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Rupert Bear, 1935

Pen, ink and blue wash on card, signed and inscribed in black ink 'Rupert, To Captain Marshall from Mary Tourtel June 17 1935’. Image size 25cm x 17cm.

Rupert owed his existence to the Fleet Street circulation battles of the 1920s. The Daily Mail launched a cartoon strip featuring a mouse while the Daily Mirror entered the fray with Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. The Daily Express's proprietor Lord Beaverbrook instructed his editor-in-chief, to find and develop an animal character to eclipse those of the Mail and the Mirror. One or two experimental strips were tried and rejected, and Herbert Tourtel, then a sub-editor on the paper, suggested that his wife Mary, an established children’s book illustrator, could produce the goods.

Mary Caldwell Tourtel (1874-1948) was the daughter of a stained-glass artist and stonemason, and trained as children’s book illustrator at the Sidney Cooper School of Art in Canterbury. In 1900 she married journalist Herbert Bird Tourtel. She and her husband were keen aviators, and in 1919 broke the record for a flight from Berkshire to Brussels. Rupert Bear was first published on 8 November 1920. The early strips were illustrated by Mary and captioned by her husband, and were published as two cartoons a day with a short story underneath. Rupert was originally a brown bear until Beaverbrook demanded the Express cut inking expenses giving him his iconic and characteristic white colour. Herbert died in 1931 and Mary retired in 1935 at which time the Rupert Bear baton, under they watchful eye of Stanley Marshall, the Daily Express children’s editior, was passed to Punch illustrator Alfred Bestall.


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