No matter where in the world you live, you are probably familiar with some of the United Kingdom’s greatest exports: beloved children’s characters. Whether you encountered them during your own childhood or heard about them from your kids, names like Thomas and Paddington are instantly recognizable to millions around the globe. Here are four of the best.
Hailing from deepest, darkest Peru, Paddington Bear is one of the most beloved and cherished children’s characters of all time. Known for his love of marmalade, Paddington always wore an old hat and a duffle coat and carried a battered suitcase, which somehow held far more items than it should have, thanks to a secret compartment contained within. If you’re old enough, you may recall him from his original appearance in the 1958 children’s book A Bear Called Paddington, written by English author Michael Bond, or the more than 150 books that have featured the character since then.
Children of other generations grew to love the little bear through his 1975 BBC stop-motion television series or the 1989 Hanna-Barbera cartoon that bore his name. Your kids may know Paddington from the 2014 feature film in which he appeared as a combination of CGI and animatronics. As a testament to his everlasting place in British culture, a Paddington plush toy was the first item to pass through the Channel Tunnel from England to France when the two sides were finally connected in 1994.
Thomas the Tank Engine
While you may know him best because your kids put a Thomas train set on their Christmas lists every year, Thomas the Tank Engine has been around since 1946 when he first appeared in the children’s book series The Railway Series, created by Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher. If you were a child of the ’80s in the UK or North America, you probably remember the cheeky little train engine from the television series Thomas & Friends. The series premiered on England’s ITV in 1984 and eventually traveled across the Atlantic to PBS in 1989, when it was packaged as Shining Time Station, with Ringo Starr and then George Carlin portraying Mr. Conductor in live-action scenes. As you probably know if you are the parent of a young child, Thomas has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years and has been featured in numerous television series and direct-to-video movies, enthralling kids everywhere with his impressive combination of easy-to-read facial expressions and “can-do” attitude.
Winnie the Pooh
Another famous fictional bear created by a British author, Winnie the Pooh first appeared in a poem written by A.A. Milne in the 1924 children’s book When We Were Very Young and has gone on to be featured in a number of stories, books, television series, animated features, and direct-to-video movies over the years. With a cast of friends that included Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo, you can always identify with someone in the Pooh world, both when you were a child and now as an adult. Good news if you have young kids of your own: a new feature film, entitled Christopher Robin, is scheduled for release in 2018 and will depict Winnie and his pals re-emerging in the adult life of little Christopher, who has grown up and lost his sense of imagination. You might be able to identify with a character or two in this one as well.
You may not be as familiar with Postman Pat as you are with the other characters on this list, but he is just as loveable and cherished despite his lack of literary origin. Debuting in 1981, the children’s stop-motion animated series Postman Pat featured English country postman Pat Clifton and his black-and-white cat, Jess, delivering the mail and getting involved in wacky hijinks with the local villagers on his route.
If you’ve ever seen the show, you can undoubtedly still hear that theme song echoing in your head: “Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black-and-white cat.” For that, you can thank Ken Barrie, the talented voice actor who not only sang the theme song, but also provided the voices for Pat and nearly a dozen other characters on the original series before retiring in 2008 and passing away in 2016.
More recently, the British Royal Mail’s new electric delivery vans appeared to be influenced by Pat’s iconic little red van, prompting a wave of nostalgia on social media and ensuring that Pat will never be forgotten.