Pundits in a fluff over Pooh artifacts

NEW YORK (AP) — Stubbornly refusing to share their toys, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic lost their heads Thursday over a bear of very little brain.
Winnie the Pooh, the lovable, huggable bear whose adventures have delighted children for decades, is at the center of what is rapidly becoming an international incident.
In England, a member of Parliament is demanding the return of the original Winnie the Pooh, who with stuffed friends Eeyore, Kanga, Piglet and Tigger has been on display for years in the New York Public Library.
But New York’s pugnacious Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the stuffed animals, the inspiration for British subject A.A. Milne’s children’s books, are American now.
“Winnie the Pooh is an example of the very best in immigration,” said Giuliani, clutching a jar of honey. “He’s in about as nice a place as he can be.”
Labor Party legislator Gwyneth Dunwoody, whose one-woman crusade to bring the toys back to England started the hubbub earlier this week, responded: “I am happy to do battle with the mayor of New York, any day he likes.”
The gentle jousting spread as far as Washington, where Prime Minister Tony Blair said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the issue would be “down the agenda” in his talks with President Clinton.
“I’m sure they’re perfectly well-looked after where they are,” Blair said.
Later, Blair’s office issued the following:
“The government’s position is we admire the president and the U.S. and we believe they will look after and care for these animals sufficiently for the British people to remain happy that they are well looked after.”
Although President Clinton reportedly told Blair it would be “unbearable” to lose Pooh, the State Department refused to be drawn into the fight.
“Far be it from me to ever pooh-pooh an issue of this significance,” spokesman James Rubin said. “The U.S. government takes no position on this issue, which involves privately owned assets.”
But New York Rep. Nita Lowey introduced a resolution in Congress condemning any attempt to swipe the animals. “The Brits have their head in a honey jar if they think they are taking Pooh out of New York City,” she said.
Milne began writing the books in 1926 for his son, Christopher Robin, who figures prominently in the stories. The father sent the five stuffed animals to the United States in 1947 for a tour organized by American publisher E.P. Dutton and Co. Milne gave them to Dutton, which donated them to the public library.
The stuffed animals returned to London once, in 1969, when they were briefly on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“Neither A.A. Milne nor Christopher Robin had any regrets about them living permanently in the United States,” said Gyles Brandreth, a former Tory legislator and founder of the Teddy Bear Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon.
But Malcolm de Selincourt, a cousin of Christopher Robin, said, “Winnie the Pooh should be in England. His rightful place is here, in the House at Pooh Corner or under the pine trees.”
An estimated 750,000 people per year visit the New York library’s Donnell branch annually, where the stuffed toys are in a glass case.
One little girl at the library disagreed with the mayor’s stand, saying the 78-year-old Pooh bear should be allowed to return to London.
“Because it’s a long trip,” explained Lindsay O’Neill Caffrey, who said she was five-and-two-quarters years old. “He started there and he came here and he should go back home.”