Bestall was born in Mandalay, Burma. As a schoolboy, Bestall attended Rydal Mount in Colwyn Bay from 1904 to 1911. He won a scholarship to the Birmingham Central School (later College) of Art and later attended the LCC Central School of Arts and Crafts in Camden. He served in World War I in the British Army in 1915 in Flanders, where he transported troops in red double-decker London buses.
Following the war, Bestall finished his studies at the Central School of Art and was hired to illustrate books by Enid Blyton. He also began doing paintings for The Amalgamated Press and did illustrations for Punch and Tatler, as well as for over 50 books.
In 1935, Bestall was selected to take over the Daily Express’s Rupert Bear stories from Mary Tourtel. Bestall improved the stories and plots of Rupert, but more importantly, he created the most beautifully crafted illustrations in the Rupert Bear annual publications. Much of the landscape in Rupert is inspired by the Snowdonia landscape of North Wales, notably around Beddgelert. He had first visited Beddgelert whilst holidaying with his parents at Trefriw in the Conwy valley in 1912 and 1913, where their holiday home was called 'Penlan'.
Bestall produced his last Rupert story on 22 July 1965. He retired from the Daily Express in July 1965, but continued creating annual publication covers until 1973.
Bestall also drew illustrations for the Whitcombe's Story Book, a form of children's reader published in Australasia by Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd. These books were undated; but Bestall's work appears in the 500 numbers, possibly published in the 1950s.
Although living in suburban Surbiton, Surrey, after World War II, he regularly holidayed in Nantgwynant, near Beddgelert, and in 1956 bought a cottage at the foot of Mynydd Sygun, in Beddgelert, which he subsequently also named 'Penlan'.
Bestall had featured origami in almost every Rupert Annual from 1946 onwards (the first model, predictably, was the "Flapping Bird") and thus was partially responsible for the growth of interest in origami in the UK. After the formation of the British Origami Society in 1967, Bestall took an active interest, attending conventions and serving as its president for many years, until his death.
In 1985, Bestall was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II, who appointed him a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Bestall was unable to receive the award in person because he had bone cancer. On his 93rd birthday, Prince Charles sent him a telemessage, which read: "I have heard that you were sadly unable to receive your MBE from the Queen recently. I wanted to send you my congratulations on your award and to wish you a very happy birthday with many happy returns. As a child I well remember your marvellous illustrations of Rupert Bear."
In May 2006, Bestall was commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at 58 Cranes Park, Surbiton, London, where he lived for 30 years. As confirmed in his biography (written in 2003 by his niece and god-daughter, Caroline Bott), he also lived in Beaconsfield House, 44 Ewell Road, Surbiton KT6 6HY, from 1966 to 1977.
- The Life and Works of Alfred Bestall: Illustrator of Rupert Bear by Caroline Bott (Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2003)
- BESTALL, Alfred (1892-1986)
- John M. Clarke An Introduction to Brookwood Cemetery 2nd Edition section 42