The author Michael Bond, creator of the hugely popular children’s character Paddington Bear, has died at the age of 91.
Bond died at home on Tuesday following a short illness, his publisher HarperCollins announced Wednesday in a statement on Facebook, calling him a “giant of children’s literature.”
Bond was born in Berkshire, England in 1926 and began writing in 1945, after serving in World War II.
He was working as a cameraman for the BBC when he came up with the idea of a small toy bear that he named after Paddington Station in London, near where he was living at the time.
Bond’s first book, “A Bear Called Paddington,” was published in 1958, and follows the adventures of a small orphaned bear as he travels from Peru to the British capital.
He is found at Paddington Station wearing a tag saying “Please look after this bear. Thank you,” and is taken in by the Brown family.
Bond has said that Paddington was inspired in part by his memories of Jewish children who were evacuated to London during World War II.
“They all had a label round their neck with their name and address on and a little case or package containing all their treasured possessions. So Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees,” Bond told the Guardian in 2014.
The UK-based Refugee Council charity thanked Bond for “all he did to help people understand refugee issues” in a tweet Wednesday.
More than 35 million Paddington books have been sold worldwide, according to HarperCollins. The character has inspired an animated series and two films, including one due out later this year.
The actor Hugh Bonneville, star of the Paddington movies, wrote on Instagram that it was “particularly poignant” that Bond had died on the last day of shooting for the upcoming film.
“Michael will be greatly missed by his legions of fans and especially by his wife Sue, his family and of course by his beloved guinea pigs,” Bonneville wrote. “He leaves a special legacy: long live the bear from darkest Peru.”
Stephen Fry tweeted that Bond was as “kindly, dignified, charming & lovable” as Paddington Bear himself, while David Walliams wrote that the Paddington theme music “is enough to make me smile.”
Bond’s latest Paddington book, “Paddington’s Finest Hour,” was published in April. Bond published almost 200 books during his lifetime, HarperCollins said. He was awarded a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015.
“He was a true gentleman, a bon viveur, the most entertaining company and the most enchanting of writers,” Ann-Janine Murtagh, Executive Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said in a statement.
“He will be forever remembered for his creation of the iconic Paddington, with his duffle coat and wellington boots, which touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations.”