A History Of Rupert Bear




On November 8, 1920, one of the most enduring and well-loved children’s characters in British fiction made his first appearance in the Daily Express. In the loving hands of creator Mary Tourtel, Rupert and the timeless world of Nutwood introduced children to a world of fairies, wizards, unicorns and adventure.

In 1935 the Daily Express decided that there were enough Rupert adventures to collect them all together in one volume, making an annual. During the height of Rupert’s popularity in the 1950’s sales of the Rupert Annual topped 1.7 million. Today the Rupert Annual is still one of the top ten annual titles sold. Rupert’s adventures in the Daily Express continue up to this day and in 2005 he will celebrate his 85th anniversary.

The original character of Rupert was moulded to suit a basic narrative pattern whose shape and psychological intention has not changed over the years. The story of a child venturing from a safe home to a wider world and returning safely is fundamental in many children’s stories.

Rupert enjoys a safe, cosy home life. He has doting parents who are supportive of him in everything that he does, no matter how daring or dangerous, and who only get mildly anxious when he comes back late from one of his expeditions. Rupert is the ideal son, obedient, considerate, and warm hearted with a natural curiosity and an anxiety to please everyone. But just like any other child of his age (7-8 years) he can be vulnerable, get upset and reduced to tears.

Early Rupert stories were rooted in fairy tales, nursery rhyme and legend. His adventures took place either in a fairy tale world of talking animals, magicians and monarchs, or in a world of chivalry where knights rode noble steeds and very much fitted into the writing genre of 1920’s children’s books. However, the story lines have moved with the times and those fairy tale worlds have now given way to more adventurous ones where Rupert may also meet pirates, crooks and smugglers.

Rupert has a vast array of friends and mentors, Bill Badger, Edward Trunk, Podgy Pig, Willie Mouse, the Rabbit Twins, the Fox brothers, dragons, magicians, fairies, imps, elves, unicorns and wizards all play their part.

Animation history

In 1970 ITV began transmitting an animated puppet version of Rupert for afternoon children’s viewing, and the series eventually reached more than 150 episodes during the next seven years. Note: these shows have not been broadcast for many years and cannot do so without the permission of Express Newspapers.

The most satisfying and delightful spin-off from the printed page was Paul McCartney’s animated ‘Rupert and the Frog Song’ which won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award, as well as another place in the charts for McCartney, who composed and performed the accompanying song. It is this, the most beautiful of animation techniques and artistry, that brought Rupert to a new generation.

Subsequently a broadcast and merchandising deal was signed with the Canadian animation house, Nelvana, to produce 65 half-hour episodes for television. In 2003 all the rights returned to Express Newspapers.

Rupert has been delighting generations of children for over 80 years. The annuals, television shows and Paul McCartney’s tribute gives a taste of the breadth of the little bear’s popularity. Children all over the world love magic and mystery with a hero they can relate to. Rupert is that hero. Nutwood holds the magic and mystery. So, just like Thomas the Tank and Winnie the Pooh before him perhaps it is time for Rupert to move into the limelight.

Rupert Bear Profile

Age: 7-8 years old

Parents: Mr and Mrs Bear

Best Friend: Bill Badger

Favourite clothes: Yellow checked trousers, red jumper and yellow checked scarf

Address: Nutwood Village, England


There's a little bear
Like you've never seen before
Who's a lot of fun
Children everywhere
Grow to love him more and more
He's the number one
There's a million stories to be told
Of the things that he's done
And he's gonna share them all with you
So come along

Oh Rupert, Rupert the Bear
Everyone sing his name
Rupert, Rupert the Bear
Everyone come and join
In all of his games

There is Badger Bill
Lily Tiger-Lily too
And a whole lot more
They are Rupert's friends
And they're waiting here for you
So unlock the door
There's a magic land not far away
And they call it Nutwood
Where you'll meet a little teddy bear
If you are good

Oh Rupert, Rupert the Bear
Everyone sing his name
Rupert, Rupert the Bear
Everyone come and join
In all of his games

Oh Rupert, Rupert the Bear
Everyone sing his name
Rupert, Rupert the Bear
Everyone come and join
In all of his games


The Beginning - Mary Tourtel

Rupert Bear first appeared in the Daily Express on 8 November 1920. The Editor of the newspaper, R.D.Blumenfeld had been instructed by Lord Beaverbrook who owned the Daily Express to find and launch a comic strip character that would prove popular with children, and outstrip competitors comic strips.

Blumenfeld had problems finding the right type of cartoon character to to fulfill this aim. Finally he told his night news editor Herbert Tourtel about the problem. Tourtel immediately volunteered his wife Mary, who had been trained as an artist and was a well established illustrator of children's books, to work on the project.

Rupert was the result and he was an immediate success and has subsequently appeared in the paper on a daily basis since his character was launched in 1920 in a story called 'The Adventures of a Little Lost Bear', with Mary Tourtel's illustrations and captions provided by her husband. The adventures that followed were narrated day by day, always in one picture with an accompanying set of rhymes. Bill Badger, Edward Trunk and Algy Pug are also some of the initial friends of Rupert that have survived the last 85 years.

Mary Tourtel's health began to fail and she finally decided to retire in 1935 Alfred E Bestall took over from her, writing and illustrating the Rupert stories.



Alfred Bestall MBE


Alfred Edmeades Bestall was born on 14 December 1892 in Mandalay, Burma. He was the son of Methodist missionaries. On his return to England he attended Rydal school in Colwyn Bay and obtained a scholarship to the Birmingham Central School (now college) of Art. In 1914, he attended the LCC Central School of Art but volunteered in 1915 to serve in the British Army.

After the war he went to the LCC Central School of Art and completed his studies. From 1922 he spent several years as a freelance illustrator, contributing to periodicals such as Punch, Tatler and illustrating over 50 books. ( Please see Rupert Events for exhibition)

After the retirement of Mary Tourtel in 1935, Alfred, now 42, took over the job of writing and illustrating the Rupert stories. This was the first time that Bestall had actually written and illustrated stories, and he was amazingly successful. In fact some Rupert followers prefer Bestall's stories and illustrations to those of Mary Tourtel. Out of respect for Mary Tourtel, Alfred did not sign his Rupert work during her lifetime, so his signature does not appear on Rupert artwork until 1948.

Bestall wrote and illustrated at least 273 Rupert stories, 224 were published first as strips in the Daily Express running from 28 June 1935 to 22 July 1965. Forty of the stories were specially written for annuals. He also introduced many of Ruperts best known pals including Tigerlily and the Old Professor.

In 1985 Bestall was awarded the MBE, but was unwell and not able to collect the honour himself.

He died on 15th January 1986 at Wern Nursing Home.

The Years after Alfred Bestall


1973 saw the last cover illustration drawn by Alfred Bestall. The work was passed on the Alex Cubie, whose illustrations can be seen from 1974 until it was handed on to John Harrold in 1978.  The stories were written by Freddie Chaplain.

John Harrold illustrated Rupert until August 2007, and although living and working in France, he made time in his busy schedule to be at Canterbury (Rupert's birthplace) for Rupert's Birthday celebration in November each year. There he met and chatted with Rupert fans and signed annuals. A truly special occasion. Here is John pictured with one of his fans at last years gathering at Canterbury Museum together with a cuddly Rupert. We would all like to wish John all the very best for the future and to thank him for his truely fantastic work over what has been a considerable number of years.

The Next Generation — Stuart Trotter

As we say goodbye to John Harrold, we welcome with open arms John's replacement and the new illustrator, storywriter & colourist — Stuart Trotter.