Peter de Sausmarez of Sausmarez Manor recently held a centenary birthday celebration for his childhood fictional hero, and issued a plea for more information about the author, Herbert Tourtel, such as where he grew up in Guernsey.
It was answered by Stephen Foote from the Guernsey Society, which aims to promote, maintain and stimulate interest in all matters concerning the Bailiwick.
The society publishes The Review three times a year and in the latest edition there is a long article all about the Guernsey connection to the famous bear.
The article was written by Howard Smith, a graphic arts historian, and he writes that the Tourtel family were originally from Ville Amphrey in St Martin’s, and Herbert’s father ran a draper’s shop in Market Square where the Edinburgh Woollens shop is currently located.
According to Mr Smith, Herbert Tourtel won a scholarship to Elizabeth College and became president of the debating society, was the first editor of the school magazine The Elizabethan, and he was mentioned many times as a keen swimmer in The Star newspaper.
The research shows that after school he became a prolific poet, and ‘spent the hours in his father’s shop writing poetry’, and the printers Guerin published a book of his poems.
Next he managed to get a scholarship to the home of his beloved poets at Trinity College, Cambridge, and he also won subsidised food and lodgings for poor students.
In 1900, Herbert got a job with the Sunday Sun newspaper but soon left it to become a reporter at the Daily Express.
Rupert the Bear came into creation on the pages of the Express after the proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook, asked for a loveable children’s cartoon to boost circulation figures.
Mr Smith sets out in his article what Herbert did next.
‘He suggested to Beaverbrook an anthropomorphic bear story and offered his wife to do it as she was an illustrator.
‘Typically, Herbert never asked her beforehand and so, at the age of 46, Mary Tourtel found herself drawing the first Rupert story for the Daily Express on 8 November 1920.
‘Herbert wrote and created the stories.’
The little bear became firmly established in the nation’s hearts, and over the ensuing 100 years he and his friend Bill Badger went on to have innumerable adventures with ogres, giants and monsters, helped by their animal pals including Wise Old Goat.
Mr Smith said that the stories have entranced generations of children and he is surprised that he has never been able to find a photo of the creator.
A further appeal has now been made for people to dig deep into their archives and solve the mystery after decades and put a face to Herbert Tourtel.
A contemporary described him as being a ‘squat, dark-haired man, chain-smoking cigars and with a good humour’.
. Mr Smith will be giving a talk entitled Rupert Bear and his Guernsey Connections for the Arts Society on 21 October at Les Cotils.