Gazette chatted to Stuart Trotter, the latest of the select few chosen to create the stories and pictures of this iconic little character.

Now living in the Warwickshire area, Stuart is originally from Durham but after studying graphic design at Coventry University when it was the Lanchester Polytechnic, and meeting his wife Vicki there, they set up home in the Midlands area.

Current illustrator, Stuart Trotter.Stuart says even from being very young he was never without a pencil in his hand and his skill as an illustrator has seen him working on such characters as Postman Pat, Wallace and Grommet, Mick Inkpen's Kipper, Enid Blyton covers and classic Winnie the Pooh.

Having grown up with Rupert, being offered the chance of illustrating the Rupert annuals for Egmont was a real thrill – but as well as being delighted, Stuart was also understandable anxious that the fans and followers of Rupert Bear would like his drawings.

“It was really important to me that they liked the illustrations,” said Stuart who admitted to loosing sleep worrying what their reaction would be when he showed his first annual to fans at the Rupert convention.

“As a new illustrator/author of Rupert, first in 30 years I think, I was a curiosity, but in a nice way and I was made very welcome. Also as a new illustrator/author of Rupert my work was accepted by most, but some didn't see it that way... I'll have to win them over.”

Current illustrator, Stuart Trotter.Modestly he added, “If I carry on, I will get to the style I want and the quality I want, so hopefully I'll be accepted as a 'proper' Rupert Bear illustrator.”

Stuart has now produced three annuals, including the 90th anniversary edition.

As a children's writer himself – running his own publishing company, Rockpool Children's Books, Stuart also does the Rupert stories, plotting them out on a storyboard first. “I plot in illustrations, then I write the story in a brief précis, and then in full but someone else does the rhyming couplets.”

Talking about the TV series, which isn't his artwork, Stuart commented that some people don't like Rupert in modern-day clothing. He added however, “Really people should embrace the new Rupert because if it brings children into the world of Rupert then that's a good thing – and they can then discover the earlier classic Rupert.

For Stuart however, he won't be making any changes to the Bestall style of Rupert illustrations. “There is no way we are going to modernise Rupert. Although if you think of Bestall's drawings, he introduced new inventions such as moving vehicles and machines. But I feel that Rupert is now set in and era and there's no way we are going to modernise him. He has established his period and that is where he is going to stay.”

Rupert Bear collector - Doreen James

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Among Rupert's many fans is Doreen James of Worcestershire whose teddy bear collection which includes Rupert and Paddington has been the subject of television documentaries and magazines. She has given talks on teddies, ran an enthusiasts club and written many poems on teddy bears.

Chatting to the Gazette, Doreen explained that she started collecting teddy bears many years ago and through them she got interested in Rupert Bear.

Discovering there was a thriving fan group – The Followers of Rupert, came as a wonderful surprise to her – as she explained. “When I went along to my first Rupert AGM in 1994, I thought it was magical. I thought I was in Nutwood!”

As a collector, Doreen has an unusual slant on the hobby when it comes to bears. “I didn't realise I was a collector, they seem to have collected me,” she said. “It's as if they decide they are coming home with me.”

It was through her love of teddy bears that rekindled her affection for Rupert, and looking back to her childhood she can recall the precise Rupert story that formed the basis of her being a lifelong Rupert fan.

“The first annual I had was in 1947,” she said. “There was one story in particular that absolutely captivated me. It was about a Christmas tree that picked up its roots and walked – I found that image so magical, it has stayed with me all my life.

“I didn't keep my Rupert annuals, I thought I had grown up and had got rid of them. But I found that if I saw one on sale, I couldn't resist it and I ended up buying them all back.”

She now has a hoard of Rupert treasures from books and comics to figurines and pictures and lots more besides. Not surprisingly, among her favourite collector's items are original pieces of artwork some of which she has bought at auction, and some that have been commissioned specially.

“My favourite picture is of Rupert at the seaside, specially painted by Gina Hart for an auction at the Rupert AGM,” said Doreen, adding, “I just had to have it! The picture reminded me of my dad, who like Mr Bear, never took his pullover off, no matter how warm it was. In fact my favourite illustrations are of Rupert on the beach in summertime at Rocky Bay and Sandy Bay – and Christmas snowy scenes such as the 1949 annual which is my all time favourite annual cover.”

Among her treasured collection are original sketches by Mary Tourtel and Alfred Bestall a picture by John Harrold and artwork by Gina Hart. And Doreen has set aside a bedroom for her Rupert collection, which is decorated with Rupert rugs and Rupert curtains, with the drawers, shelves and cupboards packed full of Rupert collectables.

At the time of our visit some of her Rupert collection was away at Hartlebury Castle as part of a larger exhibition on the 1950s and 60s but what was still at her home was impressive enough.
There were collectables such as Rupert Lledo vehicles, badges, charts, jewellery, greetings cards, a nightdress case, Woolworth's Rupert writing pads, calendars and telephone cards.

Along with the beautiful Royal Doulton, Wade and Arden Sculpture figures and Hamilton plates were quirky items such as a hand-made beaded picture of Rupert given to her by a friend who spotted it at a sale; and Rupert chocolate wrappers which Doreen says are actually among her favourite Rupert items.

She said, “I ate the chocolate and whereas most people would throw the wrappers away, I kept them. I think they are really nice.”

One of her favourite figurines is a Royal Doulton which she feels really typifies Rupert, showing Bill Badger pointing to a sign saying 'Keep Out', and Rupert's inquisitiveness drawing him in to another adventure.

Another favourite is a figurine of Raggety, a bad tempered stick character who appears in some of Rupert's adventures. “This was made by a Follower of Rupert and only about 40 were produced,” said Doreen, who also has the Raggety story book.

And among her Rupert teddies, her favourite is a little one that she bought from the Broadway Teddy Bear Museum. “This particular one really has character,” said Doreen. “I don’t know who made it but I find it absolutely fascinating. He has hands and his expression is welcoming - reassuring. There’s so much that I love about it, and he looks so happy and friendly – that’s Rupert!

PHOTOS: Rob Tysall