Frederick Ernest Banbery (1913-1999) The versatile draughtsman Fred Banbery made an important contribution to the development of the immortal character of Paddington Bear. During the early 1970s, he drew on his wide range of experience as illustrator and cartoonist to produce images to accompany texts simplified by Michael Bond from his original ‘Paddington’ stories. These variants, published over a decade after the initial book, A Bear Called Paddington (1958), were aimed at the under fives and known collectively as the ‘Young Set’. Their picture-book format placed much greater emphasis on the visual element than had the original form of publication. So Banbery had much greater scope than his predecessor Peggy Fortnum, not only through the formal potential of size and colour, but through the need to delineate personality and narrative.
Given a free hand by author and editor, Banbery was able to act as creator as well as interpreter, to the degree that his widow can detect strong elements of self-portraiture in his portrayal of the bear. Ultimately, he determined the quintessential look of Paddington.
Fred Banbery was born in Pimlico, London, on 1 September 1913, the son of a publican. He was educated at Westminster City School, where his artistic talents were encouraged by his art master; while there, he won a number of prizes for drawing, including a copy of W Outram Tristram’s Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, with illustrations by Hugh Thomson and Herbert Railton, a volume which would later prove an important influence on his career.
From 1930, Banbery worked as a commercial artist, while studying in evening classes at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1931-33). He received regular commissions from several companies, including J Weiner Ltd, Printers (1932-34) and Dorland Advertising Ltd (1934-37). Then, in 1938, he left England for Bombay in order to become a staff artist for The Times of India; his success was marked in the following year when the newspaper awarded him its Medal for Graphic Art. During the Second World War, he drew propaganda images for the Government of India at New Delhi (1939-41), even as he began to serve as a pilot in the Royal Air Force (in India and then in Europe between 1940-46). He also found enough spare time to produce sufficient cartoons to be collected in book form as Who Said Blitzkrieg?
Following the war, Banbery settled in the United States, and worked as a commercial artist and illustrator for H Watts Associates, New York (1946-50). His first commission was as a book illustrator for Simon & Schuster who, in 1949, used him again to illustrate a special, highly successful edition of the Pickwick Papers. (His drawings for the project, inspired in part by Tristram’s Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, were exhibited at the Arthur Newton Galleries, New York). In the same year, he began to contribute to numerous periodicals, including Collier’s Magazine and Holiday Magazine and won the Institute of American Engravers Prize. Moving to Philadelphia, he worked for N W Ayer & Son Advertising (195-53), and continued to develop a reputation, garnering a number of awards, from the American Institute of Graphic Art (1950), the New York Art Directors Club (1951) and the Philadelphia Art Directors Club (1953, 1954 and 1955).
From 1954, Banbery worked increasingly for London clients, and especially The Sunday Times (1954-57) and Murray & Phelan Advertising Ltd (1958-61). However, he retained his American contacts, with the result that he contributed to The New Yorker (from 1958), illustrated books for Random House, Simon & Schuster and Viking (1961-67), and received an award from the American Institute of Lithographers and Printers (1958).
The most lasting contribution made by Banbery to British illustration, before his death in London on 7 March 1999, also originated in an American connection. During regular stays at Aspen, Colorado, when it was as much a centre of culture as a ski resort, he had met and befriended the Olympic skier, Evie Chance. It was she who suggested to Adrian House at Collins Publishing that he would be an ideal choice of illustrator of the new picture-book variants of Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington’ stories (1972-75). So he succeeded Peggy Fortnum, the much admired original illustrator, and successfully emphasised the visual identity of the little bear from Darkest Peru.
Banbery evolved an ideal approach with which to present Paddington to small children. The line that he employed is tighter than that of Fortnum, yet just as sensitive, so establishing an image that registers easily and comfortably with young eyes and minds. The details of appearance that he included, such as Paddington’s hat and duffle coat, are defined and codified in order to aid recognition and memorability; thus he seems to have understood that the experience of looking, especially at an early age, should be at once educational and pleasurable. The positioning of Paddington within an image reveals his interest in affirming an immediate rapport between readers and character: the bear is often to the fore, looking out and gesturing, even waving. So he mediates between the reader and the large, if quiet and subdued, environment of Britain in the 1970s. Banbery almost transformed Paddington from an amusing outsider to the baby of a family. In the attempt he made Paddington the child within us all.