Copyrights’ Nicholas Durbridge shares his memories of the Paddington Bear creator.
I first met Michael Bond in 1972 when Michael’s literary agent Harvey Unna consulted the law firm where I was an articled clerk about an infringing soft toy that was being sold. It was made by a company called Gabrielle Designs run by Shirley and Eddie Clarkson and I was delegated the task of dealing with this.
A ‘cease and desist’ letter was duly sent and a short time later a meeting between the Clarksons, myself and Michael Bond took place. On the day of the meeting Michael and the Clarksons arrived at our offices at the same time and entered the lift together and by the time they arrived on the fourth floor the beginnings of a great friendship was already taking shape.
In the meeting, while I took a lawyerly hard-nosed approach, at every critical moment Michael would interject with a comment like ‘he is such a lovely bear’ or ‘he is really just how I imagined him’. It was a foregone conclusion that a deal would be struck and I duly drafted the first merchandise licence for Paddington Bear.
Paddington’s popularity grew enormously when he first went on television in 1975 in a wonderful five-minute stop frame puppet series produced by Graham Clutterbuck of FilmFair, animated by Ivor Wood and narrated by Sir Michael Hordern who later exclaimed that his three toughest roles had been playing God, King Lear and Paddington Bear.
Graham, Ivor and Michael had become firm friends when they had worked on the Herbs and Parsley the Lion, two earlier series that Michael created for the BBC. Paddington was broadcast on BBC1 just ahead of the 6 o’clock news – a slot that attracted ten million viewers. For me this meant that I was dealing with an ever expanding number of infringements, while for Michael it meant becoming ever more consumed in approving merchandise and holding business meetings.
It reached a point where Michael was literally running down a street one day to grab a sandwich between meetings when he stopped and said to himself that this was crazy and not what he wanted to do. He was a writer and wanted to write.
And so fate stepped in again as he asked Harvey Unna for advice who suggested he ask me to come and work for him. So Michael took me out to lunch, made me an offer that sounded much more fun than being a lawyer, and a few weeks later I joined Michael in his small office in Soho where there was a just a desk and chair with another chair in the corner. Michael got up from the desk on my first day and said ‘You had better have the desk’ which was piled high with post and unanswered letters, many of which were letters from me asking for instructions on various matters. My first job with Michael therefore was to answer my own letters and make the decisions and I realised that I had entered a rather different world.
For Michael merchandising was a means to a creative end. The licence fee paid by the BBC and other broadcasters might, if one was lucky over time, cover the cost of television production however merchandising royalties provided the cash flow and hopefully profit. The Paddington series and specials were all part financed by Michael’s company using merchandising advances and revenues. As a writer Michael had a great sense of the right and wrongs of Paddington’s character, but as he was not an artist he relied upon the visual interpretations of others and when I joined there were some strange looking Paddingtons on merchandise. Gradually we were able to standardise artwork, introduce the first style guide and take control of a rapidly expanding programme helped by Michael’s daughter Karen who joined the company.
In 1982, having gained a lot of practical experience, Michael agreed that we should start another division of his company called Copyrights to represent other literary properties and it was then that Michael suggested that Linda Pooley might join from his publishers Collins. It was another fateful moment as Linda and I were married in 1986.
So without Michael Bond my life would have been completely different and I would not have entered into the wonderfully varied, slightly crazy world that is merchandise licensing.
Michael was sweet, funny, entertaining, kind and always fair and Linda and I owe him a lot and will miss him.
Nicholas Durbridge is chairman of The Copyrights Group.