- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

HARTFIELD, England — On a miserably wet and windy summer day, fans spilled from Pooh Corner a small shop filled with bear mugs, brooches, boxes and books and crammed the narrow streets with their cars.
Nearby, a procession of families splashed a mile through the muddy forest to toss twigs off Poohsticks bridge and watch them race downstream in imitation of Pooh and his human pal, Christopher Robin.
Pooh is 75, and his fans still enjoy a good "expotition" to Ashdown Forest, site of A.A. Milne's "Hundred Aker Wood," where the bear of very little brain feasted on "hunny" and hunted the mythical Woozle with his friends, Tigger the bouncy tiger, Eeyore the mournful donkey, timid Piglet, busy Rabbit and that wise bird, Owl.
Some locals are crying, "Bother."
"So many people come here because of Pooh, and residents feel swamped. The spirit of anti-Poohism is rampant in this area," says Simon Kerr, a resident of Hartfield, an idyllic village 30 miles south of London where Milne raised his son, Christopher Robin.
After a survey showed most local people preferred to play down the Pooh connection, the Wealden District Council removed references to the bear from its Web site and literature. There are no signs pointing out local Pooh sites, including the bridge, the goal of many an "expotition" Pooh-speak for expedition.
"The bridge alone gets 67,000 visitors a year, and the trees nearby have been stripped of twigs," says Nicola Sutherland, the council's tourism officer. "Obviously, we can't stop people coming, but we are playing the anniversary down."
So the hunny-splashed parties were held elsewhere on Sunday, Pooh's big day.
"Oh yes, we're celebrating," said Peter Stansfield, head of consumer marketing at Egmont Books, the British publishing house that produces the two Pooh volumes "Winnie the Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner" under the Methuen imprint.
At the Edinburgh Festival in August, Egmont threw a birthday party for Pooh with entertainers and balloons, to be repeated at bookstores later.
On the day itself, there was a reading from A.A. Milne at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in southern England, with cake and a cheerful chorus of "Happy Birthday."
Special Egmont anniversary publications include "Now We Are 75," a selection of Pooh stories and verse.
An independent birthday ceremony was held yesterday in Guildford, south of London, at the studio of Ernest H. Shepard, who illustrated the original Pooh books. Arthur Chandler, curator of the Shepard Archives at Dulwich University, wrote a monograph titled "The Ancestry of Pooh" for the event.
Libraries and bookstores in other countries also are paying tribute to Milne's whimsical, rotund bear, who has a tendency to get stuck in "hunny" pots.
In the United States, Pooh is being feted from coast to coast.
The New York Public Library, which houses Christopher Milne's childhood collection of stuffed toys that inspired the Pooh characters, held readings and special events for a month leading up to the birthday.
Egmont estimates that the two Pooh books and Milne's poetry volumes, "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six," had sold more than 20 million copies by 1996, and the company still sells more than 1.2 million copies of Pooh books every year.
That does not include U.S. or foreign-language sales; the stories have been translated into more than 25 languages. Germans know the bear as Winnie der Pu, Russians call him Vinnie Pookh, and Norwegians know him as Ole Brumm.
Tales of how Pooh pinned back Eeyore's tail or rescued Tigger when he bounced into a tree and couldn't get down have made the pudgy beast one of the most popular of Disney's many animal characters. Although the company doesn't release sales figures or say how much the bear is worth, it recently paid $350 million to extend its ownership of Pooh rights.
"Pooh endures because he has a strong nostalgia value his world is safe and ordered and secure," says Brian Sibley, author and broadcaster who has written "Three Cheers for Pooh," about the bear's creation.
"Pooh's world is timeless."
Mr. Sibley says children "love the stories because they get to discover the outcome just before Pooh like the one where we realize he's following his own footsteps in the snow instead of a Woozle."
Milne created Pooh after his 5-year-old son was introduced to a female American black bear cub named Winnie at London Zoo. The zoo still has pictures of young Christopher feeding the bear condensed milk.
According to historians of the Fort Garry Horse regiment in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the bear had been rescued from a trapper by a member of the regiment in August 1914.
The bear became the mascot of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, and in December of that year, when the brigade passed through London on its way to fight in France, the bear was left in the safety of London Zoo. Winnie, as she became known, lived there happily until her death in 1934.
Christopher Milne, a writer and bookseller who died in 1996, was uncomfortable with celebrity and once wrote that his father had "filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son." In a later book, however, he made it clear he had come to cherish his history.
Milne rarely read his works to his son. In a letter to an actor friend, Christopher Milne confided: "My father did not write the books for children. He didn't write for any specific market; he knew nothing about marketing. He knew about me, he knew about himself, he knew about the Garrick Club [in London] he was ignorant about anything else.
"Except, perhaps, about life."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide