English and Drama blog

2 posts from October 2021

22 October 2021

The British Library is at the 2021 Thought Bubble Comics Festival

by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications, Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator and Kenn Taylor, Lead Cultural Producer (North).

Thought Bubble is the Yorkshire comic art festival, with events in the week starting 8th November, and ending in a two day convention in Harrogate on 13- 14th November. The British Library will be participating in events and the convention itself, to talk about our comics collections, and comics in the 21st century.

Our events at Thought Bubble are part of the Library’s growing cultural programme in Leeds and West Yorkshire, reflecting that the Library has had one of its two sites at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire since the 1960s, which is home to around 70% of our collection.


Extracted image from The Legal Deposit and You Comic showing a crowded conference hall with stands showing comics from independent creators.

The Legal Deposit and You, written and drawn by Olivia Hicks


We’ll be taking part in the convention with our own British Library stall, and encouraging comics creators to deposit copies of their comics with the Library, so that they can be preserved and accessed as part of our legal deposit collection of UK publishing. Thought Bubble is a great opportunity for us to talk to independent comics creators from across the UK, and find out more about new comics. It is very important to us that these comics are included in our collections, as they reflect a diversity in experience and expression that we might not find out about otherwise.

If you are coming to Thought Bubble, you’ll be able to find us in the Bubbleboy Hall, tables 5-6. Our curators from Digital Scholarship, Contemporary British Publications (including our Web Comic Archive) and Arabic collections will be there, and you will also be able to find out more about the British Library in Yorkshire.

We are leading a panel discussion on contemporary UK comics, digital disruption and library collections of comics, which will be at 12.30 on Saturday 13th November, in Panel Room B. We are really pleased to have a great line up of speakers, including Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, Clockwork Watch creator  Yomi Ayeni, Sara Kenney (Creative Director at Wowbagger Productions), and Comichaus founder Pete Genepool, join us to talk about how new practices and new technologies can influence library collecting and ensuring inclusivity in our collections.   

Our Thought Bubble activities start on the afternoon of Thursday 11th November, at Leeds Central Library when digital curator Stella Wisdom and our Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie will lead a Comics Wikithon, where participants will learn how to create, update and improve Wikipedia articles and Wikidata items about UK comics and their creators. This is a free event, but please book in advance here and check out this post on our Digital Scholarship blog for more details.

We’re pleased and enthusiastic to take part in Thought Bubble because comics collections, and independent and self-publishing matter to the British Library. We can only build these collections with the support of creators and publishers. Festivals such as Thought Bubble are an important way of finding out about the incredible breadth of contemporary comics, and for talking to creators.

If you are coming to the convention please stop by our stand and listen to our panel, we’d love to see you there.           

13 October 2021

A Bear called Paddington: published 13 October 1958

by Alison Bailey, Lead Curator Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000 and Curator of Paddington: The Story of a Bear.

A woman in a face-mask stands in front of a cut-out of Paddington bear in the British Library exhibition, Paddington: The Story of a Bear
View of Paddington: the story of a bear – exhibition at the British Library

The first stories about Paddington – the bear famous for his kindness, politeness and love of marmalade – were published by Collins (now HarperCollins Publishers) on 13 October 1958.

Perhaps you already know the background to Paddington’s creation? On Christmas Eve 1956 Michael Bond saw a toy bear sitting all alone on the shelf in Selfridges department store in London. He bought the bear as an extra Christmas present for his wife and they called him Paddington – after the station. Several months later, when Michael was looking for inspiration for some children’s stories, he saw the bear and wrote 8 chapters in 10 days.

Here at the British Library in London we are celebrating Paddington and Michael Bond in our Paccar 2 exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, which runs until 31 October 2021. To illustrate Bond’s creative process we are lucky enough to have Michael’s ‘Notebook’ from 1957 (loaned by the Estate of Michael Bond) in which he wrote notes and ideas for his early Paddington stories.

Michael’s agent, Harvey Unna, who had encouraged him to write children’s stories, sent the manuscript to several publishers. It was followed up by Barbara Ker Wilson - then children’s books editor at Collins and herself a writer. In her report (lent to the exhibition by HarperCollins Publishers) she suggests Collins accept the stories for publication and notes her appreciation of both the character of Paddington and the overall style of the writing. The publisher’s reader she sent the manuscript to was equally enthusiastic – and we display the response (again lent by HarperCollins Publishers) next to Wilson’s report.

So, on 13 October 1958, A Bear called Paddington, was published. In the exhibition we are showing two copies of the first edition – one loaned by Michael’s daughter, Karen Jankel, which is signed by Michael and was given to his parents. This is in the first section of the exhibition – Beginnings – and is shown closed, so you can see Peggy Fortnum’s distinctive pen and ink drawing of Paddington on the dust jacket.

The book 'A Bear Called Paddington' is open at the first page in an exhibition case showing a pen and ink drawing of Paddington Bear

Opening showing first page of text from Michael Bond, A Bear called Paddington. With drawings by Peggy Fortnum. London: Collins, 1958.

The other copy is the legal deposit copy from our own collections in the Home section of the exhibition. This is open at the very first page of the very first story “Please look after this bear” and shows Paddington, again illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, with his hat, label and suitcase, as he appeared when the Browns first met him.

After those early stories about Paddington there were many more – including the final picture book story Michael wrote, Paddington at St Paul’s, illustrated by R.W. Alley and published in 2018 – 60 years after A Bear called Paddington. We display a copy in the exhibition, together with a selection of about 20 illustrated books from the many titles in our own collections, including pop-ups and translations. They sit among examples of original artwork by Peggy Fortnum, R.W. Alley and David McKee, as well as memorabilia on loan from Michael Bond’s family, plush toys, sound and film clips and material created by two local schools. All in all, 11 illustrators are represented.

This has been a cheering project to have worked on with the Exhibitions and Learning Teams over the last 18 months – a bright spot amid the gloom – and I hope you too will enjoy reading or re-reading Paddington to celebrate this anniversary.

Works cited:

  • Michael Bond, A Bear called Paddington. With drawings by Peggy Fortnum. London: Collins, 1958. (British Library shelfmark: 12840.l.4.)
  • Michael Bond, Paddington at St. Paul’s. Illustrated by R.W. Alley. London: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2018.

Further reading:

  • Michael Bond, Bears & forebears: a life so far. London: HarperCollins, 1996. (B.L. shelfmarks: YC.1996.b.5818. and 96/28405)


With thanks to our travel partner Great Western Railway.

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