Happy Birthday Rupert Bear, a Comic Centennial

Rupert characters are © & ™ Express Newspapers & DreamWorks

Newspaper comic features that are still appearing in newly produced and printed episodes after 100 year can be counted on one hand – Gasoline Alley, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Thimble Theater starring Popeye, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and now Rupert Bear.*

On November 8, 1920 Rupert appeared, for the first time, in the pages of London’s The Daily Express. That newspaper, celebrating the centennial anniversary, tells how it came about:

Rupert was invented because rival newspapers the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror had children’s animal cartoons – Teddy Tail, a mouse, in the former and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, a dog, a penguin and a rabbit, in the latter.

Express proprietor Lord Beaverbrook instructed Herbert Tourtel to come up with a circulation-boosting solution. And that solution was Rupert, a cartoon strip drawn by his own wife, children’s illustrator Mary Tourtel.

above: the November 8, 1920 debut of Rupert

A century on, Rupert is now the world’s longest-running cartoon bear, older than Winnie-the-Pooh by six years and Paddington by 38 years. He is also one of Britain’s most beloved fictional characters. The Rupert Annual has sold millions of copies and generations of children have enjoyed his adventures.

The single panel Rupert has long since given way to a set of four panels with text below.

I am unable to find if Rupert still runs as a daily comic in the Daily Express or if his print runs these days is relegated to the Annuals. There seems to be no end date of the newspaper run, yet all modern day print references only discuss the annuals.

More information at

The Express profiles Stuart Trotter, the current illustrator.

The BBC’s historical look at 100-year-old Rupert.

Great Britain’s Royal Mail takes note of Rupert at 100.

Rob Waller deconstructs a Rupert Bear page.

The Followers of Rupert Bear news page.

The Followers of Rupert Bear homepage.

* next up for a centennial (as far as I know) is Ginger Meggs, a year from now.

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Rupert Bear, a Comic Centennial

  1. Being a Canadian, growing up in the still highly British country of Canada in the 1950s, meant that I got a new Rupert book every Christmas. And when I was deemed too old for those gifts, I started buying them myself every year, and also sent the annuals to the children of my family and friends. My life has been steeped in Rupert for as long as I can remember.

    Rupert is one of the pillars of my comics education, along with Barks and Caniff. Strange trio, but it covers all the important bases. I think that American comics fans have missed out on something wonderful. Superheroes are so banal. I feel I was very lucky to have Rupert instead.

    I still buy the annual every year! For a few years, starting in the 90s, the publishers kind of lost track for a while, and were publishing some very inferior “new” artists, and I stopped buying. But they went back to re-publishing Bestall’s work, plus new stories by more competent creators than before.

    I have several long shelves of Rupert books, of course. On trips to England, I have been able to purchase some of the replica editions of the earliest Rupert books, from the 1930s. And I have a large sampling of the Tourtel work, albeit in Dutch. I like her works, as they are, as often stated, a mite darker and scarier that Bestall’s. And Rupert’s time frame in Tourtel’s stories seems more slippery; he appears to live in an amalgam of the “modern” 1920s, the Victorian era, and mediaeval times. There are lots of people running around in a jerkin and tights, and there are castles and princesses and knights and so on. But Rupert goes back home at suppertime in a thatched cottage with a car parked in the driveway. Bestall dropped the Middle Ages (darn it), but kept quite a number of the characters from that world. Their existence, contemporaneous with the 1920s and the 1800s, makes for an indefinable era that Rupert lives in. I think that’s where I live, too.

    In the early 1980s, I did a very long telephone interview with Bestall, who was a very eager interviewee, and we went on for over an hour. I used the interview in connection with a long radio programme about Rupert which also included some dramatised excerpts from Bestall’s work, with actors and music and sound FX. I sent the finished work to Bestall, and he replied with a lot of grace and friendliness.

    Viva Rupert Bear!

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