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Alfred Edmeades "Fred" Bestall, (Born: Mandalay, Burma, 14 December 1892 – Died: 15 January 1986 in Porthmadog, Wales), wrote and illustrated Rupert Bear for the Daily Express, from 1935 till 1965 and after that for the annuals untill 1974.

Biography

Alfred Bestall was born in Mandalay, Burma on December 14th 1892, the son of Methodist missionaries.

He attended Rydal school in Colwyn Bay, which gave him a love of the Welsh countryside and where he obtained a scholarship to the Birmingham Central School (Now College) of Art. In 1914, for but a year, he attended the LCC Central School of Art, volunteering in 1915 to serve in the British Army. He spent much of 1915 in Flanders. After the war, he returned to the LCC Central School of Art.

From 1922, he spent some years as a freelance illustrator, contributing to such periodicals as Punch and Tatler and illustrating over 50 books. Many of these were for children, including The Boy Next Door and The Play's the Thing, both by Enid Blyton, along with Myths and Legends of Many Lands and Spanish Goldfish in 1935.

In 1985, Alfred Bestall was awarded the MBE. On his 93rd birthday, he received the following telemessage from the Prince of Wales:

"I have heard that you were sadly unable to receive your MBE from the Queen recently. I wanted to send you my congratulations on your award and to wish you a very happy birthday with many happy returns. As a child I well remember your marvellous illustrations of Rupert Bear".

He spent that 93rd birthday in hospital at Caernarvon. Soon after, he was transferred to Wern Nursing Home, where he died peacefully on 15th January, 1986

Alfred and Rupert

In 1935, Bestall was selected to take over the Daily Express’s Rupert Bear stories from Mary Tourtel. His first Rupert story was, Rupert, Algy and the Smugglers, at the age of 42. Bestall improved the stories and plots of Rupert, but more importantly, he created the most beautifully crafted illustrations in the Rupert Bear annual publications. Much of the landscape in Rupert is inspired by the Snowdonia landscape of North Wales, notably around Beddgelert. He had first visited Beddgelert whilst holidaying with his parents at Trefriw in the Conwy valley in 1912 and 1913, where their holiday home was called 'Penlan'.

Though he had illustrated many stories, he had never before both written and illustrated them. From that first story, the enchantment was there, and still delights us over half a century later. He was to continue as Rupert author and illustrator for the next thirty years.

Mary Tourtel's Nutwood characters included the Wise Old Goat, Bill Badger, Edward Trunk, Algy Pug, Podgy Pig, the Rabbit Twins and the pet monkey Beppo. Bestall added a host of new ones including Uncle Bruno, Pong-Ping, Tigerlily and her Conjuror father, Bingo, Podgy's cousin Rosalie, the Merboy, and the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts.

Out of respect for Mary Tourtel, Alfred Bestall did not sign his Rupert artwork in her lifetime. After she died in 1948, he felt free to sign his work. The first such story was Rupert and Ting-Ling , which ran from 27th May to 21st July, 1948.

Later that year, the initial B was to be found in the 1948 Annual. Stories specially written for the Annuals were now signed, starting with Rupert and the Twins and Rupert and Pong-Ping's Party, which both featured in the 1949 Annual. On the available evidence, Alfred wrote and illustrated at least 273 Rupert stories, which constitute almost one half of the total Rupert stories ever written. 224 were published first as strips in the Daily Express running from 28th June, 1935 to 22nd July, 1965. 40 were specially written for Annuals and at least 7 appeared first in the Adventure series. Two appeared in the 1938 and 1939 Boys and Girls books.

Bestall produced his last Rupert story on 22 July 1965. He retired from the Daily Express in July 1965, but continued creating annual publication covers until 1973.

Trivia

  • John Harrold, then the primary Rupert artist, included Alfred Bestall's portrait, surrounded by Nutwood characters, on the cover of the 1985 Annual. This commemorated the 65th anniversary of the first Rupert story by Mary Tourtel, the 50th Rupert Annual, and the outstanding contribution which he had made to the enchanted and enchanting world of Nutwood. Alfred appears on the rear of the cover
  • Alfred Bestall's biography has been written (in 2003) by his niece and god-daughter, Caroline Bott.
  • Paul McCartney and his family visited Alfred Bestall in 1984 in his cottage in Beddgelert. Bestall was a huge fan of McCartney's Rupert film; Rupert and the Frog Song and the song We all stand together.
  • After the formation of the British Origami Society in 1967, Bestall took an active interest, including serving as its president for many years, until his death. He also published origami tutorials in the Rupert annuals for children and featured this art is some stories.