Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Sometime (no one seems to know when), someone (no one seems to know who) decreed that today should be annually marked and celebrated as Winnie-the-Pooh Day.

The date is actually the birthday of A[lan] A[lexander] Milne, (born 129 years ago), creator of the the Bear of Very Little Brain and his friends in the 100 Aker Wood.

Personally, I'd have chosen 14 October and for two reasons: firstly, because that was the original publication date of the book, Winnie-the-Pooh; and, secondly, because poor Mr Milne suffered enough from having his reputation as a playwright and essayist overshadowed by Pooh without muddling up his birthday with that of a much-loved, but fictional, character.

However - to use the ironic title of Milne's autobiography - "It's Too Late Now..."

So, in compensation I would like to draw your attention to the splendid recordings of the complete Pooh stories (Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner) along with the Christopher Robin verses from When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, read – well, performed, really – by my late (very good and dear friend) the actor, Peter Dennis.

There have been many readings of these books: some will be familiar with those by Stephen Fry or Alan Bennett; older readers will recall Willie Rushton, Bernard Cribbins and Lionel Jeffries; Americans will remember having records narrated by Maurice Evans and Carol Channing and those who fall into the 'Now We Are Sixty' category may even have a trace memory of BBC Radio's original voice of Pooh, Norman Shelley.

Peter Dennis, however, is in a class of his own and listening to him is to meet the inhabitants of Christopher Robin's nursery (and A A Milne's imagination) anew as he becomes, by turn, slow but dependable Pooh, nervous Piglet, gloomy Eeyore, enthusiastic Tigger, bossy Rabbit, pompous Owl, motherly Kanga and excitable Roo.

Peter developed a close friendship with the grown-up Christopher Milne, who wrote two superbly-crafted volumes of autobiography – The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees – recalling his life with his father and the Best Bear in All the World and his experiences beyond the world of Pooh...

During the last year of Peter's life, he recorded these two books as a promised gift for Christopher’s daughter, Clare, and the first volume of this exceptional rendition is now available.

I remember, on first reading The Enchanted Places, I rather rashly told Christopher Milne that the book showed him to be his father's son.

He was terribly polite, but I guess his heart must have sunk rather, since his life was (in some senses) almost as badly blighted by the popularity of Pooh as his father's had been.

I had meant it, however, as a compliment since I rated (and still rate) A A Milne as one of the 20th Century's truly great, albeit largely forgotten, humorous writers: a master of elegant, effortless prose and verse and because the ability to turn a good phrase was a gift inherited by his son.

Christopher's reminiscences, a joy to read, are now also a joy to listen to in Peter's delightful recordings that not only capture Milne-the-Younger's sometimes wry, sometimes poignant, always charmingly self-effacing way with words but are also a testament to the affection that existed between author and actor.

"If you want to meet the real Pooh," Christopher Milne once wrote, "the bear I knew, the bear my father wrote about, listen to Peter..." I would add, if you want to meet Christopher, the boy and the man and the friend of bears – listen to Peter!

Finally, just to add to the jollity of nations, here's me, wittering about Pooh as Chris Evans' 'Mystery Guest' on BBC Radio 2, yesterday morning...



SharonM said...

Damn - couldn't you have given your own Blogsite address?

Considering Eeyore is your favourite character, you sounded as full of bounce as Tigger!

Happy Poohsday, Brian!

Geno said...

Thanks for the great link1 I have never listened to an audio version of my favorite bear but I am now looking forward to doing so!