08 October 2009
Aloysius the Brideshead bear
By Ewan Fletcher
02 June 2007
During his Oxford days, Lord Sebastian Flyte was seldom seen without a teddy bear firmly clasped to his richly waistcoated chest as he hurried from one drinking den to the next.
Seen by millions in the classic 1981 serialisation of Brideshead Revisited, that bear, Aloysius, became as much of a star as the effete leading men Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons.
In his Brideshead days with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews
But now, with a big-budget, feature-length version soon to commence filming, an extraordinary hullabaloo has scattered the pigeons from literature's hushed cloisters.
One of the new film's scriptwriters, Andrew Davies, announced last week: "There will be no Aloysius. He's out."
John Mortimer, who adapted Evelyn Waugh's novel for the 1981 series, was horrified.
"Aloysius is remembered by everyone," he said. "He's an integral character to the book. Waugh wouldn't have put Aloysius in there unless he thought he was an appropriate symbol of Sebastian not growing up. I would never have dropped him."
Possibly fearing a mass boycott before filming had even started, Davies's co-writer Jeremy Brock then issued a statement saying that Aloysius would in fact make at least a brief cameo appearance.
And yet, as the rumpus raged, the ursine actor kept his head down.
Indeed, the great bear has not been seen in any of the usual celebrity haunts for many years.
While his co-star Anthony Andrews went on to forge a glittering career on the stage and small screen, and Jeremy Irons, who played Charles, became a Hollywood leading man with an Oscar under his belt, Aloysius simply disappeared.
Theories abounded as to his whereabouts. Some said he had followed his old master to Morocco where he drank himself to an early grave.
He was reportedly spotted walking arm in arm with an equally camp teddy in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.
There was even a rumour that he'd spent his small fortune on plastic surgery to give him the assets of a polar bear.
But after an exhaustive search, The Mail on Sunday tracked him down, finding him safe and well and happily living out his retirement in the Teddy Bears Of Witney shop and museum - barely a dozen miles from his old Oxford stomping grounds.
I went to meet him, dressed suitably for the occasion in my grandfather's three-piece Savile Row tweed suit.
It does seem preposterous that Aloysius, who has just celebrated his 100th birthday, shouldn't at least be asked to reprise his role in the new film.
But age is catching up with him and he does look a bit threadbare.
He possibly wouldn't want to repeat the scene in the 1981 production when, already aged 74, he was thrown by Sebastian from an overturning wheelchair - unless, of course, a stunt double could be found.
Neither does he need the money.
Aloysius's life story is a complicated one. Made in 1907 by the Ideal Toy Company in America, he lived quietly in Maine with Euphemia Ladd, sitting for four decades on a shelf in her grocery store.
It was only when the swinging Sixties were almost over that he had his first taste of show business.
The actor Peter Bull, most famously the Russian Ambassador in Dr Strangelove, wrote a book in 1969 about his passion for teddy bears called Bear With Me.
On seeing an accompanying TV plug, Miss Ladd, who was closing down her shop, sent Bull her faithful teddy.
Aloysius, though, is really just a stage name.
For the ten years he was with Bull he was known as Delicatessen - after Miss Euphemia's profession.
But the role of Aloysius so defined him that the name stuck.
It was through his association with Bull that he was offered his careerdefining part.
The director Derek Granger was looking for "a large and rumpled bear".
He knew of Bull's collection and contacted him. The rest is televisual history.
Granger was more than pleased with his choice. He said: "Aloysius was marvellous. He was never late on set, he never bumped into other actors and was never drunk.
"Actually he continued to work when he was quite ill.
"At one stage during the 21 months of filming he bled a little straw and had to be rushed to hospital.
"Not the first time an actor has come apart at the seams."
Aloysius required still more repairs while promoting the film and, to cover his many patches, Anthony Andrews's wife Georgina, a Daks Simpson heiress, gave him one of her company's scarves, which he still wears.
After Bull's death in 1984 and a spell treading the boards of the Stratford Teddy Bear Museum, Aloysius was bought by wealthy American collectors and recrossed the Atlantic.
However, with Hollywood proving difficult to crack, his new owners - Rosemary and Paul Volpp -realised that his true home was among the dreamy spires of Oxford.
They decided to repatriate him and agreed to a $50,000 (£25,000) private sale to his present owner, Ian Pout.
Pout, a former stockbroker, whose teddy bear shop and museum was the first in the country, said: "It was a lot of money but I was very fortunate.
"Had he been sold at auction, I probably couldn't have afforded him. He is probably the best known real teddy bear in the world.
"I do love him because he is pretty battered and bruised.
"A bit of love gives bears extra character. It has with him. He looks a bit sad now but he has so much character."
However, Pout feels that the casting director of the new Brideshead should find a younger actor to play the role.
"Aloysius just wouldn't fill the part any more," he said.
"He's too fragile and I fear he wouldn't have the strength. He's an old man now."