It should have been obvious from the moment Paul McCartney expressed a love for Rupert the Bear that there was something fundamentally naff about him, but the full extent of Rupert’s suitability for a life in the circus wearing a frilly collar and dancing on hot coals has only recently become apparent.
First there is the circumstantial evidence:
a) Rupert and all his mates have children’s bodies but animals’ heads, as if they were test subjects in some sort of macabre experiment.
b) The drawing style is a forerunner of those dreadful fantasy vistas you find on posters in New Age crystal shops. I should know. As a schoolboy I had such a poster. It was called Sanctuary, after the album of the same name by the heavy metal band Motherlode, and depicted an enormous and structurally dubious bridge. In my defence I was probably in one of those proto-gothic teenage phases and to this day I have never listened to their music.
c) Rupert’s creator, Alfred Bestall, capitulated when the Daily Express told him to change Rupert’s fur colour from brown to white because the cartoon’s white readership would relate to it better.
However, thanks to a biography of Bestall that I had the misfortune to pick up, we don’t need circumstantial evidence. It doesn’t help that the biographer, a relative of Bestall’s, has no sense of narrative, but I suspect no-one could write a roaring yarn about a man so life-sappingly boring. He left behind him a set of diaries containing a wealth of material about his life, but he was either amazingly successful at avoiding drama or proved incapable of expressing it.
The man was a lorry driver in France during the First World War, but the pinnacle of his experience was his encounter with a German gunner’s post with three dead soldiers in it. The rest of his war diaries are littered with banal observations such as: “I saw a cart that was being drawn by a cow!”
None of his cartoons, drawn for a wartime propaganda sheet, were funny, and Rupert would be his only memorable creation. The book attempts to pad out his life story by reproducing his travel diaries, but they reveal nothing interesting either about their author or the places he visited. It is like reading postcards from a child with Asperger’s syndrome.
It leaves me with the lasting sense that Rupert and the Daily Express were made for one another.