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Paddington and The Queen: a relationship thicker than marmalade sandwiches

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Published on 21 September 2022

HM The Queen and Paddington Bear
HM The Queen and Paddington Bear

Much has been made of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s relationship with Paddington Bear in recent days.

Many mourners have opted to leave the children’s bear in lieu of flowers at sites that have become a focal for remembrance in recent days, while The Royal Parks even asked people not to leave marmalade sandwiches at floral areas in their parks.

The increasing number of Paddington-themed tributes have been left in reference to a TV sketch the late monarch filmed with the iconic bear for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Since then, the relationship between the pair has been a source of humour – and interest.

Professor Angela Smith, Professor of Language and Culture at the University of Sunderland, has written about Paddington Bear before, most notably in her research paper, Paddington Bear: A Case Study of Immigration and Otherness.

In the paper, Professor Smith goes back to Paddington’s origins, Britain in 1958, a time of widespread racism, and growing multiculturalism, into which a small bear from ‘Darkest Peru’ arrives with a unique perspective on British life.

Now, Professor Smith suggests this very unique point of view is perhaps the very reason why HM The Queen wanted to ally herself to the character.

She said: “Paddington has been in British culture since 1958 when the first book appeared, almost as long as The Queen’s reign.

“As an illegal immigrant who was nevertheless keen to assimilate into British culture, the various books that appeared after 1958 showed Britain from an outsider’s point of view, gently poking fun at the more risible aspects of British culture whilst also embracing the perceived positives.

“The Queen, the tea party and marmalade sandwiches fall into the latter category, whilst the rituals of tea parties can simultaneously be held up for ridicule.

“This was the very much in the minds of the sketch writers who came up with The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee sketch. The 2012 London Olympics had seen the queen embrace the satirical side of British culture through the James Bond-themed sketch, so the 2022 Jubilee’s use of another British icon was not entirely unexpected.”

However, that it was Paddington and not Winnie-the-Pooh who HM The Queen chose as her ‘partner in crime’ is an interesting decision, says Professor Smith.

She added: “Both are equally global in their appeal, yet Paddington is the one whose identity can be linked to immigration and not the nursery.

“It could be read as a subtle marker of regal disapproval at recent draconian immigration laws if we see the choice as being between these two iconic British bears.

“The humour in the 2022 sketch rests on two things: a cultural meme of aspiring to take tea with the Queen; and the secret contents of the queen’s handbag (the latter being the topic of much speculation over the years).

“The well-known clumsiness of Paddington Bear when faced with crockery designed for humans with apposable thumbs rather than bears with paws was paired with the bear’s familiar love of marmalade sandwiches, which he often kept under his hat ‘for emergencies’. The resultant sketch brilliantly brought all of these elements together.

“What has been particularly poignant in the wake of The Queen’s death has been the number of Paddington Bear toys left amongst the more mundane flowers, along with carefully wrapped marmalade sandwiches.”

So, it seems, like Paddington Bear, HM The Queen is being remembered by people of all ages, from the children who perhaps remember her best through that 2022 Jubilee sketch, to adults who have grown up with the HM The Queen as part of the national backdrop, whilst Paddington has himself been part of our national culture for most of her long reign.

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