Christopher Robin’s birthday

Christopher Robin’s birthday


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Daphne Milne, wife of writer A.A. Milne, gives birth to a son, who the couple name Christopher Robin Milne on August 21, 1920. Christopher Robin will be immortalized in A.A. Milne’s books Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

A.A. Milne was born in London in 1882, the youngest of three sons. His parents were both schoolteachers; his father was headmaster at a school where H.G. Wells taught. His family claimed Milne taught himself to read at age two. He began writing humorous pieces as a schoolboy and continued at Cambridge, where he edited the undergraduate paper. In 1903, he left Cambridge and went to London to write. Although he was broke by the end of his first year, he persevered and supported himself until 1906 with his writing. That year, he joined humor magazine Punch as an editor and wrote humorous verse and essays for the magazine for eight years, until World War I broke out. While at Punch, he wrote his first book-for adults, not children.

In 1913, he married Daphne and two years later went to France to serve in World War I. While in the military, he wrote three plays, one of which, Mr. Pim Passes By, became a hit in 1919 and provided financial security for the family. In 1920, the couple’s only son, Christopher Robin, was born. In 1925, the family bought Cotchford Farm in Sussex; a nearby forest inspired the 100-Acre Wood where Winnie-the-Pooh’s adventures would be set.

Milne published two volumes of the verse he wrote for his son. When We Were Very Young was published in 1924, followed by Now We Are Six in 1927.

When Christopher Robin was about one, he received a stuffed bear as a present. The child soon accumulated a collection of similar animals, which inspired Milne to begin writing a series of whimsical stories about the toys. Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926 and The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. Ernest Shepard illustrated the books, using Christopher Robin and his animals as models.

A.A. Milne wrote numerous other books and plays, but is remembered almost solely for his beloved children’s work. He died in 1956. Christopher Robin died in 1996.

READ MORE: A.A. Milne: 5 Facts About 'Winnie-the-Pooh' Author


Christopher Robin Milne was born at 11 Mallord Street, Chelsea, London, on 21 August 1920, to author Alan Alexander Milne and Daphne (née de Sélincourt) Milne. Milne speculated that he was an only child because "he had been a long time coming." From an early age, Milne was cared for by his nanny Olive Brockwell, until May 1930, when he entered boarding school. Milne called her Nou, and stated "Apart from her fortnight's holiday every September, we had not been out of each other's sight for more than a few hours at a time", and "we lived together in a large nursery on the top floor." [1] : 19, 21, 55, 97, 104

Milne's father explained that Rosemary was the intended name for their first born, if a girl. Realizing it was going to be a boy, he decided on Billy, but without the intention of actually christening him William. Instead, each parent chose a name, hence his legal name Christopher Robin. He was referred to within the family as Billy Moon, a combination of his nickname and his childhood mispronunciation of Milne. [2] From 1929 onwards, he would be referred to simply as Christopher, and he later stated it was "The only name I feel to be really mine." [1] : 17–18 [3]

At his first birthday on 21 August 1921, Milne received an Alpha Farnell teddy bear, which he later named Edward. Eeyore was a Christmas present in 1921 and Piglet arrived undated. Edward, along with a real Canadian black bear named Winnipeg that Milne saw at London Zoo, [4] [5] eventually became the inspiration for the Winnie-the-Pooh character.

Milne spoke self-deprecatingly of his own intellect, "I may have been on the dim side", or "not very bright". He also described himself as being "good with his hands", and possessing a Meccano set. His self-descriptions included "girlish", since he had long hair and wore "girlish clothes", and being "very shy and 'un-self-possessed'". [1] : 37–41, 96

An early childhood friend was Anne Darlington, also an only child, who as Milne described it, was for his parents "the Rosemary that I wasn't." Anne Darlington had a toy monkey, Jumbo, as dear to her as Pooh was to Christopher. Several poems by Milne, and several illustrations by E. H. Shepard, feature Anne and Christopher, notably "Buttercup Days", in which their relative hair colours (brown and golden blond) and their mutual affection is noted (the illustration to this latter poem, from Now We Are Six, also features the cottage at Cotchford Farm). To Alan and Daphne Milne, Anne was and remained to her death the Rosemary that Christopher wasn't, and Daphne long held fond hopes that Anne and Christopher would marry. [1] : 22–24

In 1925, Milne's father bought Cotchford Farm, near the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Though still living in London, the family would spend weekends, Easter, and summer holidays there. As Milne described it, "So there we were in 1925 with a cottage, a little bit of garden, a lot of jungle, two fields, a river, and then all the green, hilly countryside beyond, meadows and woods, waiting to be explored." The place became the inspiration for fiction, with Milne stating, "Gill's Lap that inspired Galleon's Lap, the group of pine trees on the other side of the main road that became the Six Pine Trees, the bridge over the river at Posingford that became Pooh-sticks Bridge," and a nearby "ancient walnut tree" became Pooh's House. His toys, Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, plus two invented characters, Owl and Rabbit, came to life through Milne and his mother, to the point where his father could write stories about them. Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were later presents from his parents. [1] : 42, 55, 58, 65, 77, 127 [3] : 240

Of this time, Milne states, "I loved my Nanny, I loved Cotchford. I also quite liked being Christopher Robin and being famous." [1] : 92

When his nanny departed when he was age 9, Milne's relationship with his father grew. As he put it, "For nearly ten years I had clung to Nanny. For nearly ten more years I was to cling to him, adoring him as I had adored Nanny, so that he too became almost a part of me . "

When Milne eventually wrote his memoirs, he dedicated them to Olive Brockwell, "Alice to millions, but Nou to me". [1] : 122, 137, 141, 159

Schooling Edit

At age 6, Milne and Anne Darlington attended Miss Walters' school. On 15 January 1929, Milne started at Gibbs, a boys' day school in Sloane Square, London. In May 1930, he started boarding school at Boxgrove School near Guildford. Of his time at boarding school, Milne said, "For it was now that began that love-hate relationship with my fictional namesake that has continued to this day." [1] : 97 His father's books were popular, meaning they were well known by his schoolmates, which made Milne a target of bullying by the other children. [6] [7] Milne later described the poem "Vespers" – about the toddler Christopher Robin saying his evening prayers – as "the one [work] that has brought me over the years more toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment than any other." [8] [7]

Milne earned a mathematics scholarship at Stowe School where he was relentlessly bullied and wrote: "It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son." [9] [10] He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1939. [1] : 23, 49, 90–91, 121 [11] : 3–5

When World War II broke out, Milne left his studies and tried to join the army, but failed the medical examination. His father used his influence to get Milne a position as a sapper with the second training battalion of the Royal Engineers. He received his commission in July 1942 and was posted to the Middle East and Italy where he was later wounded as a platoon commander the following year. After the war, he returned to Cambridge and completed a degree in English literature. [11] : 13–21, 104, 116–118

On 11 April 1948, Milne became engaged to Lesley de Sélincourt, a cousin on his mother's side, and they married on 24 July 1948. In 1951, he and his wife moved to Dartmouth and opened up the Harbour Bookshop on 25 August. This turned out to be a success, although his mother had thought the decision odd, as Milne did not seem to like "business", and as a bookseller he would regularly have to meet Pooh fans. [1] : 167–168 [11] : 107, 129–133, 147 The store was closed by its current owners in September 2011. [12]

Milne occasionally visited his father when the elder Milne became ill. After his father died, Milne never returned to Cotchford Farm. His mother eventually sold the farm and moved back to London, after disposing of his father's personal possessions. Milne, who did not want any part of his father's royalties, decided to write a book about his childhood. As Milne describes it, that book, The Enchanted Places, "combined to lift me from under the shadow of my father and of Christopher Robin, and to my surprise and pleasure I found myself standing beside them in the sunshine able to look them both in the eye." [11]

Following her husband's death, Daphne Milne had little further contact with her son, did not see him during the last 15 years of her life and refused to see him on her deathbed. [13] [14]

A few months after his father's death in 1956, Christopher Milne's daughter Clare was born and diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy.

Milne gave the original stuffed animals that inspired the Pooh characters to the books' editor, who in turn donated them to the New York Public Library Marjorie Taylor (in her book Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them) recounts how many were disappointed at this, and Milne had to explain that he preferred to concentrate on the things that currently interested him. [15] He disliked the idea of Winnie-the-Pooh being commercialised. [16]

Death Edit

Milne lived for some years with myasthenia gravis, and died in his sleep on 20 April 1996 in Totnes, Devon, aged 75. [17] After his death he was described by one newspaper as a "dedicated atheist". [18]

Milne had one child, a daughter named Clare, [17] who had cerebral palsy. In adult life, she led several charitable campaigns for the condition, including the Clare Milne Trust. [19] She died in 2012 at the age of 56 of a heart abnormality. [20]

Milne is portrayed by Will Tilston and Alex Lawther in Goodbye Christopher Robin, a 2017 film "inspired by" his relationship with his father. [21]


The real Christopher Robin dies, aged 75

Christopher Robin Milne, the son whom writer AA Milne first introduced to the world in his books as angelically kneeling at the foot of his bed saying his prayers, has died aged 75.

In one of the most enduringly adored series in children's literature, AA Milne used his son Christopher's love for a small toy teddy bear to create the world of Pooh. Winnie the Pooh arrived in the bookshops in 1926, Now We are Six a year later, and The House at Pooh Corner in 1928.

But while Alan Alexander Milne enjoyed international fame from his work, his young son Christopher is thought to have hated his reputation as the inspiration for the fictitious character. Far from being the idyllic childhood of the books, the nursery life of the real Christopher Robin was stamped with authority and formality. The young child apparently grew to hate his father's creations. In early childhood he was supposed to said about his father: "One day I'll write verses about him and see how he likes it."

Christopher Robin Milne was born in 1920 in London. As the Pooh stories grew in stature, even brought to life by the Disney studio animators, so too has the academic analysis of AA Milne's work. Photographs of the Milne family in the 1920s show how closely the illustrations of the fictitious Christopher Robin resembled Milne's own son. But like many children's authors who invent an idealistic world, the reality was far from the truth.

Christopher Robin - unlike his fictional counterpart who will always remain in the woods with his friends Pooh, Owl and Roo - was sent to boarding school. He eventually won a scholarship to Cambridge University, dropped out, joined the army, fought in the Second World War, went back for his degree and eventually open a bookshop in Dartmouth in 1951. There he sold autographed copies of the Pooh stories, donating the money to Save the Children.

In 1974 he described in his book The Enchanted Place how his father had needed him "When I was three, my father was three. When I was six, he was six. He needed me to escape from being 50."

Mr Milne is survived by his wife Lesley and their daughter.


The real Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin

A. A. Milne had already made a name for himself as a writer and playwright when his son, Christopher Robin Milne, was born on August 21, 1920.

For his first birthday, Christopher Robin was given a two-foot-tall, cream-colored teddy bear which he called Edward.

This bear, along with an actual bear at the London Zoo named Winnie and a swan named Pooh, became the basis for Milne’s classic children’s character, Winnie the Pooh.

First mentioned in a poem in Punch magazine which was later published in Milne’s 1924 book of children’s verse When We Were Very Young, Winnie the Pooh was soon joined by Christopher Robin’s other beloved stuffed animals Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and Kanga.

As a child, Christopher Robin was happy to have stories published about himself and his animals. As he grew older and was teased by classmates, he began to resent his fame somewhat.

He grew up to attend Cambridge and serve in the Royal Corps of Engineers in World War II.

In 1948, he married his first cousin, Lesley de Selincourt, and opened a bookshop with her.

Despite his discomfort with his fame, Christopher Robin ultimately accepted it during his efforts to protect Ashdown forest — the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood — from oil exploration. He happily dedicated monuments to his father’s stories as a means to preserve the forest.

Christopher Robin Milne died in 1996 at the age of 75.

And what became of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger? They moved to New York. Christopher Robin had given the original toys to the editor of the Pooh books, who in turn donated them to New York Public Library in 1987. They have been on display ever since.


How Winnie-the-Pooh Got His Name

A.A. Milne&rsquos books&mdashincluding the simply titled Winnie-the-Pooh, which was published on this day in 1926&mdashmade Winnie the bear and his animal friends world famous, but they were not only the product of Milne&rsquos imagination. The author, along with illustrator Ernest H. Shepard, actually based his work on some very real stuffed animals&mdashthose of Milne&rsquos son, Christopher Robin Milne.

Although the book was published 89 years ago Wednesday, the beloved character got his start five years before, when Milne gave his son a toy bear for his first birthday on Aug. 21, 1921. But that bear wasn’t named Winnie: he was initially called Edward. The name Winnie came later, from a brown bear that young Christopher Robin Milne visited in the London Zoo. Harry Colebourn, a Canadian lieutenant and veterinary surgeon, had brought the bear cub to England at the beginning of World War I and named her for the city of Winnipeg, leaving her at the London Zoo when his unit left for France. Milne&rsquos introduction to his 1924 book When We Were Very Young traces the origin of the second half of the name to a swan: &ldquoChristopher Robin, who feeds this swan in the mornings, has given him the name of ‘Pooh.’ This is a very fine name for a swan, because, if you call him and he doesn’t come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying ‘Pooh!’ to show him how little you wanted him.&rdquo

But while only Rabbit and Owl were products of the author and artist&rsquos imaginations, not all of the illustrations are actually of Christopher Robin&rsquos toys. Indeed, because Shepard drew the bear for When We Were Very Young, Pooh himself was not based on Christopher Robin Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, but on Shepard&rsquos son&rsquos teddy bear, named Growler. Milne insisted Shepard draw the rest of the characters for Winnie-the-Pooh from Christopher Robin&rsquos toys, but Pooh remained based on Growler.

Unlike Growler, who was eventually destroyed by a dog, and Roo, who went missing in an apple orchard in the 1930s, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga are still around today, and have been on display together at the New York Public Library since 1987.

Read more about Christopher Robin Milne and his childhood toys, here in the TIME Vault: Bear Essentials


4. He feuded with P.G. Wodehouse

As a young man, Milne was friends with author P.G. Wodehouse, creator of the unflappable butler Jeeves. The two even joined J.M. Barrie—the man behind Peter Pan—on a celebrity cricket team. However, Wodehouse made a decision during World War II that Milne could not forgive.

Wodehouse had been living in France when the German army swept through. He was taken into custody and sent to live in a civil internment camp. But when the Germans realized just who they&aposd captured, they took Wodehouse to a luxury hotel in Berlin and asked him to record a series of broadcasts about his internment. Wodehouse, to his later regret, agreed.

In the talks, which were broadcast in 1941, Wodehouse maintained a light, inconsequential tone that didn&apost go over well during wartime. Among his harshest critics was Milne, who wrote to the Daily Telegraph: “Irresponsibility in what the papers call 𠆊 licensed humorist’ can be carried too far naïveté can be carried too far. Wodehouse has been given a good deal of licence in the past, but I fancy that now his licence will be withdrawn.”

(Some speculated that Milne&aposs main motivator wasn&apost anger but jealousy at the time, Wodehouse continued to receive literary acclaim while Milne was just seen as the creator of Winnie the Pooh.)

The rift continued even after the war ended, with Wodehouse stating at one point: “Nobody could be more anxious than myself . that Alan Alexander Milne should trip over a loose bootlace and break his bloody neck.”


Why the Real Christopher Robin Hated 'Pooh'

A.A. Milne's son struggled with the repercussions of fame for most of his life.

  • August 1920: Christopher Robin Milne is born to writer Alan Alexander (A.A.) Milne and Daphne de Selincourt.
  • 1924: A.A. Milne publishes first Winnie the Pooh story, a collection of poems titled When We Were Very Young.
  • 1928: The final Pooh tale, The House at Pooh Corner, is published.
  • 1928-1929: Christopher Robin begins getting bullied by his classmates.
  • 1940-1942: Christopher Robin fails to find work after college, putting a wedge between father and son.
  • 1947: Christopher Robin meets Lesley, his first cousin, and marries her months later.
  • 1956: A.A. Milne dies.
  • 1996: Christopher Robin dies.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

It&rsquos been nearly 100 years since the first Winnie the Pooh tale was published, but the stories of Christopher Robin and his adventures with the friendly animals of the Hundred Acre Wood continue to capture the hearts of fans, both young and old.

The newest installment of the stuffed-animal-inspired series is Christopher Robin, a movie starring Ewan McGregor as the adult version of the title character. He reunites with his &ldquosilly old bear,&rdquo who then helps him get his life back on track. Though this live-action take is purely fictional, the man behind the books is very real&mdashand he suffered great strife from his namesake&rsquos success.

The Real-Life Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin Milne was born in Chelsea, London, on Aug. 21, 1920, just 21 months after the Great War ended. He was the first and only child born to former British Army officer Alan Alexander Milne and his wife Daphne de Sélincourt. His father, a screenwriter and novelist by trade, drew inspiration from Christopher's stuffed animals, particularly a teddy bear named Edward (the name "Winnie" came from a bear they saw at the London Zoo), to create stories about the friends' adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. The first book, a collection of children's poems titled When We Were Very Young, came out in 1924, shortly after Christopher Robin's fourth birthday. It sold more than 50,000 copies in eight weeks, according to the Telegraph.

Christopher Robin's Struggle with A.A. Milne's Success

Looking back on his early childhood, Christopher told writer Gyles Brandreth his father was "not good with children" and was mostly absent, either working or at London's esteemed Garrick Club. His mother, meanwhile, insisted on dressing him in "girlish" clothes and keeping his hair below his ears, a style that was odd even for the time. Christopher's closest confidant was his nanny, Olive Rand, who was with him for more than 8 years.

The fourth and final Pooh title, The House at Pooh Corner, published in October 1928. By then, each book was selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. As the series' popularity grew, so did Christopher Milne's resentment of it. Jealous classmates bullied and taunted Christopher, who responded by taking boxing lessons to learn how to defend himself. Entering boarding school at age 9, Christopher Robin had a full-fledged "love-hate relationship with my fictional namesake" that continued into adulthood, he wrote in his 1974 memoir The Enchanted Places.

"At home I still liked him, indeed felt at times quite proud that I shared his name and was able to bask in some of his glory. At school, however, I began to dislike him, and I found myself disliking him more and more the older I got," Christopher wrote.

A Fraught Relationship Between Father and Son

Father and son forged a semblance of a relationship during Christopher's adolescence, bonding over algebra problems and crossword puzzles when the younger Milne was at home on breaks, but that foundation crumbled once Christopher left for college at Cambridge. After serving in World War II and finishing his degree, Christopher, then in his mid-twenties, failed to find fulfilling work. He wasn't living up to his "household name."

The troubling period solidified his resentment towards A.A. He believed, he would later reveal, that his father "had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son."

Christopher probably would have grown even more bitter if he hadn't met his future wife, who also happened to be his first cousin, at age 27. Mrs. Milne disapproved of Christopher and Lesley's relationship because she and her brother, Lesley's father, had been estranged for 30 years. The couple married months later, nonetheless, and opened a bookshop together.


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How Winnie-the-Pooh Became a Household Name

In the main branch of the New York Public Library, there lives a group of wild animals that call the children’s section home. Together, in one cage, are a young pig, a donkey, a tiger, a kangaroo, and a bear known the world over as Winnie-the-Pooh. The bear is not the red-shirted “tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” found in cribs around the world, more a regular ole’ fuzzy variety, a simple knock-around bear. But he’s still Pooh, a bit matted down, a bit overly loved, but in great shape considering he’ll soon be 100 years old. The original Pooh is amazingly still alive, well into the 21st-century, in both literary and animated forms.

The NYPL’s Winnie-the-Pooh was the real-life inspiration for the original A.A. Milne stories, which continue to co-exist alongside the better-known Disney juggernaut. The characters from 1928’s smash bestseller The House on Pooh Corner live side-by-side with the cartoon iterations in a way very few originals and their Disney-fied versions do. Consider poor Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” which most kids only know via the $400-million box office adaptation, Frozen, or, for that matter, Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” What’s amazing about Pooh’s modern cartoon-y familiarity is that as big as the Magic Kingdom is, the original not only survives, but thrives as a continued source of fascination.

“If you write a very good book, and someone makes a very good film about it, the book just disappears. Nobody really reads Mary Poppins or Pinocchio because the films are so accomplished they’ve supplanted the source,” says Frank Cottrell-Boyce, co-screenwriter of Goodbye Christopher Robin, the new movie about the story-behind-the-Milne-stories.

The sweet, oft-befuddled bear actually evolved out of Milne’s decidedly unquiet time on the Western Front during World War I. He was injured at the First Battle of Somme in 1916, and his time in the trenches left Milne with “shellshock” (what we now call PTSD). Following the war, he uprooted his family, moving from London to the quieter country retreat of Crotchford Farm. Milne and his only child, Christopher Robin, who went by the nickname “Billy Moon,” spent countless hours exploring the woodlands of the Ashdown Forest, often accompanied by his son’s stuffed animal collection. Prior to World War I, Milne was a successful essayist, humorist, and editor at Punch, and following the war, he was a successful playwright, with works like Mr. Pim Passes By (adapted as a silent picture in 1921.) It was the time spent with Billy Moon, and his wild imagination, though, that made Milne world-famous.

Fatherhood inspired Milne’s first foray into children’s literature through poetry. Published in Vanity Fair in 1923, “Vespers” includes the line “Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.” He followed that up in Punch with the poem “Teddy Bear,” which mentions a “Mr. Edward Bear,” soon re-named by Christopher Robin after a visit to the London Zoo, where a black bear rescued from Winnipeg—“Winnie,” of course—made its home. And in Milne’s popular 1924 poetry book When We Were Very Young, the author tells of his son explaining how he would feed a swan in the morning, but if the bird wouldn’t come, the boy would say “‘Pooh!’ to show how little you wanted him.’”

Thus on Christmas Eve, 1925, in the London Evening News, A.A. Milne’s short story “The Wrong Sort of Bees” gave readers the holiday gift of Winnie-the-Pooh, the newly renamed bear who is dragged down the stairs by Christopher Robin, bumping his head all the way. Christopher Robin asks his father to make up a tale about Pooh and the yarn he spins established the Pooh the world knows and loves today. The hungry hero comes up with a plan to steal honey from some tree-dwelling bees. He rolls around in mud to disguise himself as a raincloud, then floats up to the hive with a blue balloon, making up songs to pass the time. Pooh failed to acquire honey, but the silly slow-witted but oh-so-lovable character succeeded in becoming a sensation.

All of Milne’s children’s works, starting with “Vespers” were accompanied by Ernest H. Shepard’s elegant monochromatic pencil illustrations. The prose and drawings of the Hundred Acre Wood animals, and their young human friend, were a perfect match, capturing the wide-eyed innocence and thrills of childhood, but with an underlying bit of melancholy and sadness. The working relationship between combat veterans Milne and Shepard deepened over time, and they truly developed the Winnie-the-Pooh world together. A primary example is that while the stories were based on Billy Moon’s real-life experiences, the famous early black-and-white drawings were closer to the friendlier-looking plushie owned by Shepard’s son, a bear named Growler. 

The story collection Winnie-the-Pooh was published in October 1926, introducing the characters to a bigger global audience. It was a huge hit at home and abroad. The original English version sold a whopping-for-the-time 32,000 copies, while in the United States, 150,000 copies were nestled on nightstands by year’s end. The Harry Potter-level success of the Pooh books would be both a blessing both and a curse for Billy Moon. Still a young boy, he was dwarfed by his fictional “Christopher Robin” counterpart.

“Christopher Robin is actually on record that he quite liked being famous as a child, the damage and resentment came later,” says Ann Thwaite, whose 1990 biography of A.A. Milne won the prestigious Whitbread Award and serves as a primary source for the film. She has a new adaption, Goodbye, Christopher Robin, out now. “But Milne was always extremely interested in his son, even though the boy was mainly looked after by his nanny Olive Rand, whom Christopher was devoted to.”

The books provided Billy Moon everything a boy could ever want, but also deprived him of the simpler anonymous childhood he’d known. He missed the ample time he and his father had spent exploring the woods, which of course, led to the Pooh books in the first place. The boy was thrust into the spotlight, making public appearances, doing readings and audio recordings, and being photographed again and again for all the fans wanting a piece of the real Christopher Robin. Milne seemed to grasp his role in exploiting his son, later writing that he felt “amazement and disgust” at his son’s fame.

The Pooh series ended after a mere four books with The House at Pooh Corner, but Billy Moon's fame would come back to haunt the family. In boarding school, the merciless bullying he received drove him to prove his manhood by volunteering to fight following the outbreak of WWII. Billy Moon failed a medical examination, but coerced his famous father into using his influence to secure a military position. In 1942, he was commissioned, serving with the Royal Engineers in Iraq, Tunisia, and Italy. Billy Moon contacted malaria and took shrapnel to his head, a gut punch to his father, who became a devoted pacifist following his military career.

Milne's son returned safely from World War II and eventually made peace with his childhood celebrity and fictional doppelgänger.  He didn’t have much of a choice, though—it wasn’t as if the characters were fading away. The sales of Pooh books have been phenomenal for 90 years. They’ve never been out-of-print and have sold some 20 million copies in 50 languages. A 1958 Latin translation by Alexander Lenard, Winnie ill Pu, is the only book in Latin to ever become a New York Times bestseller.

The original books, however, will always have a special place in British literary lore. Published following the brutality of World War I, they provided a much-needed solace in a time of great sadness, a connection to the innate wonder of childhood, and a specifically British sensibility.

The original toys from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, held in the New York Public Library children's section (Manor Photography / Alamy Stock Photo)

“English World War I posters featured the rural woodlands, domain of Robin Hood, because that’s what we were fighting for. The woods are part of the software of the English psyche, and Milne captures it better than anyone,” says Cottrell-Boyce. “Although, I’ve also heard Russians think it’s about them because Pooh is a big sleeping bear, what it says to me is the amazing stories and beautiful sentences are universal.”

Over the last near-century, those four slim Winnie-the-Pooh volumes sprouted a massive honey pot of cash. But the billions of dollars in annual receipts brought in by Pooh merchandise, ranking him with royalty like princesses, superheroes, and Mickey Mouse, isn't something Disney can take all the credit for.

In 1930, a producer named Stephen Slesinger took Pooh off the page and into the burgeoning arena of pop culture mass marketing. The American and Canadian licenses to Pooh were secured from Milne by Slesinger for $1,000 and later, 66 percent of broadcast royalties.

Slesinger was a pioneer in licensing and merchandizing characters, bringing color to the Hundred Acre Wood—most notably in 1932, on an RCA Victor record, where Pooh’s typically uncovered belly now featured a red shirt—and taking the characters beyond dolls, to jigsaw puzzles, radio shows, a “Colorful Game” from Parker Brothers, and later, this nightmare-inducing puppet version on the Shirley Temple Show. Slesinger was a bridge between the English page and the American marketplace, helping further cement the whole Hundred Acre Wood gang—Piglet, Eyeore, Kanga, Owl, Tigger, and so on—as kiddie icons available to bring into homes in all kinds of formats. 

Slesinger died in 1953, and his wife continued developing the characters until deciding to license the rights to Walt Disney Productions in 1961. Walt himself coveted Pooh thanks to his daughters, who loved Milne’s stories. (Long after Disney passed away, there were Slesinger Inc. royalty lawsuits based on unforeseen future technologies like the VCR.) The Disney studios released its first animated Pooh short in 1966, and there have been a steady stream of movies, TV shows, video games, and amusement park rides ever since. In 2006, Pooh Bear himself received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but the glitz and glamour of the character’s post-Milne age hasn’t lessened the love of the original works. The books have flourished right alongside their Disney counterparts, and still offer surprises to 21st-century readers.

“I grew up with the books, Milne’s words and Shepard’s illustrations are the fabric of British life, Disney’s Pooh is not definitive,” says Simon Vaughn, a Brit as well as the other co-writer on Goodbye Christopher Robin.

The heart of Goodbye Christopher Robin is about what it means for a parent to raise a child under extraordinary circumstances, but Cottrell-Bryce believes there is a simple basic human reason why Milne and Shepard’s masterworks remain essential in everyday parental life, even in the face of the Disney.  In those early cartoons, Winnie-the-Pooh was memorably voiced by Sterling Holloway, but even his warm cuddly characterizations are no match for mom and dad.

“The Pooh books were written for the nursery, to be read intimately to a little child,” says Cottrell-Bryce. “The books offer a deep moment between child and parent at bedtime. It’s primal and comes from love.”

As Milne wrote back in 1926, Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!

About Patrick Sauer

Originally from Montana, Patrick Sauer is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. His work appears in Vice Sports, Biographile, Smithsonian, and The Classical, among others. He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the American Presidents and once wrote a one-act play about Zachary Taylor.


The story of Winnie the Pooh laid bare

Cole Mattick, an inquisitive three-year-old from Toronto in Canada, often asks his parents if he’s related to Winnie the Pooh. Usually when he is tucked up in bed and supposed to be fast asleep.

No, his mother Lindsay replies, at least not by blood. And then she’ll tell him - for the thousandth time - how the world’s most famous honey lover came to be an important member of their family.

Lindsay Mattick shares her family history with son Cole. C.Farquharson

“The fact that Cole is part of the story behind the Winnie the Pooh story is still a little too complex for him to understand,” Lindsay explains. “But he’ll figure it out in due course. As a child, I referred to Winnie as my great-grand-bear.”

The ‘prequel’ to Alan Alexander Milne’s 1926 collection of stories, Winnie the Pooh, begins in 1914 in Winnipeg, Canada.

Lindsay’s great grandfather, Harry Colebourn, a vet, waved goodbye to his family to embark on a 1,500 mile rail journey to a military training camp near Quebec.

He was to join the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, tending horses on the Western Front in World War I.

When the train pulled in to White River, Ontario, Harry stepped out to stretch his legs and noticed a man with a bear cub tethered to a bench.

Lindsay's great grandfather Harry Colebourn in the military training camp with the bear cub he named Winnie

“He figured he must be a hunter, and that the cub had been left without a mother,” explains Lindsay, a PR executive.

A few short moments of deliberation later and Harry was carrying the cub onto the train, having handed $20 to the hunter.

It was the equivalent of nearly £180 today but according to Lindsay, her great grandfather was always hopelessly sentimental when it came to animals.

He resolved to call her Winnie (yes, the real Winnie was in fact a girl) after Winnipeg, his home town, and recorded the event for posterity in his diary: “August 24: Bought bear $20”.

"He could never have imagined how much joy that bear would bring,” Lindsay says.

'Bought bear $20': Harry's diary entry on August 24, 1914

At the time, however, Harry’s corporal was far from pleased to find him fawning over a bear cub. When Winnie stood up on her hind legs as if to salute him, however, he couldn’t help but laugh along with the other soldiers.

With her thick, glossy black coat and tan muzzle, Winnie looked nothing like the fraying yellow teddy depicted by EH Shepard in the illustrations to Milne’s stories - and even less like the slightly chubbier Pooh from Disney’s film adaptations.

But Harry’s diary entries prove that Winnie shared certain character traits with her fictional namesake. For a start, she was always hungry.

Back then there wasn’t much honey about, says Lindsay, but Winnie went wild for the small bottles of condensed milk that were cherished by the soldiers.

A selection of Harry Colebourn's old photographs and documents, including the first edition of Winnie the Pooh. C.Farquharson

She’d hold them between her paws and gleefully slurp them in a couple of gulps, before lying on her back and humming with contentment.

She was also a natural born entertainer, climbing tent poles in the army training camp.

“Winnie the Pooh takes everything in his stride and our Winnie was like that too,” says Lindsay, whose well-thumbed first edition of Milne’s Pooh book has a grainy photograph of Harry and Winnie taped inside.

By the time Harry’s regiment, the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade, sailed to Britain, there was no question of Winnie being left behind in Canada. She travelled on board across the Atlantic as their mascot.

An animal record card following the acquisition of the bear

Winnie relished her new life on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, curling up next to her master’s camp bed at night - and waking him up in the morning by hanging from the top of the tent pole.

Unlike Pooh, “a bear with a very little brain”, Winnie was razor sharp and loved nothing more than a game: Harry would hide his possessions around the tent and within seconds Winnie found them. He taught her how to stand up straight and hold her head high.

“Harry and Winnie clearly had a remarkable friendship,” Lindsay says. “Having her as a friend must have made it easier to be so far from Winnipeg.”

When the time came for Harry’s regiment to leave for the front line, Winnie posed proudly with her comrades but Harry couldn’t bring himself to take her too.

The bear prepares to entertain the troops

Instead, he took a day’s leave, and drove her up the A303 to London where he reluctantly left her at London Zoo.
Cole always finds this part of the story heartbreaking, but Harry’s letters to relatives at the time show that he planned to take Winnie back to Winnipeg with him after the war.

“As he bid goodbye to Winnie, he promised that he’d come back for her - he was sure the war was going to be over by Christmas,” she says.

By the time armistice was declared on November 11 1918, Harry considered it too cruel to uproot Winnie from her home in London.

“He visited her at the zoo and saw that she was the star attraction,” Lindsay says. “In so many ways it’s a blessing that she stayed. I always tell Cole that sometimes one story has to end for another to begin.”

Back in Winnipeg, Harry often talked about Winnie, recounting their adventures and showing photographs of her to his son Fred, who in turn passed them on to his daughter Laureen, Lindsay’s mother.

One of the illustrations in Lindsay's book, Finding Winnie

But it was only after his death in 1947 that Fred and his family learnt that Winnie’s friendship with a small boy at London Zoo had inspired one of the bestselling children’s book series of all time.

“Harry had no idea what a legacy he’d left,” Lindsay says.
The second - and better known half - of Winnie’s story begins in 1924, when Milne, who had also served in World War 1, as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, took his four-year-old son, Christopher Robin to London Zoo.

So enamoured was the small boy by Winnie, that he immediately renamed Edward, his favourite teddy bear, after her, adding “the Pooh” as a nod to a swan he had befriended on holiday.

A photograph from the Milne family archive portrays Christopher Robin, in his overcoat and white knee high socks, alone in the zoo’s subterranean bear enclosure feeding Winnie honey from a spoon. His proud father observes from above.

A A Milne with his son, Christopher. National Portrait Gallery

“The zookeepers said that she was the only animal they trusted ‘entirely’ but it’s astonishing that they allowed her to be alone with children,” says Lindsay.

The friendship that developed between Christopher Robin and the bear however, moved A A Milne to pick up his pen.

He began writing Winnie the Pooh the following year, featuring Christopher Robin, his teddy bear Winnie, and a cast of characters inspired by other stuffed animals belonging to his son: Piglet, Tigger, Eyore, Kanger and Roo, the original versions of which are now on display in New York.

Milne’s Pooh books were instant bestsellers in post First World War Britain, and have sold more than 70 million copies to date in 86 different countries. They are also one of Disney’s most successful film adaptations.

Christopher Robin Milne unveils a statue of a bear, in honor of his father at London Zoo in September 1981. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

His biographers attribute their popularity to the idealised child-space he created in the Hundred Acre Wood, the perfect antidote to a world scarred by war.

Lindsay, however, believes part of Pooh’s success is that the characters are based on real people (or in Winnie’s case, a real bear).

Piglet was inspired by Milne’s childhood friend Veronica Rushworth-Lund, and Kanga, the doting mother of Roo, by Christopher’s Robin’s nanny, Olive.

As a child Lindsay adored hearing the story of Winnie, who lived at London Zoo until her death in 1934. In 2011, when she fell pregnant, she resolved to write a children's book about her great-grandfather's amazing bear.

Lindsay believes Winnie's story has entered yet another new phase. C.Farquharson

Finding Winnie, published last month, is dedicated to Cole.
She admits that so far Cole, who she named after Harry Colebourn, has showed a disappointing lack of interest in Winnie the Pooh.

“He’s a little young - he’s more interested in super heroes,” she says. Unlike Christopher Robin however, who was ribbed at school for his part in the Pooh books and spent much of his life trying to shake off the persona his father had created, she hopes Cole will be proud of his connection to the story.

“How often do you have a link to the birth of something that became huge?” she asks.

When the CEO of Canada’s largest museum contacted Lindsay a couple of years ago, however, to ask if she knew what had happened to Winnie’s remains, even she wondered if the story was being pushed too far.

Linday's book, Finding Winnie, pays tribute to her great-grandfather's amazing bear

But when Winnie’s skull turned up this year at the Royal College of Surgeons, where it had been stored since her death, and subsequently went on display this November at the Hunterian Museum in London, she changed her mind.

“Her story has entered yet another new phase,” she says. “I’m amazed that she’s lasted as long as the fictional character.”

Although the skull was stored with around 11,000 other animal remains, there was apparently no question as to whose it was: an examination of the skull by paleontologists revealed catastrophic tooth decay.

As AA Milne wrote: “It all comes of liking honey so much.”

Header image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery


Winnie-the-Pooh and friends

Inspired by his son&rsquos teddy bear, A. A. Milne published Winnie-the-Pooh on October 14, 1926. The very first book about the silly old bear also included Piglet, Eeyore and Kanga &mdash all toys in the book as they were based on other real-life toys of Christopher Robin&rsquos &mdash and Owl and Rabbit. It wasn&rsquot until the second book, The House at Pooh Corner, that Tigger was introduced, and he was also based on one of Christopher Robin&rsquos stuffed animals.

Christopher Robin&rsquos real-life stuffed animals that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga and Eeyore. ( Photo by Rach licensed CC BY 2.0)

Once Winnie-the-Pooh became a published character, the rest is history. Everyone fell in love with the stuffed bear from the books, just as they did with Winnie in the London Zoo, only this little bear could reach all parts of the world! In fact, Winnie-the-Pooh was even translated into Latin and became the very first foreign-language book to make the New York Times Best Sellers list.

The statue of Winnie the bear in the London Zoo. ( Photo by José María Mateos licensed CC BY 2.0)

Today, the bear that started it all is commemorated at the London Zoo with a statue, and the story of Harry and Winnie lives on through a plaque donated by White River, Ontario &mdash the town that brought a soldier and a bear cub together.

The plaque at the London Zoo from White River, Ontario that tells the story of Harry Colebourn and Winnie. (Photo by José María Mateos licensed CC BY 2.0)


Watch the video: Christopher Robin Teaser Trailer #1 2018. Movieclips Trailers