The first collection of AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories was published on October 14, 1926. Pooh is celebrating the 90th anniversary of this occasion with four new tales introducing a new playmate, known as Penguin. The new character draws on a photograph of Milne playing with his son, Christopher Robin, who joined his toys in the stories and poems.
The pic shows the bear of little brain upstaged by a plush pal unknown to those familiar with 100 Acre Woods. Punch satirist Milne never included a penguin in the original line up. “You’d think they could come up with a more imaginative name,” asks Nagga on Breakfast telly, recalling the likes of Eeyore and Tigger.
However, Penguin might have another name and he might already be a cult character in his own right. Christopher Robin’s flush silk toy looks like Squeak, part of a range of plush toys based on the Daily Mirror’s popular comic strip Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.
From 1919 to 1956. the three orphaned animals tugged at heart strings and spawned an avalanche of books, toys, games and other merchandise. Created by Bertram Lamb, Pip the Dog, Squeak the Penguin and Wilfred the Rabbit even had their own fan club. A series of 25 cartoon shorts was shown in cinemas with Mirror news reels. Wilfred got his own series of annuals for 15 years (and Doris Lessing has argued that the diminutive rabbit was based on Trotsky).
There is some attempt to talk the connection down “now that the character is unknown”. I’m not so sure. Pip, Squeak and Wilfred remain a mainstay of the nostalgia industry, memorabilia attracts fierce bidding at auctions and inspires moments of light relief on The Antiques Roadshow. A generation or two will still chuckle at “Gugnuncs”.
Coincidentally, I’m fairly certain that Egmont, who are publishing The Best Bear in The World, (which includes Penguin’s debut story, Winter by Brian Sibley) have published reprints of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in previous yeas.
Pip, Squeak and Wilfred will have their day.