Kilburn's most famous son turns 130

18/01/2012 by Ellie Walker-Arnott

Today is the 130th birthday of playwright, poet and author A.A. Milne. We look at the legend the author created with his son's little yellow bear

Born in North London in 1882, A.A. Milne’s love affair with the written word began while he was studying at his father’s school, Henley House, where he was taught by H.G. Wells. After graduating from The University of Cambridge, Milne started his writing career as assistant editor of Punch. Soon after, the First World War broke out and Milne went to France, serving as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment until his discharge in 1919. Upon his return, and in an attempt to return to simpler times, Milne set upon writing childrens’ fiction. 

Five years after Milne’s wife Dorothy gave birth to their only son, the family bought a country home in Hartfield, East Sussex, and just a year later, in 1926, the treasured collection Winnie the Pooh was published. Though A.A. Milne wrote over 30 plays, several novels and numerous poetry collections, he is most famous for the whimsical characters he created in childhood favourite Winnie the Pooh.  
 
The stories of Winnie the Pooh and his forest-dwelling friends originated as bedtime stories told to Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. The bumbling Pooh bear was named after Christopher Robin’s own teddy bear, but the yellow bear we recognise as Pooh was in fact based on Growler, a teddy belonging to illustrator E.H. Shepard’s son. Christopher Robin’s other beloved stuffed animals also lent their names to the rest of the characters, and the toys now reside in the New York Public Library, aside from Roo who has mysteriously disappeared. 
 
Even Christopher Robin himself was forever immortalised in the stories Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, as well as much of his father’s poetry. This became a deeply felt resentment as Christopher Robin matured, shedding his golden curls and attempting to shed the character he embodied. A trip to America with his father in the 1930s proved to be a disaster; everybody was more interested in him than the author, and one American magazine named him one of the most famous children in the world. He once 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."
 
A.A. Milne’s stories about everyone’s favourite bear where penned more than 80 years ago but they are still as loved now as they were then. Winnie the Pooh and his furry friends are now national treasures, having been turned into hundreds of radio broadcasts, films, TV programmes and plays. 
 
If you fancy following in Milne’s footsteps and discovering Pooh’s enchanted places for yourself, head to Hartfield, East Sussex and wander around Ashdown forest, the inspiration for Pooh’s hundred acre wood. In the centre of the forest sits Posingford Bridge, a little bridge over the river where Winnie the Pooh is said to have invented the game of Poohsticks. Posingford Bridge had to be rebuilt in the 1970s and is was officially renamed as Poohsticks Bridge.  A board now adorns the bridge for any visitors who are unsure of the rules. 
 
It is clear that the time Milne spent in Ashdown forest and the surrounding countryside inspired his stories and some people believe that E.H. Shepard’s enchanting illustrations of Pooh’s forest can even be matched to actual views in the forest. Milne once wrote of Ashdown forest: "In that enchanted place on the top of the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing".
 

Photo credit: rook76/shutterstock

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