Rupert Bear was created by Canterbury-born artist Mary Tourtel. She came from a family of artists, the Caldwells, who worked at Canterbury Cathedral on the restoration of stained-glass windows. Mary attended Simon Langton Girls’ School, then studied at the Sidney Cooper School of Art in Canterbury before marrying Herbert Tourtel, who went on to work for the Daily Express. Through him she was asked by the newspaper to invent a children’s character, to rival the characters and stories aimed at child readers in other newspapers. Her creation, Rupert Bear, first appeared in the Daily Express on Monday 8 November 1920, in a single frame illustration. The drawing and verse story, ‘Little Lost Bear’, then continued in the paper day by day.
Tourtel illustrated and wrote Rupert stories until 1935, after which Albert Bestall continued the strip cartoons and became known in particular for elaborate end-paper illustrations to Rupert annuals.
Collections of material at Canterbury Heritage Museum relating to Rupert Bear and Mary Tourtel include:
- Caldwell family mementoes and art works
- Early illustrated books by Mary
- Original illustrations and early editions of Rupert annuals
- Illustrations by Albert Bestall on long-term loan from Express Newspapers
- Rupert Bear merchandise.
Canterbury Museums and Galleries also have collections of original drawings, merchandise and memorabilia relating to Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, the animal characters in stories for the Daily Mirror by Bertie Lamb, who lived in Whitstable, and illustrated by Austen Bowen Payne, who lived in Herne Bay. (These collections are currently held at Whitstable and Herne Bay museums.)
Cover of a Rupert Annual.