|The real Rupert - born in 1920
On a British geographical photomapping site to which I contribute, they have a weekly photograph competition. The idea is that the previous week's winner will pick the new winner from the current week's shortlist. Most weeks over 6,000 new photos are submitted to "Geograph" so it's quite a thrill if one of your photos is chosen as the winner. There are comments sections where members can remark on photos or raise associated points.
A couple of weeks ago, a gentleman with the first name Rupert was picked as the winner but he remained silent and inactive with regard to judging the new winner. A moderator asked, "Has anyone heard from Rupert?". Mischievously, but not maliciously, I added this comment: "Last time I saw him he was with Edward Trunk and Algy Pug down in Nutwood."
|My "Geograph" censor
This caused a mixture of hilarity and, rather incredibly, hostility. After two or three days my comment was removed and so I left another comment that basically said - Why? I have received seven separate emails from other members of the site supporting my right to make light-hearted remarks and there has been much debate within the site about censorship and what's allowable and what's not. I certainly never expected all this fuss over a harmless quip.
I realise that non-British "aliens" from less cultured corners of the planet may be bemused by my initial response to the question "Has anyone heard from Rupert?" so I guess I need to fill you in. Rupert the Bear is an iconic English comic book character who lives in the pastoral haven of Nutwood with his other animal friends including the white elephant Edward Trunk and a pug called Algernon or Algy for short. There's also Podgy Pig and Rupert's best friend Bill Badger. The characters are anthropomorphic. They all walk on their hind legs and wear clothes from the 1920's which is when Rupert was first created in the mind of Mary Tourtel for the "Daily Express" newspaper.
|A rather menacing Rupert (1959)
Rupert is also a male Christian name that plebs like me associate with our country's ruling class - the landed gentry that includes our current prime minister and his privileged inner cabinet. When naming male babies, English working class families would only ever pick names like Rupert, Randolph, Claude, Cecil or Clarence as a sort of joke and you would have to pity any ordinary lad lumbered with such a label for life. He'd invariably be a laughing stock just because of his name.
Anyone born in Britain in the nineteen fifties, as I was, is sure to remember Rupert the Bear. We received Christmas annuals in which Rupert and his friends got up to all manner of woodland adventures. The whole concept of Nutwood was rather bizarre and the way in which Rupert and his pals communicated with each other seemd to capture some of the essence of Middle England. We read these annuals but were also bemused by them. I found it hard to really "like" Rupert the Bear. His world was so twee and innocent but even in modern times Rupert hasn't disappeared. He has been transformed, turned into an animated cartoon, made into a cuddly toy and you might even pick up a Rupert costume from a fancy dress shop.
|Transformed modern Rupert
Here's the beginning of the first story in the 1964 Rupert Annual:-
Rupert is coming home across the common. "What a frisky butterfly! Why is it dancing like that?" he thinks. "Is it excited by those gorse flowers? There's certainly something odd about the gorse scent. It smells more like violets. I wonder why." Feeling puzzled he continues homeward and notices a small figure standing alone. "Hello, there's Gregory Guinea-pig staring at the sky," he murmurs. "What can he be looking at?" Arriving at his cottage Rupert finds Mrs Bear. "I say, Mummy," he calls. "I've just seen a gorse bush that seems to smell of violets." "That's queer!" says Mrs Bear. "There was a smell of violets here too...Whatever can be causing it?" etc.
Riveting stuff, eh?