London Lives: Mr Bernie Ginger Bear

This episode of our London Lives podcast series is inspired by a cheeky, century-old Steiff teddy bear in the Museum of London collection.

A sandy coloured,jointed teddy bear with button eyes, hump on its back and a Steiff metal button in its ear. There is a red bow around its neck. The donor's eldest son received this teddy bear as a present in 1907, when it was the latest fashionable toy. It makes a growling sound when the stomach is pressed and was made by the Steiff Company in Germany. Sandy coloured plush, probably Excelsior stuffed, with jointed arms and legs, button eyes, hump on back and Steiff metal button in ear. In 1902, Margarete Stieff, a disabled german toy manufacturer, made the first plush toy bears. The name comes from a cartoon of US president Theodore ('Teddy') Roosevelt, who refused to shoot a tethered bear. Teddy bears were an instant hit and have become a traditional childhood toy, beloved by millions.

The cheeky bear in question!

Have you ever owned a bear like this?

The podcast

This month we bring together the generations by exploring the magical power of play with Helena and Jesse, who have kindly shared their favourite games and toys with us.

Drawing from Helena’s experience of evacuation and the Museum of London’s cuddly teddy, musician Luke Saydon takes us on a musical journey back to the Second World War, to hear the heart-warming story of a friendship between a young girl and Mr Bernie Ginger Bear. Discover why the bear in our collection looks so sad and be inspired to write your own Letter of Kindness.

Send your Letter of Kindness to [email protected]

Click on the white arrow in the orange circle below to play this episode.

With thanks to Helena and Jacqui from Nightingale Hammerson Care Home, and Jesse and his mum for permission to use their stories.

The transcript

[podcast begins]

Hello there, my name is Luke and welcome to London Lives, our podcast series, part of Memories of London. What you’ll hear today is a short radio story inspired by memories of different people as well as exhibits from the Museum of London’s collection.

Today’s podcast is inspired by a conversation we had with Helena and Jesse. In true spirit of our projects bringing people together from different cultures, ages and backgrounds, our two friends today have quite the gap between their ages. Helena remembers the Second World War which happened almost eighty years ago, and Jesse… well Jesse is just four years old. But amongst the many things that these two very special people have in common is a love for telling stories.

In today’s podcast, you’ll be hearing their voices and thoughts about games and playing and toys. Jesse speaks very happily about his toy train which lights up and shows pictures of London, about how he loves playing hopscotch and drawing pictures with chalk when playing outside.

Helena on the other hand remembers when she was a young girl and was evacuated from London to Manchester during WW2. How she was put in a family home with a young girl who was not that nice to her.

But both Helena and Jesse find great joy and comfort in the games that they play, and share with other people. Let’s listen to these fantastic true stories coming from our friends themselves. Enjoy.

[00:01:34]

Helena: My name’s Helena. I was born in a London Hospital, 1932.

Jacqui: '32.

Jesse: Four.

Jesse’s Mum: Four, four years old, and your name is?

Jesse: Jesse. [whispered]

Jesse’s Mum: Jesse.

Jesse: Jesse [sung out], just um b, b, b, b.

Jesse’s Mum: OK, OK, OK.

[00:01:49]

Helena: I don’t know, I can’t remember having any toys at all.

Jacqui: No?

Helena: There’s no memory of teddy bears or dolls, or anything.

Jesse’s Mum: What’s this?

Jesse: Teddy bear.

Jesse’s Mum: Umm.

Jesse: What is his name?

[00:02:02]

Helena: There’s a teddy bear, think I’ll call him Ginger.

Jesse’s Mum: I don’t know, what would you call it if you got it?

Jesse: Bernie.

Jesse’s Mum: Bernie - that’s a lovely name.

Jesse: I take him… to places that I like to go.

Jesse’s Mum: What does he eat?

Jesse: Um, pizza and sandwiches.

Jesse’s Mum: Oh, lovely!

[00:02:20]

Helena: He looks a bit sad.

Jacqui: Yeah?

Helena: Well he’s on… he’s… sort of, not a happy teddy bear.

Jacqui: No.

Helena: He’s a bit sad.

Jacqui: Umm, umm.

Helena: No, he’s got a very miserable expression on his face.

[00:02:32]

Jesse: Trains.

Jesse’s Mum: Trains, yes. What do you do with your, what do you do with your trains?

Jesse: Chug them around the track, turns on the lights and makes London shine on the floor. Lots of London things.

[00:02:46]

Jesse’s Mum: Very good. And, do you ever play outside Jesse? Do you play games outside?

Jesse: Yeah.

Jesse’s Mum: What games do you like playing outside?

Jesse: Chalk.

Jesse’s Mum: You like playing with chalk?

Jesse: And chalk roads.

Jesse’s mum: Yeah.

[00:02:59]

Helena: I was evacuated to Manchester and I stayed there quite a lot.

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: Long time. I stayed with a, with a family called Elmans.

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: And it was in Bignall Street. And it was with a string and a box...

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: A cardboard box. We got on the … we all walked along the train. I didn’t even know where I was going. Because we lived near the docks…

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: …it was, it wasn’t safe for us to be there…

Jacqui: Sure.

Helena: …so she felt better

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: I lived with a family called Elmans, who had a daughter about my age.

Jacqui: Yeah.

[00:03:38]

Helena: And I had very long curls, I remember.

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: And she was so jealous of these curls, she always wanted to cut them off.

Jacqui: Did she? [laughs] Did she ever succeed?

Helena: I ended up having to write to my mother. I went round to, I found a friend, an old friend there who let me write a letter, because it was all done in secret, to my mother to come and get me. And yes I had lots of friends there. They used to come, they used to come in and always pick me up in the evening they used to sort of knock - 'Coming out to play Helen?' and we used to play with a ball.

Jacqui: Ahh.

Helena: And we would throw it onto the wall…

Jacqui: Yeah.

Helena: …and play, and do various tricks with it.

Jacqui: Yeah.

[00:04:24]

Jesse: Hopscotch.

Jesse’s mum: Hopscotch, that’s right.

Jesse: At the party.

Jesse’s mum: That’s right.

[00:04:29]

Helena: Oh yes, hopscotch, yeah.

Jacqui: Was that you and your friends?

Helena: and you just throw the stone and…

Jacqui: Yeah?

Helena: …and you used to have to hop on to the stone.

[00:04:37]

Jesse’s mum: Did you like playing hopscotch?

Jesse: Yeah, but why’s, but, but, but, if I jump on it, it would be called ‘jumpscotch’.

Jesse and Jesse’s mum: [laughter]

Jesse: Is it recording? [laughter continues]

Jesse’s mum: It is, yes it is.

[00:04:56]

Oh, that was just great and really made me smile, thank you Helena and Jesse. Both Helena and Jesse speak about games, toys and specifically… a teddy bear. If you listened closely you would have even realised that Helena noticed that this teddy has a particularly sad expression. Why would that be, I hear you ask. Well, you’ll find out in just a bit.

This teddy bear that we are talking about can be found not only on your resource packs, but also in the Museum of London collection. This bear was made about a 100 years ago. He makes a growling sound when the stomach is pressed and was made in Germany. He has a sandy colour, very soft fur, arms and legs than can move, button eyes and a red bow. A very sweet toy, which, together with Helena and Jesse’s memories, will form our exciting story today.

Dear friends, it’s time to start today’s adventure. It starts on a train and, if we’re all lucky enough, you might even hear it. Close your eyes and imagine everything that is about to follow. Join our characters and our teddy bear on today’s story called Mr Bernie Ginger Bear.

[Gentle, ‘tinkering’ piano music playing]

[Train horn hooting]

♪ Ladies and gentlemen,

Girls and boys,

Welcome to a tale about the

Power of toys.

You must remember,

Of toys held dear,

Maybe a doll,

To shield you from fear.

Games and toys

And dolls and lovely teddy bears,

The joy of play,

With no troubles and no cares.

Games and toys

Cars and planes and skipping rope

Toys of love,

Toys of hope ♪

[00:07:05]

The year is 1939, and we begin on a train - a fast moving train with many, many children on board.

[00:07:15]

♪ Our story’s about a girl

Who loved to play,

And she meets a special toy,

Who helps her find her way.

Games and toys

And dolls and teddy bears,

The joy of play,

With no troubles and no cares.

Games and toys

Cars and planes and skipping rope

Toys of love,

toys of hope. ♪

[00:07:47]

[Background sounds of a steam train]

One particular child on board was a lovely girl called Stella - a girl with a beautiful dress, rosy cheeks and long beautiful curls.

Stella had this magical ability to play. Now you might think that playing is easy and can be done by everybody - but that’s not true. Most adults and grown up children have lost the imagination to make games and toys out of most things. When there’s a boring puddle, you and I see an opportunity to jump into another universe and splash in the water, but they just see a boring puddle. When they see a ruler and a pen, we see a plane that can fly high. When they see mud, we see an artistic masterpiece! Every toy has the power to brighten someone’s day. And this is the story of how a toy saved the life of Stella, the girl with the curly hair.

[00:08:46]

♪ We’re off a journey,

we’re off on a train,

Travelling through the wind,

and we’re travelling through the rain.

Watch out as we come,

as we seize the day,

For the journey has begun,

and we’re all on our way. ♪

[Train horn hooting]

Ba-dum, ba-dum

♪ We’re off a journey,

we’re off on a train,

Going from a station,

to a station once again,

Watch out as we come,

the journey’s begun,

And before you really know it,

the journey is done. ♪

[Train horn hooting]

Ba-dum, ba-dum

♪ We’re off a journey,

we’re off on a train,

Very few minutes to our journey now remain.

Watch out as we come,

the station’s getting near,

For the journey is now over

and we are already here.

the journey is now over

and we are already here,

the journey is now over

and we are already here. ♪

[00:09:34]

She arrived to Manchester Train Station, all alone only carrying her tiny suitcase. She looked around. Everyone was busy and walking rather fast. No one looked at each other. 'Ah,' she thought - 'This makes sense. Everybody here must be playing Hide and Seek, and they must be really into the game.' She sat down and waited, till somebody came over to explain the rules of the game.

She looked up at a board called 'Train schedule' – a very hard word, ‘schedule’. It was a board with many boxes and numbers in them. There was only one explanation for this - this must have been a version of hopscotch for mice. 'Cause the numbers were very small and there’s no way any grown up or child would manage to jump on it.

After a long time of waiting, a very tall lady approached the young girl. Her name was Mrs Grimley. With her was her daughter Gilly. 'Gilly Grimley' thought Stella… what a funny name. They were very grim and angry looking, with very crooked noses and high eyebrows. Not very polite and not very sweet.

They all got into the car, and Mrs Grimley drove Stella to her house. In a very raspy voice, Mrs Grimley said that they would keep her till the war was over. A very dark and bleak house this was, with all the curtains closed. It smelled very odd, like rotten cheese or possibly stale marmalade. EUURGH!

But, Stella got very excited when she realised that the house was full of toys - toys very similar to the ones that Stella had at home. A tin drum, porcelain dolls, some puppets, small robots and castles, and soft toys. But nasty Mrs Grimley said that Stella could not play with a single one of them - because they were for Gilly and Gilly alone. Oh, how mean they all were.

This saddened Stella a great deal. She was put in her room, alone and with no toys to accompany her.

[00:11:46]

♪ No games, no toys

No dolls or teddy bears,

The joy of play,

With no troubles and no cares.

Oh, how she wished,

To play like before

No toys today,

No toys anymore. ♪

[Gentle, ‘tinkering’ piano music playing]

[00:12:21]

But that night, while the entire house was asleep, Stella heard a pat-a-pat coming from her bedside cupboard. It was too small to fit a person, or a cat or a dog. What could it be? A mouse? A giant spider?! The thoughts were too scary… 'Come out!' Stella said in fear… 'I’m not scared'.

[Door creaking]

The cupboard door creaked open, and out came… a teddy bear. What? Yes, a tiny teddy bear. He had a sandy colour, what looked like very soft fur, arms and legs that were somehow moving, button eyes and a red bow. But, he wasn’t like many other teddy bears that you might have had or seen, for this teddy bear carried quite a sad expression. His face was not very happy like the ones we think of. He gave a small wave and introduced himself.

'Hello, my name is Mr Bernie Ginger Bear. Lovely to meet you.' He offered his hand and, very puzzled, Stella gave it a shake to introduce herself.

Mr Ginger Bear was a very special toy, as his arms and limbs could move. He explained to Stella that he was once a part of Gilly’s collection, but he managed to run away after she proved to be so mean with her toys. Gilly treated them badly and was scared of her, hence his very sad expression. At this point, Stella and Bernie the bear decided to become the best of friends and they would protect each other for however long they were together.

[00:14:11]

[Rat-a-rat-tat of a wooden blocks, gentle maracas shaking & quick-paced piano music playing]

♪ Two – Best- Friends,

Closer together, and we’re closer than forever,

We’re Two- Best- Friends

We’ll follow to wherever, and we’ll get there well however,

Like Two- Best- Friends, always will.

Two- Best- Friends,

Who knew I could ever see, a friend who could be friends with me,

Like Two- Best- Friends

You’ll be here, right here with me, and by your side I’ll always be,

Like Two- Best- Friends,

Like Two- Best- Friends will always be. ♪

[00:15:10]

For many, many months, they kept each other company while both of them trying to stay out of Gilly’s way as much as possible. They read stories to each other, played hide and seek and brushed each other’s hair (or fur). As Stella was so good at making toys from ordinary things, she made a bicycle for Bernie using bottle caps. She made a chair for him that bounced up and down using her suitcase, string and bouncy mattress springs, and finally she made him a train using shoes, sticks and pencils.

Mr Bernie Ginger Bear had never experienced such kindness. He also taught Stella plenty of games that they could play while they were outside in the garden (away from the horrible Grimleys).

He showed her how to draw pictures with chalk on the shed wall – drawing pictures of all sorts of dreams that they shared. He taught her how to build a tree house in the trees using twigs, and finally how to play with skipping ropes. Bernie was too small to use a rope so he used a small piece of string. Life up there was not bad at all now.

[00:16:17]

♪ Two – Best- Friends,

La la la la la la la

La la la la la la la

Two – Best- Friends

Sha la la la la la la

Sha la la la la la la

Two – Best- Friends

Two – Best- Friends

Two – Best- Friends ♪

[00:16:37]

But, little did they know that while they were having the time of their life playing with each other, they were being watched by Gilly. Gilly found out that one of her old toys became Stella’s friend. She became so angry and jealous that one day, while Stella was having her breakfast, evil Gillly crept up behind Stella to cut off one of her curls with scissors. Children of Gilly’s age aren’t even allowed to run around with scissors. What a terrible and scary thing to do! She got closer… and closer... and closer… And SNAP! But Stella realised in time, turned her head and Gilly missed. Phew. She’d tried but did not manage.

However, this scared Stella a great deal. She had to tell her mummy to come pick her up, this house was no longer safe. She ran up to her room and wrote a letter to her mother.

'Dear Mother, I hope this finds you well. I am in grave danger of unhappiness. Please come pick me up pronto!

Lots of Love, Stella.

P.S. I hope that you’re okay too.

P.P.S But I’m in grave danger.

P.P.P.P.P.S I love you.

She finished her letter, and prayed that the wind picks it up and takes it to London, to her mummy. She got into her bed, while her best friend Mr Bernie Ginger Bear sang her a lullaby.

[00:18:07]

[Gentle, ‘tinkering’ lullaby piano music]

♪ Go to sleep, go to sleep,

go to sleep darling Stella,

Stars are out and night is clear,

You are safe because I am here.

Close your eyes, sleep and dream,

Things are not as they seem,

Closer your eyes, have no fear,

You are safe because I’m here.

Go to sleep, Go to sleep

Go to sleep darling Stella,

As you hear my voice sincere,

You are safe because I’m here. ♪

'Things will be better by morning, sweet dreams, Stella.'

[00:19:04]

♪ Close your eyes, drift away

It’s the end of the day,

Closer your eyes, have no fear,

You are safe because I’m here.

[00:19:22]

Stella was fast asleep. Mr Bernie Ginger Bear looked at the letter, but realised there was no way it would get to her mummy soon enough. So, he took matters in his own hands…or his own paws.

An imaginative brain can solve any problem. Stella came here on a train, so Bernie decided to use all the toys that Stella created for him to get himself to London. Mr Bernie Ginger Bear – was ready for adventure!

Step 1: He used his bouncing chair to bounce his way out of the house. One, two, three, bounce, bounce, bounce.

Step 2: He used his bottle top bicycle to cycle to the train station, One, two, three, zoom zoom zoom

Step 3: He used and his train made of shoes to get to London. One, two, three, choo, chooooo!

[00:20:26]

Stella woke up the following morning. The room was strange, for Mr Bernie Ginger Bear was not there. What could have happened to him? Was it that nasty Gilly? She looked around, but, suddenly, she saw a sight that filled her with great happiness. Her kind mother was there. 'I’m here my darling. Fear no more.' Not only did her mother come to see her, but it was safe to bring her back home. Stella burst into tears of happiness. She packed her things and left the house of those terrible Grimleys.

'But’, asked Stella, ‘How did you get my letter?'

'Well', said mummy, 'When you are kind to everybody, even your toys, you will find out, that they can give a great deal of kindness back.'

Stella was safe back home, and there in London, waiting for her, with his red bow, and fluffy belly was Mr Bernie Ginger Bear. There he was! But one thing had changed; his smile had returned. He was no longer a sad bear. Bernie accompanied Stella through all her life, whenever she needed adventure, dreams of imagination or new games to play. Bernie saved Stella’s life, the war was over, and they both lived happily ever after.

[00:21:54]

[Fast paced, lively piano music]

♪ Two- Best- Friends,

A teddy bear and Stella,

Together for forever

Like Two- Best- Friends

Side-by side through good and bad,

Together, through whatever,

Like Two- Best- Friends,

Two- Best- Friends,

Two- Best- Friends. ♪

[00:22:18]

But, the story is not over yet…

Mr Bernie Ginger Bear and Stella shared so much kindness that it ended up saving them from the mean Grimleys! How has your kindness been doing lately? Have you been in touch with a friend or shared a drawing with your neighbours, or maybe wrote a letter to brighten up someone’s day? If you haven’t? Well, I say there’s no time like the present to share a present of kindness! See what I did there?

[00:22:49]

Mr Ginger Bear, Stella and all the rest of us at the Museum of London would love to hear or see your letters and pictures of kindness. There is a lot of kindness in the world- but never enough. So, all of us at the museum would love it if you could share with us your letters. You can include anything in it – maybe a drawing or a picture of your favourite toy, or your favourite adventure, or maybe a small teeny weeny craft that you created during lockdown, like the one in your resource pack, maybe?

You can send these letters to us and we’ll forward them to many other people who might want to have their days brightened up by your little gift. We would love it if you could send these letters to us on [email protected], that’s [email protected] If you didn’t catch that, don’t worry yourself, because it’s either with the podcast description or else in your resource pack.

[00:23:49]

And that’s it for today! I’ve been Luke, and this has been London Lives. Great thanks go to Brahms and the music of his lullaby, to Helena and Jacqui, from Nightingale Hammerson Care Home, and to Jesse. Stay tuned for more content coming your way, and till we meet again – and as Mr Bernie Ginger would say – ‘Always be kind to one another.’ Bye bye!

[podcast ends]

Creative & Connected

This podcast is just part of June's creative activities for people affected by dementia, their carers and loved ones. You can find the rest of this month's content here: Creative & Connected - July edition