Each episode began with the unforgettably catchy theme song by Jackie Lee
In the enchanting realm of children's literature, few characters have captured the hearts and imaginations of generations quite like Rupert Bear. Created by British illustrator Mary Tourtel in 1920, Rupert Bear made his first appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Express (initially to win sales from the rival Daily Mail and Daily Mirror) and has remained an enduring figure in the world of storytelling, delighting readers young and old for over a century. With his iconic red sweater, jaunty yellow checkered trousers and scarf and expressive brown eyes, Rupert has become synonymous with innocence, adventure, and endearing charm.
As a young anthropomorphic bear, Rupert embarks on countless thrilling escapades in the fictional land of Nutwood, a charming setting inhabited by a host of memorable characters, such as Bill Badger, Edward Trunk, Podgy Pig and Algy Pug, each bringing their own unique traits and quirks to the stories, often involving mystical elements, with encounters with fairies, wizards, and other magical creatures. These fantastical elements sparked the imagination of generations of readers, allowing them to explore a world beyond their own. There are also a few human characters in the stories, such as the Professor (who lives in a castle with his servant, Bodkin), Tiger Lily (a Chinese girl), and her father "the Conjuror."
Whether he is solving mysterious puzzles, exploring uncharted territories, or engaging in heartfelt exchanges with his diverse range of friends, the adventures of Rupert Bear are brimming with excitement and life lessons, teaching young readers the importance of friendship, bravery, and perseverance, all while imparting valuable moral lessons in a gentle and relatable manner.
The Adventures of Rupert Bear came to television in 1970 thanks to John Read, a former director of photography, and Mary Turner, a puppeteer. Both had previously worked with Gerry Anderson on Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Also joining them as a puppeteer was another former colleague from Anderson’s Supermarionation studios, Christine Glanville. Each eleven-minute story was based on tales printed in various Rupert Bear Annuals which had been published since 1936 and were adapted by Anna Standon (Rainbow) and Jill Fenson (Just William).
Pre-production began in 1969 with the modelling of Rupert, his head being based on the 3D illustrations of the annual covers rather than the 2D strips themselves. All of Rupert’s family and friends joined him from the comic strip and two new additions were added; Mr Grimnasty (otherwise known as the Old Man of the Wood) and a floating, fiery wood sprite, Willy Wisp.
Each episode began with the unforgettably catchy theme song by Jackie Lee, who seemed to corner the market in unforgettably catchy theme songs, being the same singer who recorded White Horses, possibly one of the best TV theme songs ever (don’t believe me, check it out on YouTube). Purists will point out to you that the song’s lyrics “Rupert…Rupert the Bear…Everyone sing his name…” are incorrect. Rupert never had “The” in his name, which sadly spoilt it for some and most definitely spoilt the joke, “What’s Rupert Bear’s middle name?”
Each episode opened in a children’s bedroom, complete with a Rupert Doll propped up against a wardrobe, with a mother reading a Rupert bedtime story to her young child. Narrator Judy Bennett would tell the child what today’s story was about and what the title was before that earworm of a theme tune cut in with the opening graphics and titles. And just like that we’d be whisked away on another thrilling adventure. Oh, one other thing that Rupert didn’t originally possess in the comics but did in his televised adventures, was his flying chariot - one can only imagine that this could only have come from the furtive minds of previous Gerry Anderson employees.
Production of the series ended in 1974 after 156 episodes, many of which were thought to have been permanently lost, wiped by ITV, and for a number of years it was believed that only 75 had survived. But in April 2017, it was announced by Network DVD that the original film elements for all 156 episodes had been located and were to be released on DVD in three volumes, with the first release comprising the earliest 52 episodes. Some are still available but with the demise of Network in 2023 they almost certainly won’t be around for long – so, if you want a copy – (shameless plug) – you might get one from Amazon whilst stocks last.
At the end of the 1970s there was talk of a Rupert movie, to be bankrolled by none other than Paul McCartney (he wasn’t a Sir yet, don’t pull me up on it), who is a self-confessed Rupert fan. Allegedly, he had started writing a score for the film but whatever happened to that project is unclear. A few years later, well 1984 to be exact, Macca seemed to have revived the idea and a short animated film was released titled Rupert and the Frog Song. Despite being as far removed from the series as possible, it won a BAFTA for Best Animated Short Film. Released theatrically as an accompaniment to McCartney's movie Give My Regards to Broad Street (rotten movie great soundtrack), the song We All Stand Together from the film reached No. 3 when released in the UK Singles Chart.
The BBC made an ‘animated’ 1988 series simply titled Rupert with Ray Brooks narrating. Actually, it involved a camera panning across static illustrations, hence the inverted commas over animated. Then in 1991, a Canadian produced The All New Adventures of Rupert appeared. It did quite well, running to 65 episodes, but with the best will in the world, Rupert with a North American accent???
The careful attention to detail made The Adventures of Rupert Bear come alive, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in his adventures and connect with the beloved bear. Rupert's popularity has transcended the boundaries of the printed page. Today, he continues to charm audiences worldwide through various forms of merchandise and collectables, ensuring that Rupert remains a cherished character for years to come.
While Rupert Bear has evolved over time, adapting to the changing tastes and preferences of audiences, his essence remains intact. His core values of kindness, compassion, and curiosity have never wavered, making him a character that continues to resonate with readers of all ages. Rupert's timeless appeal lies in his ability to transport readers to a world filled with whimsy and wonder, where anything is possible and where the power of friendship and imagination reign supreme.
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Published on September 13th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.