If the world has embraced Winnie-the-Pooh as its best loved teddy bear, the character’s creator was not so enamoured: the success of Pooh’s whimsical adventures in the 100 Acre Wood, first published in 1926, soon eclipsed AA Milne’s other literary work as a playwright, novelist, poet and essayist, and was to have unhappy consequences for his personal life.
Alan Alexander Milne was born in London in 1882 and educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge, where he edited and wrote for the student magazine, Granta. He went from university to Punch and worked as assistant editor of the magazine until the outbreak of war in 1914. Having survived the Somme and trench fever, Milne embarked on a career as a playwright and had several theatrical hits including Mr Pym Passes By (1919) and Toad of Toad Hall (1929), a dramatization of Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. There were also novels, essays and even film scripts for the nascent British film industry – but all of this was as nothing compared to the success of Winnie-the-Pooh, which took the world of children’s books by storm in 1926.
The Pooh books and the collections of children’s verse, When We Were Very Young (1924) and Now We Are Six (1927), were originally written for Milne’s son, Christopher Robin and set in a wood akin to the real Ashdown Forest, close to where the family lived in East Sussex. The forest still enjoys the reflected glory of the Heffalump Trap and Poohsticks Bridge, but Christopher Robin turned against his father, accusing Milne of exploiting his childhood and exposing him to unwanted publicity. Not a happy ending to the tale of Edward Bear.
Milne wrote no more books for children after Now We Are Six. He served again in the Second World War as a captain of the local Home Guard and died at his home in East Sussex in 1956.