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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 December 2005, 00:46 GMT
Pooh celebrates his 80th birthday
Winnie the Pooh -  Disney
Winnie the Pooh is a popular character around the world
Winnie the Pooh, one of the world's best loved characters, is celebrating his 80th birthday.

Pooh - based on the bedtime stories by Alan Alexander (AA) Milne - first appeared in the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 in a story called The Wrong Sort of Bees.

The honey-loving bear's many adventures - along with his friends Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore - have since been translated into more than 40 languages.

Walt Disney, which owns the rights to Winnie the Pooh, is planning a year of celebrations, beginning early in the new year.

Before he created Pooh, Milne was an established writer with Punch magazine and had published a book of children's poems, entitled When We Were Very Young, in 1924.

The inspiration came from Milne's son, Christopher Robin - the name given to the boy in the Pooh stories.

The real Christopher Robin had a favourite teddy bear, which he called Winnie the Pooh in honour of Winnie, a Canadian bear he had seen in London Zoo.

Family beginnings

He had other stuffed animals, including a kangaroo, a piglet and a donkey, which became the basis for other characters in the stories, which were written for Milne's family.

It was such a success that Milne wrote the first collection of Pooh stories, Winnie the Pooh, which was published in October 1926.

The original stuffed Winnie the Pooh toys
The original stuffed toys are kept by the New York Public Library

Charlie Cain, head of brand management for Walt Disney's Europe operation, puts the books continuing appeal down to Milne's "pretty timeless" characters.

"Whenever we do research into the reasons why children enjoy Winnie the Pooh, it is always the characters and their relationships," he says.

"Winnie the Pooh is, as Milne wrote, 'a bear of very little brain'.

"He does everything with the right intention but just doesn't get it right first time.

"With Pooh, life is all about friendship. He is always very aware of trying to bring people together.

"The other characters cover the range of behaviour, from the bouncy energy of Tigger to the dourness of Eeyore.

"That mix of personalities gives children something to relate to."

Walt Disney's daughters were fans of Milne's book and the entertainment company acquired the rights to Winnie the Pooh in 1961, five years after the author's death.

Court battle

It updated EH Shepard's original illustrations and produced a series of Pooh films.

Forbes magazine puts Pooh second in the top 10 highest earning fictional characters list, behind only Mickey Mouse, with an estimated annual income of $5.6bn (3.2bn).

Disney continues to produce Pooh films, TV programmes and merchandise.

Winnie the Pooh
The BBC made a Winnie the Pooh TV series in the 1950s

Future innovations planned include pairing Pooh up with a red-haired six-year-old tomboy instead of Christopher Robin for its 2007 TV series.

But Mr Cain says Disney is conscious of not upsetting "the balance of the legacy and history of the characters".

Not everything around the Hundred Acre Wood, where Pooh lives, has been rosy.

Milne's granddaughter, Clare Milne, who lives in England, is trying to reclaim the rights from Stephen Slesinger, the company that owns the North American merchandising rights.

Disney obtained the rights from Slesinger in 1961, but the agency later sued Disney claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

Milne's case was dismissed by a US court earlier this month, and Slesinger's claims against Disney were thrown out last year - although further appeals are likely in both cases.

Meanwhile, Disney will kick off the year-long celebrations to mark Pooh's birthday by launching a charitable initiative in support of the Woodland Trust, a conservation charity dedicated to the protection of the UK's native woodland heritage.

SEE ALSO
New-look Pooh 'has girl friend'
09 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
Piglet cartoon voice actor dies
28 Jun 05 |  Entertainment

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