Less well-known on American shores than he is at home in England, this hairy denizen of Nutwood Forest has been delighting children since 1920 when he debuted on the women’s page of the Daily Express newspaper.
The strip consisted of black and white drawings with a short story written in verse underneath by the artist Mary Tourtel.
The first annual appeared the following year; a second appeared under the title of The Monster Rupert Annual in 1931.
This series ran every year until 1950, competing for much of that time with The Daily Express Rupert Annual, which debuted in 1936. Beautifully drawn and gently narrated, these later editions are the most fervently collected annuals today.
Mary Tourtel produced the stories and illustrations up until 1935 when visual impairment forced her to retire.
Her successor was Alfred Bestall who changed the colours of Rupert’s outfit from a blue jumper and white trousers and scarf to the well-known red jumper worn with yellow paired trousers and scarf.
Rupert gained some new companions in Willie Mouse, Podgy Pig, Bill Badger and Pong Ping. Canine bobby PC Growler also arrived as Bestall expanded the village of Nutwood and the world beyond it, including detailed descriptions of the castle on the hill where the Squire lives, and giving Rupert the opportunity to travel to places like the Frozen North.
Rupert went from strength to strength with annual sales topping a million in 1950. More new characters were added, like Raggety, a wood troll who Rupert helps find a new home, and Ozzie, a kangaroo who accompanies Rupert to the Coronation in 1953 and afterwards enjoys a tube ride home on the Nutchester line.
Alfred Bestall retired from illustrating Ruper Bear for the Daily Express in 1965 but continued to work on the annuals until 1974. Various artists took on the role until 1976 when John Harrold took over as the official Rupert artist. He was succeeded by Stuart Trotter in 2008.
Merchandising really took off in the 1970s and since then, Rupert’s image has appeared on everything from soap and toothpaste to stationery and pyjamas.
In between, Rupert also found time to raise funds for muscular dystrophy and fronted the NSPCC’s ‘Full Stop’ campaign against child abuse in 1999. He also starred in the Bestall-approved and BAFTA Award-winning 1984 film, Rupert and the Frog Chorus alongside Paul McCartney.
Rupert has also appeared on television, beginning with The Adventures of Rupert Bear in 1970 with a wonderful, bouncy theme song sung by Jackie Lee, which reached #14 in January 1971 and stayed in the British charts for nearly four months.
A 1998 BBC series simply entitled Rupert (narrated by Ray Brooks) was visually just a camera panning over the original comic illustrations, while the Canadian-produced The All New Adventures of Rupert (1991-1997) gave Rupert an American accent!