The Royal Mail has partnered with DreamWorks Animation and Universal Brand Development to issue a set of eight stamps marking the 100th anniversary of Rupert the Bear. Each of the stamps will feature the artwork of Alfred Bestall, the author and illustrator of more than 270 Rupert stories after he took on the role in 1935.
The set is made up of four pairs of stamps, each pair featuring two illustrations from one of Rupert’s adventures. Stories featuring in the collection include the 1944 tale Rupert’s Rainy Adventure, the 1952 Rupert and the Mare’s Nest, Rupert And The Lost Cuckoo created in 1963, and the 1947 festive tale Rupert’s Christmas Tree.
Rupert made his first appearance in the Daily Express on November, 8, 1920. Herbert Tourtel, who wrote the stories, was an editor at the Express, and his wife, Mary, was the illustrator.
Many of the early Rupert stories were inspired by fairyland characters and sometimes featured medieval knights, ogres and witches. Soon after the stories appeared, they started being reprinted in books. The Rupert Little Bear Library Series ran to 46 issues and was published periodically between 1928 and 1936.
In total, Mary illustrated 89 stories, which were later reprinted in books. She retired in 1935 due to her failing eyesight.
Her replacement was Alfred Bestall, an established artist with Punch and other magazines, who also illustrated children’s books. Bestall wrote and illustrated 224 Rupert stories for the newspaper and provided 47 other stories, mostly for the Rupert Annuals. In 1985 he was awarded the MBE for his work. He died the following year.
Bestall developed the Rupert tradition of featuring a rhyming couplet beneath each picture, plus a few lines of story text to accompany them. His couplets often ended with the promise of a mystery – a cliffhanger to leave children curious to see how the story would unfold, and eager to read the next day’s paper.
Bestall also introduced new characters to add variety, including Lily Duckling, Gregory Guineapig, the Old Professor, Bingo and the Imps of Spring and Autumn. Most Rupert stories commence with the bear leaving home and end with him returning after an adventure in time for tea to tell his mother of his experiences.
While books of reprinted Rupert stories appeared in the 1920s, it was decided that an annual publication would appear every Christmas. It was titled, Monster Rupert. The first volume was issued in 1931 and continued up to 1934, ceasing after Mary Tourtel retired.
The Rupert Annual was revived in 1936, featuring Bestall’s illustrations. From 1942 to 1949, the Annuals had card covers due to wartime, but board covers returned in 1950, when over 1.7 million copies were printed. Such was the popularity of the annuals, that even in paper rationing during the Second World War, the government sanctioned sufficient paper for the annuals to be printed, to help boost the morale of the public.
Rupert Bear annuals have been published every year since 1936. In 1970, The Adventures of Rupert Bear aired on ITV. It ran for seven years, with over 150 episodes produced over four series.
Philip Parker, Royal Mail, said: “We celebrate the 100th birthday of Rupert, one of the most-loved characters in children’s literature. He has introduced successive generations of children to a wonderful make-believe world of magic and adventure.”
The full set of eight stamps, available in a Presentation Pack, retails at £10.00. The stamps and a range of collectible products are available from today at: www.royalmail.com/rupertbear