Bear facts

6th February 1998 at 00:00
The day I left school was one of the happiest of my life. I was 14, and got away as early as I could. The teacher I remember best was Brother Ambrose, known as Hambone. He had a terrible temper. I can still hear the rustle of his gown when I fell foul of him one day. He leapt on me from the platform on which he taught, boxed my ears and knocked me to the ground. because he thought, wrongly, I had thrown an ink bomb. I remember lying on the floor thinking: "I hope I get a mastoid, then he'll go to prison."

The Irish Jesuits who ran Presentation College in Reading, Berkshire, were strict disciplinarians. They kept rubber straps, about 10 inches long and an inch wide, under their black gowns and whacked us at the slightest provocation. Ear-tweaking was another punishment. Caning was the headmaster's prerogative. Bullying was rife. When it was my turn to be picked on I'd wait outside until the bell went for lessons. Being a day boy at a boarding school, as well as a non-Catholic, I was a bit of an outsider.

Paddington would probably have coped with brother Ambrose and Co by giving them his hard stare, although it's a technique I have never used. Paddington's stare deflates people. He is also good at the quick answer - which I have never been. It takes me several days to think of a smart retort. I gave Paddington many of the attributes I would like to have.

I was one of the founder pupils at Presentation College. There were only 20 to 25 of us when I first went there and in the early days we were often taught together. At the age of seven I would find myself sitting next to someone of 14. By the time I left there were more than 200 pupils.

On my way to school I would try to fall off my bike and hurt myself so I could get out of school. Another ploy was to swallow pellets of soap coated with sugar to make myself sick. It was worth it for a day off school.

We had a science lab, but it was rarely used. It only seemed to be opened when parents came with prospective pupils. I don't think the brothers believed in science; they believed in religion. We had half an hour of religious teaching at the start of every day. There was a school library, but that was kept locked as well.

Brother Ambrose taught English, and any flight of fancy in essays was stamped on. I remember my friend John writing a composition about gardens in which he wrote that his parents grew rhubarb and put manure on it. "I prefer custard on mine," he joked. Brother Ambrose read this out and we all roared with laughter, including Brother Ambrose. Then he gave John a whack with his strap.

Many years after I left and Brother Ambrose had retired, I was asked to present an award to him for services to children. I refused, because all I could remember of him was being battered to the ground.

My school reports mostly said things like "needs to try harder". One complaint was that I "suffered from a sense of humour".

The school failed to inspire me. Now I have a home in France I wish I had realised how useful French would have been. The French master was short, stout and excitable. He couldn't keep order, and was replaced by Miss Camion, who was a bit of a dragon. At the end of the first term she underwent a transformation, turning up in a flowery dress and a hat, with her fiance in tow. That was the last we saw of her - from then on the Brothers took over.

It wasn't until I was in the RAF that I came across a teacher who inspired me. I cannot remember his name, but he had been a master at Eton, and made mathematics interesting and fun.

After the war, I returned to the BBC, where I met someone who wrote short stories. I thought: "If he can do that, I'm sure I can." If I sold one in 12 I thought I was doing well. About 12 years later, by which time I was a cameraman, Paddington came along.

The main thing I learned from my schooldays was how to survive. English schools in those days prepared you for the worst. It's like serving a prison sentence before you commit the crime, and gives you a valuable insight into the fact that life is unfair.

Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear, was born in Newbury, Berkshire, in January 1926. He is married with two grown-up children and three grandchildren. This year sees the 40th birthday of Paddington, whose antics have spawned 25 titles translated into more than 20 languages and sold more than 25 million copies. Michael Bond was talking to Pamela Coleman

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today