Mary Tourtel

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Mary Tourtel
Mary Tourtel.jpg
Mosaic Art of Mary Tourtel in Canterbury, 2018
BornMary Caldwell
(1874-01-28)28 January 1874
Canterbury, England
Died15 March 1948(1948-03-15) (aged 74)
Canterbury, England
Area(s)Artist, writer
Notable works
Rupert Bear

Mary Tourtel (born Mary Caldwell on 28 January 1874 – 15 March 1948) was a British artist and creator of the comic strip Rupert Bear. Her works have sold 50 million copies internationally.[1]


Tourtel was born Mary Caldwell, the youngest child of Samuel Caldwell, a stained-glass artist and stonemason, and his wife Sarah. Mary studied art under Thomas Sidney Cooper at the Sidney Cooper School of Art in Canterbury (now the University for the Creative Arts), and became a children's book illustrator. In 1900 she married an assistant editor of The Daily Express, Herbert Bird Tourtel, at Eton.[2] Rupert Bear was created in 1920, at a time when the Express was in competition with The Daily Mail and its then popular comic strip Teddy Tail, as well as the strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in The Daily Mirror. The then news editor of the Express, Herbert Tourtel, was approached with the task of producing a new comic strip to rival those of the Mail and Mirror and immediately thought of his wife Mary, already an established author and artist. Rupert Bear was the result and was first published as a nameless character in a strip titled Little Lost Bear on 8 November 1920.[3]

Plaque in Ivy Lane, Canterbury, marking the place where Tourtel spent her final years

The early strips were illustrated by Mary and captioned by her husband, often in poetry [4] and were published as two cartoons a day with a short story underneath. Rupert was originally a brown bear until the Express cut inking expenses giving him his iconic and characteristic white colour.[5] Mary's Rupert was more like a real bear, with a lumbering gait and more fur. The vibrant red and yellow clothing of contemporary Rupert was originally a soft blue jumper with grey trousers. Mary stopped drawing Rupert in 1935 when her eyesight started failing.[6]

In 1931 Herbert Tourtel died in a German sanatorium, and Mary retired four years later in 1935 after her eyesight and general health deteriorated. The Rupert Bear strips were continued by a Punch illustrator, Alfred Bestall.[5] Mary lived most of her life in different hotels, never finding a fixed home as she preferred the freedom of travel. She died on 15 March 1948, aged 74, at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, a week after she collapsed in Canterbury High Street from a brain tumour. She was buried with her husband at St Martin's Church, Canterbury; they had no children but travelled the world together.[2] In 2003, the Canterbury Heritage Museum, which closed in 2018, opened a special wing dedicated to Rupert Bear.[citation needed] There is now a Rupert display case in the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, alongside the Clangers.


Rupert series[edit]

The complete listing may be found at Rupert Little Bear Library.

Other books[edit]

  • A Horse Book, Grant Richards, London, 1901 and F.A. Stokes Co., New York, 1901
  • The Humpty Dumpty Book: Nursery Rhymes told in Pictures, Treherne, London, 1902
  • The Three Little Foxes, Grant Richards, London, 1903
  • Matchless A B C, Treherne, London, 1903
  • The Strange Adventures of Billy Rabbit, M.A. Donohue & Co., 1908

As illustrator[edit]

  • The Rabbit Book, by Bruce Rogers, M.A. Donohue & Co., Chicago, 1900

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rupert the Bear turns 80". 8 November 2000. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b The Life and Works of Alfred Bestall: Illustrator of Rupert Bear, 2010, Caroline Bott
  3. ^ BBC News (8 November 2000). "Rupert the Bear turns 80". Retrieved 6 January 2010.
  4. ^ "Herbert Bird Tourtel". Priaulx Library. 11 September 2020.
  5. ^ a b The Independent (6 November 2006). "Rupert Bear gets 21st Century makeover".
  6. ^ The inking woman: 250 years of women cartoon and comic artists in Britain. Streeten, Nicola., Tate, Cath, 1951-, Cartoon Museum (London, England). Oxford: Myriad editions. 2018. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-9955900-8-3. OCLC 1007312174.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)

External links[edit]