Bird Portraits – Poems

By Ivor Bundell
 © IMB (March 2015)


Blackbird………………………………………………………………………………… 3

Buzzard…………………………………………………………………………………… 4

Capercaillie…………………………………………………………………………….. 5

Cuckoo…………………………………………………………………………………….. 6

Goldcrest………………………………………………………………………………… 7

Heron………………………………………………………………………………………. 8

Merlin……………………………………………………………………………………… 9

Nuthatch……………………………………………………………………………….. 10

Red Kite………………………………………………………………………………… 11

Redwing……………………………………………………………………………….. 12

Sparrowhawk………………………………………………………………………. 13

Woodpecker…………………………………………………………………………. 14


 Image result for brooke bond wild birds in britain blackbird

The blackbird is belligerent, he bounds

Across the lawn and brandishes his beak

To send the song-thrush scuttling away;

Only the robin, eyeing with disdain,

Stands his ground; the foolish pigeon waddles

Away, picks at grass, distracted, and flies

With noisy effort into the oak tree;

The keen-eyed blackbird picks and pecks the core.

Like for like – the rest ignore, is Nature’s

Usual silent law, though here the blackbird

Breaks the bonds like some fierce dinosaur

Intent on holding his own territory.

But when I come across him, dazed by sun

On the tar road, I’ll rescue and be done!



Image result for brooke bond bird portraits buzzard

Above the corries and the tarns death wields

The raptor’s talons, flexing wing and claw;

Now buzzards fly where there were none before,

They mew and wheel and scream across the fields;

Crows raise a murder quick to mob the slow

And circling, higher and higher, finger-

-tips feeling the sudden wind-shift, linger

And twist, eyes burning cold on life below.

Nature moves and what was fixed unfixes,

The certainties of time and place removed;

That which was known is suddenly unproved

As evidence subverts and remixes.

High over fields the loitering buzzards soar

And mew and cry – where there were none before.



Image result for brooke bond capercaillie

The Capercaillie cracks the lek and strums

The throttle of his precious range; he arcs

His back with neck full-stretched and utters threats

To the intruding stranger, without fear

Or prejudice to bird or beast or man;

In his domain he rules unconsciously;

As if by right of birth he lords the stage

And plays his regal part with perfect art.

Upon the moors I ventured, all alone,

To feel the wind and watch the peregrine;

By rainbowed pools and swathes of black-burnt ling

I felt the blood that oils the marrow bone.

There is no solace in unbroken cloud

But here the Capercaillie reigning proud!



Image result for brooke bond cuckoo

From sub-Saharan Africa you flew

To take up residence in greener lands;

Whilst you by instinct made your travel plans

Your zig-zag flight we monitored and drew.

Our satellites above the blue relay

Your signals back to earth where we can plot

The path you take (we long ago forgot)

And watch you land somewhere not far away.

In April when the springtime showers fall

I listen for your soft deceptive call

But often not till May blooms on the tree

Do I hear your haunting melody.

Two notes repeated – such a simple song

To tell us Nature does no right or wrong.



Image result for brooke bond goldcrest

Beside the Itchen Navigation’s spate,

Among the willow root and bramble briar,

I watch the tiniest of birds inspire –

A flash of gold arrests and now I wait

And watch: I hold my breath to try and know

Which way it darts and where it lands in search

Of grubs and insects, driven from both birch

And conifer by the un-melting snow.

The light is fading as the waters spill

Across the meadow where the sedge lies flat;

The weeds beside the pathway weave a mat

That tangles weir and clogs the tumbled mill;

I turn to go but cannot fix my mind

On what it is that nature has designed.



Image result for frederick warne grey heron

Poised statue-still in gravestone grey he stands

Unblinking as the river flows by feet

That mirror in the mud; his crest curls neat,

His neck is white and thin; he understands

How Death’s deportment has an etiquette

To which he must adhere; he will not rush

The moment of dispatch; he will not flush

His prey but he will deftly dart and net!

Beware sleek eel that shimmers on the tide

Until the grey-bird spies you in the creek!

Beware lithe trout that streamlines near the side

Until the hunter hurls his spear-like beak!

The heron sheds no tear, does not regret,

Whilst nearby, ghost-like, walks the white egret.





I turned to hear the Spitfire roar again

Across the Solent’s wind-lashed waves and sky,

An angel sweeping over marshes by

The Mulberry harbour through the Eastney rain;

Instead I watch a sudden Merlin fly

Across the sea; then from its lookout post

It spies a lark so high as almost lost

Upon the whitewash canvas of the sky.

Spiralling further in the startling height

The lark evades each angle of the hawk

That plays and practices each feint by right

Of gifted grace above high hills of chalk.

Now in an echo of their finest hour

The Merlin re-enacts its splendid power.






Image result for brooke bond nuthatch

– even the robin must give way! He feeds:

yellow-shirt, eye-dash, coat of steel-grey blue,

Parading, searching, taking what is due,

Boldly selecting the black nigra seeds,

Scattering what he will not eat to the ground

Where blackbirds dash and squabble, pipe and fret;

Etiquette? He has no time for that

But feasts while frost is cold and food is found.


Among the trees in summer I have seen

The silent Creeper zig-zag up the oaks;

The Nuthatch noisily descends and pokes

His beak in crevices in search of green

Bugs and the bounty of returning Spring –


Then I shall walk in woods in search of him.


Red Kite

Image result for red kite illustrations

On Beacon Hill the red kite mews and wheels,

Effortless in wind and ridge-edge riding,

Seeking the heartbeats frozen in hiding,

See how the high hawk hangs then turns and keels.

Over the valley the long-barrowed hill

Silently watches the river below;

Way to the south Wight ferries to-and-fro;

All movement balances and then is still.

We walk among the tussocks and grey sheep,

See violets and earthstars at our feet,

And in the sudden moment are complete

For this is all there is and ours to keep.

On Beacon Hill the red kite cuts a reel

And we remember what it is to feel.




Image result for brooke bond redwing illustrations uk


Each year the redwing come to feed on red

Berries by the window; lashings of bright

Fruit beckons their beaks; the sharp birds alight

In wing-flash squadrons where the sap has bled.

Each year the wind-tossed berry-burdened trees

Roll out a crimson carpet for a queen

To walk at will and watch the redwing preen

Their arctic flights and feed as they may please.

A witness to the moment as it falls

There is no reason to deny its part

In rendering thought, as if struck by a dart –

To see at first, then feel as memory calls.

Now redwings gather in the tree again;

I see the bloody fields awash with rain.






I had left the Osteopathic Clinic

And was driving, cross-country, into town;

The road had re-opened over the downs –

Somewhat to my surprise as a cynic

Regarding road-works and diverted routes –

When, almost at the top of the long hill,

From right to left, split-second sight until

I quickly mark the sudden hawk that shoots!

And in that moment of the wind and sun,

When time was moving at a tempered pace,

I felt the thrill of life rush to my face

And steal a breath as if I could yet run!

But now these numbered days draw me to ground;

While songbirds sing I hide lest I am found.



 Image result for green woodpecker brooke bond


Green on green on grass with glaze-eyed stare he

Stands and stabs the passing ants and quickly

Licks his brackish beak and breaks with laughter

Like a clown, this red-capped madcap jester.

Not for him the drumming tree, the beetle

Under bark that burrows elm; not for him

The leafy grubs where cuckoos call in tall

Oak woods by Hamble’s mud and fallen limb.

His gambit here encroaches on the lawn

And pays no heed to new laid turf and signs;

Instead he feeds at ease along the lines

That flatten like the combing of the corn.

Without remorse, disdainful, dark and proud;

He will not turn to please the curious crowd.

Prices School Fareham ‘Folk’ Concerts – 1969-75.

The 1960’s and into the 70’s was a time of great socio-cultural change – as you may have noticed at the time, or heard since.   Even Fareham was affected – including Prices Grammar School for Boys.   We were encouraged by the spirit of the times – and by certain seditious teachers in English, Drama and Art – to be creative.  Music was the prime medium. The Beatles, Dylan, Paul Simon, and so on, meant that there was both a new permission and a new demand to be creative.  In any case, it was obviously fabulous/groovy/far out to be able to play the guitar and sing – and there was also the chance that the girls we knew might think so too . . .

And so we learnt to play the guitar and to write songs if we possibly could.

Meanwhile, it was a well known fact that the Headmaster, Mr Eric Poyner, believed that the guitar was ‘the instrument of the devil’.

I can see his point.  As a staunchly upper-middle class member of the Church of England, and of an older generation brought up in very different times, he must have been horrified when faced first with rock and roll and then by the libertine antics of The Rolling Stones and the aggression of The Who.   Worst of all,  the hippies :  free love, drugs and long hair.  Even the Beatles had become provocative during the second half of the sixties.  They had grown their long hair even longer.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, a lot of us had learned to play the guitar.

And we had long hair of course.


The origins of the Prices ‘Folk’ Concert tradition are difficult to pin down because for all those involved it was a very long time ago.   However, sometime in 1968 (probably) two sixth formers, Pat Gatland and Michael Knight – still with relatively short hair – managed to get permission to hold an evening Folk Concert.  Presumably they had the help of one or other of the younger teachers.  By that time, guitars and folk-style songs were even being heard in church ( Kumbaya, Shalom chevarim) – which must have helped.  Everything was acoustic of course and the songs were both traditional and modern – but folk.  There were even girl performers in the persons of Kathy Russell and a friend.    Other concerts followed in May 1969 and December 1969 – both of which I attended.  Among the performers, I recall Pat Gatland, Paul Hawes and Kathy Russell.  The material remained acoustic and folky – although it seems there may also have been a rendition of the song ‘Cocaine’. . .

The next event was in February 1970.  By this time Paul and Pat had moved on and the responsibility for keeping the ‘tradition’ going had been taken up by Chris Bard (Prices Head Boy, or soon to become so) assisted musically by Dave Cummins (Pricean) and Martin (Tink) Wood (former Pricean).

Here’s what happened:  in January 1970, Chris and Co began to hire (or possibly just occupy) the Funtley Village Hall on Saturday afternoons in order to create and rehearse for a forthcoming event at Prices which was to be called The Light Show.  In addition to serious rehearsal there was also general music, general hanging out and a pool table.  Chris was good enough to give me a game of pool and wiped me out in about 60 seconds.    When it came to the show itself, my important role was to assist on the lights. 

The Light Show introduced two key innovations.  One was to add poetry reading and comic sketches to the mix.  Chris led in both.  He wrote and performed obscure poetry and bizarre sketches involving, for example, woodpecker sound-effects and inappropriate French translations.  The second innovation was more fundamental.  Dave and Tink had obtained a P.A. system and an electric guitar.  Andy Vores, meanwhile, was the enthusiastic possessor of a drum kit.   Prices ‘folk’ concerts went electric –  and this was only five years after Dylan had done the very same thing.

Meanwhile, the Saturday afternoon gatherings continued after the show and culminated on April 25th 1970 in an ‘event’ billed as TWEADIFARG ( The West End and District Folk Arts Revival Group), more music and hanging-out as I recall.

Another Prices concert/show/review took place on 6th November 1970.  Dave, Tink and Andy played, but that’s all I can discover.  There  was then another Chris and Co event on the 10th and 11th  December 1970 called Something to Remember.  Music, poetry, sketches, surrealism.  Dave, Tink, Andy and John Cameron played as Gigolo.  I believe I may have done the lights again.

The acoustic tradition had also continued throughout these shows and one of the acoustic performers was Dick Hubbard, an English Teacher at Prices.  He sang traditional ballads such as  the beautiful ‘Geordie’ – while playing the guitar.  (It was also he who reported to us Mr Poyner’s opinion of the aforesaid instrument).

Another performer was Nick Manley.  He had become well known for a entertaining us with an anti-war song of the time and another involving Adam and Eve and a snakeAt one or other of the concerts he was forced by audience demand to sing them again.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, Mr Poyner happened to be listening at the back.  “ I was suspended” says Nick “for singing the Fish Cheer/Fixing to Die Rag[1] and The One Eyed Trouser Snake. I don’t know which song caused the most offence.”

Chris and Co moved on.   The next event – not until December 1971 – was back to the concert format.  We called it Reflections of Summer.  I say ‘we’ because now I was a sixth-former and organised the event together with Paul Gateshill and others.  Perhaps that’s why our band – Lonene – had two slots in the programme while everyone else only had one !  Despite having moved on, Dave and Tink also played – as Morningstar – so too did Dick Hubbard, Bob Gilbert (Head of Music), Nick Manley and Springwind – Nick Kahn, Mick Daysh and Dave CledwynThey also supported Andy Vores who had by then become a singer-songwriter-pianist-composer.  In fact most of us were singer-songwriters – Nick Manley, Lonene, Morningstar, Springwind.  We were creating and delivering original songs and music – and our audience was kind enough to respond with enthusiasm.

Next came Gromboolia, in March 1972, organised by Nick Manley and poet Alan Hill.  The line-up was in part similar to the preceding concert but also included but also included many others, as can be seen from the programme :.

Note that Nick and Alan – who would then have been in the Upper Sixth Form – organised a concert after we – who must have been in the Lower Sixth – organised Reflections of Summer.  How the devil did we junior boys get away with it ?

Someone organised another concert in May 1973.  It could have been me and others.  I can’t remember.  However, Lonene performed again – Paul Gateshill, Tracey Coles, Dave Cledwyn and myself.  So too did Nick Kahn and Mick Daysh, but now with Jackie White (previously with Lonene); and the Andy Vores band, which incorporated folks promiscuously from other bands and elsewhere.  Kathy and Rosalind Russell also made a reappearance after long absence.  New performers included PINT (Paul McNeil, Ivor Bundell, Neil Pritchard and Tracey Coles) and Tarsus (Chris Nash, Mark Luckham and Andy Sandham ).

This concert was recorded.  I had a cassette recorder which I must have put in front of the PA speakers and pressed play and record.

I also recorded part of the last concert I attended – after I had left Prices – in July 1975.  This was, once again, of the highly promiscuous, now even further expanded, Andy Vores band – which included Ivor Bundell, Tracey Coles,  Mick Daysh, John Cameron, Kate Burleigh and Liz Kearns – who both sang and danced.  This recording is available now in digital format should you wish – for some reason – to hear it.

What happened to the tradition beyond 1975 I do not know.  Prices was beginning its transition from Grammar school to Sixth Form College and times were [a-]changing.  If anyone knows what happened next, please tell us.


An important NOTE :  What I was unaware of at the time and has only recently come to light is that an event similar to those above took place one evening in 1969 – organised by a certain Spike Edney.   His account, Price’s: A Musical Underground will be available via the Old Pricean’s website in due course. 


Dramatis personae.

 Pat(rick) Gatland moved to Australia, where he continues to write and perform in a folky manner together with his daughter Meg and others.   Some of their music can be heard on YouTube

There seems to be a general consensus still that Dave Cummins was the most talented and creative guitarist of the time.  He also had a wonderful Swedish Hagstrom acoustic guitar with a built-in pick-up – unheard of in those days.  Early on he played with Martin (Min) Gateshill and was thereby an influence on Min’s younger brother Paul Gateshill.  Paul, in turn,  helped me learn how to play the guitar. That is, I had to strum chords for him for hours while he practised his magic-fingered lead.

Martin WoodTink – (Mar[tin K]enneth Wood) also played with Dave from early on.  I was always puzzled that he played a nylon-strung Spanish Guitar rather than steel, but he was a great guitarist anyway.  Both Tink and Dave were an inspiration and wrote some great songs together, and with Nick Manley too – see below.

Chris (No-holds) Bard was a general inspiration to us all – an impresario rather than a musical influence – although I’m told he played the saxophone.  He was a huge creative talent – founder of and contributor to the ‘Black Lion’, organiser of ‘folk’ concerts/shows/’reviews’ and other events, Head Boy at Prices – when he seemed to take over morning Assembly, leaving the Headmaster and staff diminished in his wake.Chris_Bard

Unfortunately, Chris, Tink and Dave are no longer with us.

You can find an obituary for Chris at

I met Tink again when we travelled up to London on the train together in the early 2000s.  He was as delightful, gentle and kind a man as I had always remembered him.  Then timetables changed and we no longer coincided.  Next thing I heard, he had gone.  Tink’s wife Jane (n. Suter) had also been part of the creativity – the sketches in particular.  She is also gone.

Dave I never knew so well.  He took to writing music for computer games before his health gave out on him.

Lamentations for each of them, and for the loss to us of their great talents.


  Nick Manley emerged for me as a solo performer – as described above.  But he also played in Springwind and, writing songs together with Dave, Tink and others and forming the truly wonderful band Red Shift –   Nick has since had a long and prolific writing and performing career in various bands and solo – much of it in France. More recently he has been generous enough to play together with myself, Mick Daysh (see below) and Chris Nash (ditto) under the banner of The Old Boys Band.  Our oeuvre has included some Red Shift  classics.

Nick Kahn originally learnt to play classical guitar and this led him to write some beautiful instrumental pieces performed together with Mick Daysh and Jackie White on flutes.  He has since gone on to write and perform fine songs, often accompanied by his daughters Anna on bass and Eleanor on guitar, and still by Mick Daysh on flute.

  Andy Vores was a prolific composer/song-writer on piano.  Having first been a rock drummer, his piano-playing was often frenetic.  In fact he sometimes played faster than his fingers could follow.  The results were wonderful, and very different from the songs the rest of us wrote on guitars.  He was also a showman and liked to organise large numbers of musicians, singers and even dancers on stage to help perform his creative complexities.  He went on from Prices to study music composition and then moved to the US , where he became a successful modern-classical composer and Chair of Composition, Theory and Music History at the Boston Conservatory.

  Mick/Michael Daysh fluted with most of the above.  It is always good to find someone who plays a real musical instrument – more colours on the palette. Mick still flutes, but nowadays he also writes songs and sings, with guitar or keyboard and a band.  Mick also plays with electro-acoustic classical guitarist Chris Nash.

  Chris Nash went on from Prices to take a music degree and to record instrumental music with Andy Sandham.  He has also performed regularly in folk, rock and jazz bands. He currently partakes of an instrumental guitar duet, ‘Nash and Thompson’, playing jazz, acoustic and classical pieces (

  Paul Gateshill has never stopped writing and performing – and playing some great lead guitar (owing to my strumming for him for hours you understand).  He has also recorded two solo Albums/CDs  (search Spotify, Amazon, YouTube) and been an essential contributor to the four Albums/CD’s produced by my brother Ivor and myself, Ivor and Kevan Bundell.  



We three also all recorded an actual LP in 1976 called Presence, which is now available as a CD :

Details of our various albums – and some of our songs to listen to – can be found at .  I particularly recommend you have a listen to ‘Mr Mitchell’s Angel’.

Paul Gateshill, Ivor and Kevan Bundell, Chris Nash, Michael Daysh, Nick Kahn and Nick Manley are now regular performers at Tanglefest – an annual Summer Garden Party and Concert event which happens at my place in Curdridge.  2020’s Tanglefest was cancelled, but we created a Youtube version instead.  We may have to do the same this year.  Please send me an e-mail if you’d like to know the link or to be invited for the future. All old friends/acquaintances/Priceans and everyone else are very welcome.

Another performer at Tanglefest has been Martin Gateshill  – mentioned above as a friend of Dave Cummins and brother of Paul.  Although he never played at one of Price’s Folk Conerts, he has interesting things to report of earlier days :

 The very 1st electric band to come out of Prices was in 65 or 6. It featured me on Drums and I regret I can’t recall the names of the others. It was the creation of the incredible English teacher of the time, Mr Johnson. I think that was how I crossed paths with Dave and Tink a little later. The three of us formed a Trio called The Ash in 65/6 doing mainly The Who covers. I have a very scratchy recording of a couple of songs. Tink was lead guitar and vocals, he played a dreadful old Egmond guitar which cut his fingers to shreds the action was so high. Dave had a ‘catalogue’ Bass guitar and learned to play it as we went.

Between 1964 when we got started and 1968 we had written over 50 – 60 songs between us and did very few covers of any genre. Dave was easily the best and most creative musician of our cohort, a great friend and fellow traveller.

At that time [mid 60s] Dave and I were a Duo called Tog. I had an old Hoyer 12 string and Dave had a Hagstrom which I rescued. Neither of us knew anything about guitars at that time other than some were harder to play than others. How did I rescue it ? One weekend we were at Wickham at the home of a friend of a friend by the name of Frank Rumble. Frank produced the Hagstrom which had a huge body and really nice slim neck. Sadly the neck was completely snapped off just below the nut. I said I thought I could repair that and Frank said we could have it. I took it away to see what could be done. It was a perfect break, no material missing at all and would glue back almost invisibly. I did that, clamped it up using my dads tools and materials, left it for 24 hours, did a little cosmetic work and found it to be good as new. I handed it to Dave and the rest as they say, is history 😉

Nick Manley has more to say about the history of Dave’s famous Hagstrom :

I notice that the Hagstrom guitar is mentioned quite a bit in your scribing. I know some more of the story.  Dave gifted the guitar to one Steve Denholm in the late 1970’s, in the Red Shift days. He, Steve and John Cameron worked at Polygraphic, a printing firm in Titchfield. The guitar was again in a bad way and Steve renovated it once more, stripping the varnish off and rendering to a blond finish, and resetting the neck. Once again a lovely instrument. Steve let me borrow it for a recording session when we were in Surrey Sound studios. After that we drifted apart but I ran into him again a few years back at Titchfield folk club. He was playing a Martin and is now a very good bluesy/jazzy player and I had to ask if he still had the guitar.  Sadly no. He had given it to a friend who was learning to play, but he has lost contact with him. He said he would try and I am still waiting………..


PS  Comments, corrections and additions to the above most welcome –


[1] Country Joe and the Fish’s anti Vietnam War anthem which begins ‘Give us an F ! . . .’

Why is Rupert Bear so popular ?

By Kevan Bundell


When it comes to fictional bears in Britain, there are three great allegiances:  to Paddington, to Poo and to Rupert.  It may be that your family sensibly enjoyed all three.  Mine was exclusively devoted to Rupert.   This was the doing first of my Great-Uncle George and then of my Mother.   On the 3rd November 1930  Great-Uncle George cut out from the Daily Express newspaper part one of  a  new Rupert adventure  ‘Rupert and Bill keep shop’.  He did the same each day until  the adventure was complete and then gave the cuttings to his niece – my mother.  He continued to do the same, almost without interruption, until the 5th February 1937.

I know this because these cuttings are now on my bookshelves.  They lived for many years at my Grandma’s, each adventure in a numbered paper bag.   I must have gone through them a dozen times during my childhood.  When they  were passed to me and I came to sort them out I found the bag numbers were quite random and I had to consult the Rupert Museum in Canterbury to discover how to order them chronologically.  I then got Mum to slip them into photo albums in an organised fashion.  She recalled with pleasure how her Uncle George (with no children of his own) would bring each completed adventure and read them to her – while she looked at the pictures.

My siblings and I were then brought up on Rupert Annuals from the mid 1950s to the mid ‘60s.   This means that while Mum was brought up on Rupert in a blue jumper (on the then contemporary book covers) and on stories written and illustrated by Rupert’s creator, Mary Tourtel, we were raised on the red-jumpered, yellow-check trousered  Rupert created by Alfred Bestall.  He took over the task of continuing the already hugely popular Rupert comic strip in 1935 when Mary Tourtel retired.

Rupert continues his adventures in the Daily Express and in Rupert Annuals even now.  New artists took over after Bestall retired in 1965 – but they were all obliged to follow him closely.  Since 2010 the paper and the annuals seem to

rely on recycling old stories.  Fortunately there is no shortage – and the audience, of course, is renewed constantly.

But why did Rupert become so popular in the first place and why has he remained so popular ever since ?

Rupert is of course a bear.  He is not exactly a teddy-bear, but he is close enough.  By the time Rupert arrived, the teddy-bear was already a well established part of British childhood – a companion, a comfort at night, a half real, half imaginary friend.  At the same time, Rupert is also a child – with a mother, a father and a home.  (Rupert even has his own bedroom).  He is also, by the way, the ‘baby’ bear of three bears (even if there’s no Goldilocks).[2] Rupert and his family are both (teddy)bears and people.   Everything adds up to a character which a young child could and can still  identify with.

Rupert also has playmates – friends of his own age:  Bill Badger,  Algernon Pug, Edward Trunk, Podge the pig and the little girl Margot (all Tourtel creations), Pong Ping, Tiger Lilly, Gregory Guinea-pig, Rastus Mouse (introduced by Bestall) and many more.  He also has animal friends – Tourtel’s fox, Beppo the monkey and the ubiquitous black cat – somewhat like the pet a child might have at home – or might hope to have.  Rupert is also surrounded by caring grown-ups – not only his parents, but many others :  the Professor and his curious dwarf servant, Sailor Sam, the Wise Old Goat, the Nutwood police constable, even Gaffer Jarge.  In between, there are the three Girl Guides and Rollo the gypsy boy.

In other words, Rupert lives in a world which is caring, safe and full of friends of all ages – just like his young audience.

Rupert also has rather more secret friends –  the Imps of Spring, the merboy, the King of Birds and his entourage,  Jack Frost.  He also has friends which are really animate toys – the golly and the boy scout for example.  These are the kind of friends familiar to most children – in their imaginations.  He is even friends with Father Christmas himself !  Rupert also talks to animals and birds – the fox, the wise owl, the hedgehog, a passing sparrow.  Interestingly, these various friends are usually known only to Rupert himself, and not to his friends.  They are part of Rupert’s own secret, ‘imaginary’ world – just as his young audience might have their own secret, imaginary world known only to themselves, not even shared with friends.

Rupert also has adventures.   His adventures range from the scary to the mysterious and on to the enchanting – sometimes all of them within one story.  Tourtel’s adventures were often based on the traditionally menacing world of fairy-tales – with witches, ogres and gangs of robbers.  In fact she raided a whole range of children’s stories – some scary (pirates, a wolf in a bed, a wicked uncle, a Black Knight, African chiefs and white hunters, Red Indians), some friendly (Robinson Crusoe, Father Christmas), and some simply difficult (Humpty Dumpty).  When Bestall took over he was explicitly instructed that there should be no ‘bad characters’.   The editor was afraid  that the stories were in danger of scaring off their young audience.  So was Bestall, but he couldn’t help it.  In Rupert and the Travel Machine, for example, one of the earliest Bestall stories (1937) there’s an evil inventor who imprisons Rupert and Bill and will only set them free if they test his new invention.   In Rupert and the Pine Ogre (1957) we meet a megalomaniac Lord of Silence who plans to replace all the green woodland of Nutwood with a dark and silent forest of pine.  Rupert’s adventures often involve him getting lost in one way or another – in a forest, in a crowd – a familiar child’s anxiety.  Or imprisoned – in a castle, in a cave. The fact is, scary makes a good story, and children like to be scared – as long as it all ends safely – as it always does.  Both Tourtel’s and Bestall’s stories begin at home – with Rupert off on an errand for his mother, going out to play, or on a day out somewhere. Both end their stories with Rupert safely home again – running to his mother’s arms,  recounting his day’s adventures to his incredulous parents.

Nonetheless, Bestall did manage to move Rupert’s adventures away from the dark world of traditionally grim fairy-tale to a world of more delightfully mysterious goings-on and, usually, more friendly, or at least less wicked characters.  He also moved from the medieval to more contemporary times – with  Rupert visiting London to see the Queen for example, or going on seaside holidays by train.   There were always characters still rolling up anachronistically in historical costume though, keeping up the connection to times past and to fairy tales.

Bestall was also told ‘no magic’.  But children love magic, as he well knew.  He replaced the magic of fairy tales with the magic of Tiger Lilly and her father, the Chinese Conjurer.  He introduced the Imps of Spring and of Autumn. They are ‘fairy’ characters but also necessary in a practical way to ensure the proper functioning of the seasons.  Still, he managed to replace Tourtel’s magic boots and other magically flying items with more ‘scientific’/mechanical devices such as spring-loaded boots, balloons and propellers.  He also introduced the Professor and his various ‘scientific’  inventions and, once, a secret underground travelator which got Rupert back from lost in London to safely home in Nutwood.

Both Tourtel and Bestall were particularly fond of flying – every child’s dream. Tourtel had Rupert  flying by magic mostly – although also by aeroplane.  Bestall continued the aeroplane and practical theme, but he also had Rupert carried on the back of an eagle, on a winged horse and even on the wind.

Often Rupert’s adventures and the characters he meets are enchanting – the imps, the merboy, talking crabs, even the sea-serpent.   And the frogs.  Especially the frogs – as Paul McCartney noted.

Rupert’s own character is also an important part of his attractiveness.  He is always kind, even when the characters he meets lead him a dance – Raggety  the tree-creature, for example.  He always tries to do his best to help, even though he is often quite out of control of what’s happening to him – but in the end he succeeds and all ends happily.  This is a comforting message to young children who must often feel lost and powerless in their real world.

A key ‘character’ in Rupert’s adventures is the idyllic countryside of Nutwood and its surroundings. Nutwood village sits in a scene of green fields and woodlands.  There are hills nearby, sometimes gentle, sometimes rocky and almost mountainous.  The landscape is apparently an amalgamation of the Sussex Weald, Surrey, the Cotswolds  and Snowdonia (where Bestall had a holiday cottage).  Meanwhile, the seaside holidays that Rupert and his family take seem to be to places like the fishing villages and coves of the West country.  In any case, Rupert’s local world is an invocation of an ideal English – and Welsh – countryside.

But why should this be of interest to young children ?  They would surely be too young to have imbibed the cultural ideal, so it would have no particular draw for them.  Unlike their parents.  This is the clue of course.  Nutwood and its surroundings resonate for adults.  So too does the time – the period – in which Rupert’s world is set.  Rupert began in the twenties and thirties and when Bestall took over he kept him in that world – which is where he largely remains.  For adults Rupert invokes not only the nostalgia of childhood but also a nostalgia of place and time.   Meanwhile, young readers become adults and the cultural ideal of the countryside is still absorbed from many sources – including from Rupert presumably.

Adults can also be amused by the puns which Bestall sometimes employs for his story titles – The Mare’s Nest, The Flying Sorcerer, the Blue Moon.  Others have pointed out the filmic and dynamic qualities of the illustrations – which work for both children and adults.  Ewen Mackenzie-Bowie has shown how the unique combination of rhymes and prose which accompany the stories provide a step ladder for children from being read to by adults through to reading themselves.[3]

But what now ?  How long can Rupert survive on the re-cycling of old stories ?  Or is that how it best should be ?  There is no imperative that Rupert should go on having new adventures forever.   His place in cultural history, children’s literature and graphic art is firmly established.  And, as noted, a new audience  – for whom everything is new – will of course continue to arrive.


[1] The cover of the 1973 Rupert Annual – the common version.  See

[2] In fact Tourtel occasionally gave Rupert a younger sister too, which makes four bears.

[3] Rupert – an innovative literary genre, Ewen Mackenzie-Bowie


See also :