One of the world’s largest collections of famous teddies has been gifted to Newby Hall by Gyles Brandreth. Sharon Dale went to meet them. Pictures by Simon Hulme.
Acting in loco parentis for more than 1,000 teddy bears is a role that Gyles Brandreth takes very seriously, although he is not generally the serious sort at all. The loquacious broadcaster and writer, now 68, has more bounce than Tigger and a brain that delivers a constant stream of wisecracks, puns and stories. He’s also warm, friendly and eager to please, which makes him a typical arctophile, the formal term for a person who collects or is very fond of teddy bears.
“I would say that arctophiles do have similar personality traits. You have to have a sense of humour and a big heart to love a teddy,” says Gyles, who is on a visit to Newby Hall, near Ripon, to inspect the new home being built for his bears.
The Bear House, which opens to the public on May 28, includes some of the world’s most famous teddies. The big names include the original Fozzy bear from The Muppet Show, a Sooty used by Harry Corbett in the 1950s, the first Pudsey and the “real” Paddington.
“I met Jim Henson in the 1980s when I was at TV-AM and told him about my teddies. He said I could have Fozzy and I said thank you, thinking he’d forget about it after he got back to America. Then this enormous box arrived and there it was, the original Fozzy made in 1963 before Sesame Street started,” says Gyles, whose own childhood teddy, Growler, sparked his interest in bears. He started collecting when he was a teenager and was then spurred on by his son, Benet, and his daughters Aphra and Saethryd.
The original Paddington is a tiny version of the well-known toy. He was the star of the first ever Paddington TV series in the 1970s. He is jointed, even his fingers move, so he could be posed for the stop frame filming.
“My father knew the programme maker, Graham Clutterbuck, who was in touch with Michael Bond, who wrote the books and rescued Paddington when the TV series was complete. So that’s how I came to get him,” says Gyles, who also has many VIBs – Very Important Bears – that belong to famous people.
Rowan Atkinson gave him Mr Bean’s knitted teddy and there’s Lynton owned by Tony Blair, Francois, the late French president Francois Mitterand’s bear, and Ragged, who was loved by actor Richard Briers and generations of his family. Naturally, there is a Gyles Bear, sporting a jumper, and the American ambassador donated his bear, who arrived in a blacked-out limousine with his own little suitcase.
There are many rare and unusual bears including an early Steiff, early English toys by Merrythought and Dean and Farnell, as well as the Pauline Grattan collection of 20th century Hermann dressed bears.
Perhaps most unusual are some of the teddies left outside Buckingham Palace when Princess Diana died.
“None were thrown away. The Palace sent some to orphanages in places like Albania and some came to us,” says Gyles.
For those who want to know more, there is a wonderful book, The Teddy Bear Hall of Fame, by Gyles’s wife, Michele Brown, a writer and publisher. It includes the history of the toy along with stories of those acquired by the Brandreths.
The collection’s move to one of Yorkshire’s most impressive stately homes happened quite by chance thanks to the BBC’s One Show.
As a roving reporter for the programme, Gyles was sent to interview Richard Compton, the present incumbent at Newby Hall, one of Britain’s finest Adam houses, designed in the 1690s by Sir Christopher Wren.
“We got chatting and I mentioned my bears and Richard kindly offered them a home here. I discovered this beautiful house was where the King and Queen would have been moved to in the event of an invasion during World War Two and I thought: ‘If it is fit for a king, it’s fit for my bears,” he says.
They had previously been housed in a museum in Stratford-upon-Avon and then at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon but the Brandreths were keen to find a forever home for them.
The Comptons have been hands-on creating the purpose-built Bear House. Richard’s wife, conservationist Lucinda Compton, their daughter Sasha and book illustrator Georgina McBain have painted the tableaux. The model boxes have been made by an Ali Allen, a designer at Opera North, and some of the props have been constructed by the Jenny Ruth Workshop in Ripon, where adults with learning disabilities gain work and life skills.
Members of local Women’s Institutes have made some of the costumes for the tableaux, which include a teddy bears picnic, the Rio Olympics and the Queen’s 90th birthday, complete with a balcony scene with bears specially chosen for their resemblance to the Queen, Camilla, Prince Charles and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. There is also a wedding scene featuring a miniature version of Newby Hall’s church and its stained-glass window.
A little library has suitable reading materials including Macbear, Paw and Peace, Jane Bear, The Merry Bears of Windsor and the Encyclopaedia Beartannica.
The Bear House is expected to attract new visitors to Newby Hall. Last year the estate opened its dolls house exhibition and that has been a great success. “The bears complement the dolls house exhibition perfectly and we think they will appeal to a broad range of people from serious collectors to children,” says Richard Compton, who has commissioned a special Newby Hall bear, who will be on sale in the estate’s gift shop.
Gyles and Michele have visiting rights and say they will be back often – probably with another teddy or two in tow. Although he says he doesn’t have a favourite bear, “it would be like having a favourite child, so wrong,” Gyles says one of his most precious is the tatty, rather sad looking Prince of Love.
His threadbare body is adorned with jewellery thanks to his owner, the romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland. She decorated him in diamanté brooches and gold bracelets and a rather dandy earring. He sat by her bed and was well loved, so much so that she penned a poem for him.
“I am a special Teddy Bear; I am very particular what I wear; My diamonds gleam like the stars above; As really I am the Prince of Love.”
“He has sentimental value for me. I was at university with Dame Barbara’s son and she entertained me in her lovely house. She was a wonderful woman and I was deeply honoured to be given The Prince of Love,” says Gyles.
“But then I am honoured to have had all of them. These bears are my pride and joy, a lifetime’s collection.”
*Toy story that goes on and on...
The Newby Hall exhibition will tell the story of the teddy bear from its origins in Europe and the US at the beginning of the 20th century until today.
Among the most collectable are early bears made between 1902 and 1914, along with novelty bears, mainly from America.
The toys have remained popular throughout the decades, although there was a notable revival in the late 1960s when arctophile and actor Peter Bull wrote a book, Bear with Me.
Another peak came in 1981 thanks to the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s book Brideshead Revisited. The nation fell in love with Aloysius, the teddy bear and constant companion of Sebastian Flyte. The bear’s real name was Delicatessen and it belonged to Peter Bull.
Gyles Brandreth says: “Teddy bears have been popular for more than a century and the world would be a sadder and less friendly place without them.”
The Teddy Bear collection goes on permanent display in the Bear House, Newby Hall, near Ripon, on May 28, newbyhall.com