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'Pottermania' Rules The World

Actress Lucy Liu arrives at the funeral of David Carradine on Saturday June 13, 2009, in Los Angeles.
AP Photo
From Beatrix to Harry, Pottermania has gripped kids around the world for a century.

Hollywood, too, has fallen for the charms of Britain's strong cast of storybook characters - Peter Pan and Mary Poppins not least among them.

And when it comes to bears, nobody does it better than the British. Who could forget Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear?

So London's National Portrait Gallery has now decided to celebrate the unique contribution of British authors to children's literature in a new exhibition.

Amid the scrawled manuscripts and grainy photo portraits, curator Gyles Brandreth said: "Quite out of proportion to the size of the country, British children's writers swept the world in the 20th century. We should celebrate them."

The literary roll call makes for impressive reading -- and the authors have intriguingly come full circle.

"In 1902, you have J.M. Barrie beginning to work on Peter Pan and you have Frank Richards writing the stories about Greyfriars School and the world of Billy Bunter," Brandreth told Reuters at Tuesday's press preview.

"Greyfriars School is like Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter stories and the whole world of magic is the world of J.M.Barrie," said the author and broadcaster, reflecting on the literary symmetry.

The exhibition takes visitors down memory lane, starting with Beatrix Potter's 1902 manuscript for "The Tale of Peter Rabbit."

Enid Blyton's dilapidated typewriter pounded out up to 50 books a year. Roald Dahl took children into a much darker world. J.K. Rowling mixed humor and fantasy, teaching a new generation of children the joy of reading.

A.A. Milne wrote detectives stories, plays and novels - but he would be immortalized for 70,000 words he wrote about a bear - and that irked him.

"He was frustrated by the way Winnie the Pooh came to dominate him," said Brandreth, co-curator of the exhibit with his wife, writer and children's publisher Michele Brown.

Brandreth became a friend of Christopher Robin Milne, a man who was ill at ease with his fame as the hero of his father's Pooh books and once said his father built his reputation standing on a small boy's shoulders.

But the magic still rubs off on Brandreth.

"As I say to children who come to this exhibition: 'be sure to shake my hand before you go because I was a friend of Christopher Robin and you will be shaking the hand that shook the hand that held the paw of Winnie the Pooh."'

By Paul Majendie