BBC Radio 4, 17 January 2009
This short documentary presented by poet Michael Rosen looked at how
A.A.Milne's classic children's book became massively popular in Soviet Russia during the 1960s and 1970s. Animated cartoons
were produced which quite literally transfixed a whole generation of children. This
programme sought to explain why. To those in power Winnie the Pooh was just a harmless piece of flummery; in the
Russian translation the character of Christopher Robin disappeared, with attention focusing instead on the little bear
and his motley group of friends - Piglet, Eeyore and Wol (aka Owl). To Russian children however, Winnie the Pooh
offered a world of independence; a dream of freedom from the petty restrictions placed on them by Soviet society. Although
'subversive' might be too strong a term, Milne's stories created an alternative world - a place where freedom of thought
could flourish. The programme interviewed several Russian émigrés now resident in the United Kingdom, all of whom recalled
with great enthusiasm the experience of watching the cartoons.
In what ways did the Russian version differ from Milne's text? Through
interviews with surviving members of the creative team, Rosen discovered that Pooh had been transformed into a very Russian
bear, employing a colloquial form of discourse with particular appeal to young audiences. No expense was spared in creating
high-quality cartoons: the state provided unlimited resources, enabling the creators to produce classical scores influenced
by no less a person than Shostakovich. While the cartoons were intended for domestic consumption only, they attracted much
enthusiasm when shown abroad. Many critics declared them to be far superior to the Disney version of the book.
It seemed especially appropriate that this programme should be presented by Michael
Rosen, who has spent a lifetime popularizing poetry for children as well as presenting Poetry Please. Winnie
the Who? provided a fascinating look at how Milne's book appeals to audiences all over the world in different forms. This
accounts for its enduring popularity over eight decades after it first appeared.