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109: Goodbye Christopher Robin

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

You can almost feel the warmth of the sun as its rays flow through the leaves. We’re in the middle of a lush wooded area. The grass is a deep shade of green and the only sound is that of birds chirping and insects buzzing.

In the middle of the woods is a dirt path, and we can see someone on a bike riding toward the camera.

Then the camera cuts to Margot Robbie’s character. She’s pruning some flowers in a courtyard. Inside their spacious and yet still somehow, quaint, ivy-covered brick home is Domhnall Gleeson’s character. He’s in a child’s room. We can see stuffed toys. There’s a kangaroo, donkey, a bear and a tiger.

Looking out the window, he sees visions of his son in the yard.

The bike rider arrives. She’s a messenger, handing him a letter. We can’t see what’s in the letter, but it must be bad news because he walks off down a path with a determined look on his face. Back at the house, Margot Robbie’s character is tearing up.

As Domhnall Gleeson’s character arrives at a clearing. He stops and throws a ball…it explodes into sparks and we see the title of the film: Goodbye Christopher Robin.

And it’s with this very vague introduction that we begin our story today. Although, there’s not really much of a story yet. I mean, documentation on pruning flowers is tough to find, but I suppose that doesn’t make it untrue.

So, without much we can prove or disprove in this intro, let’s get to know two of the main characters in the film starting with Margot Robbie’s character, Daphne Milne. The truth is we don’t know a lot about Daphne—at least, not nearly as much as we do about the man who would become her husband.

Born Dorothy de Selincourt in 1890, she earned the nickname Daphne amongst her friends and it stuck. We don’t know a lot about her early years, but for the purposes of our story today there’s someone in her family who holds the utmost importance. That would be a man named Sir Owen Seaman, who was Daphne’s god-father.

Well, technically Owen wasn’t knighted until 1914, so he wouldn’t have had the “Sir” title quite yet.

In 1897, Owen started working at a satire magazine in London called Punch. He worked his way up to assistant editor in 1902 and finally, in 1906, he got promoted to the editor of the entire magazine. Of course, that would mean the magazine would need an assistant editor.

And that leads us into Domhnall Gleeson’s character in the film, or Alan Milne. Or, as you’ll find his name on the cover of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, A. A. Milne—the A. A. stands for Alan Alexander.

Alan Milne was born on January 18th, 1882 in London. He was one of three children, all boys. There was Barry, Ken and Alan. As he grew, Alan excelled at math enough to earn a scholarship at Trinity College in Cambridge. He graduated at the age of 21 in 1903, but even before finishing his education he had begun writing humorous articles and sending them into Punch.

So, when Punch was looking for a new assistant editor in 1906, it was Mr. Alan Milne who managed to get the job.

Going back to the movie, after the opening sequence we’re whisked back in time to the year 1916. Now, I know that it seems we’re going forward in time, and we are as far as this episode is concerned. But in the movie’s timeline, the opening sequence has Alan and Daphne being much older. It’s just that the movie never really mentions that—we learn it at the very end of the film. So, when we see the text on screen giving us a date it’s actually much earlier than the opening sequence.

That date is 1916, and along with it we get a place: The Western Front, France. Alan is in the trenches. There are explosions going off around him everywhere. Looking around, men are either dead or dying the thick mud.

Then, we see Alan make his way into a nice home. Walking through the door, the sounds of war disappear as we hear classical music and see men and women in their finest outfits dancing. Suddenly, Alan seems out of place in his muddy uniform. Daphne is at the party, and when she sees Alan she makes her way over to him. As the camera pans back around, Alan is no longer in his uniform, but rather in a nice suit.

“Oh, Blue. Are you feeling odd? Come, I’ll let you dance with me!” Daphne says as she embraces him. Snapping out of it, a smile comes across Alan’s face.

That specific scene is made up, but it’s based in truth. By that, what I mean is that it is true that Alan Milne spent time on the Western Front in France during World War I.

Alan’s work as an assistant editor for Punch magazine which began in 1906 ended when World War I began in 1914. That’s when Alan Milne joined the British Army, first being assigned to the 4th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He’d go on to work as a signaling officer at the Southern Command Signaling School in England until 1916 when he was sent to the front lines in France, like the movie shows.

As the movie implies, it was an experience that would have an impact on Alan for the rest of his life. In his memoirs, Alan claimed to have been a pacifist before the war began. But, like many others did at the time, he was pressured by the bravado of serving your country, society’s attitude of cowardice for anyone who wouldn’t join military service and, perhaps most of all, the naïve assumption that this latest conflict would be, “the war to end all wars.”

The war lasted until the end of 1918, and Alan would end up serving in the military until he was discharged the following year in 1919.

We don’t know exactly what Alan saw or did during his time on the front lines. But like many soldiers who have seen the atrocities of war, those years would haunt Alan for the rest of his life. Many historians today think Alan may have suffered from PTSD. Since the first PTSD diagnosis was in 1980—over 60 years after Alan left the military—his symptoms, although shared by many who served during World War I, weren’t understood by many at all.

As a little side note, the movie doesn’t mention this at all, perhaps because Alan himself never mentioned it, but it wasn’t until the year 2013 that we got another peek into what Alan might’ve done during the war. You see, that’s when a man named Jeremy Arter was sifting through old paperwork at his aunt’s home and found something very rare—classified documents from a British military propaganda unit that closed at the end of World War I in 1918.

That propaganda unit was called MI7b.

Even though historians knew about MI7b, it’s top secret nature and the fact that all of its documents were destroyed at the end of the war left a lot of questions as to exactly what it did and who was involved. What we do know is that MI7b had the distinct purpose of using talented writers to offer a positive spin on the events of the war to people reading about it at home.

As it turned out, Jeremy’s great uncle was a member of MI7b, and in the paperwork he found some documents that probably should’ve been destroyed with the rest of MI7b’s paperwork at the end of the war. Among the authors named in the documents was none other than A. A. Milne. It’d seem that he was recruited by the unit to use his writing skills to write positively about the war he so desperately hated.

We can only imagine what sort of internal conflicts Alan had to go through doing something like that. Being a self-proclaimed pacifist before the war, followed by seeing some of the worst things humans can do to each other during the war and being assigned to write positively about it all…it’s no wonder Alan was outspoken against war after he left the military in 1919.

Going back to the movie—oh! Before we do that, I have to point out the scene at the end of the party we were just chatting about. After Alan gives a rather anti-war message, he raises his glass of champagne and says, “So, what can we say, but…tinkety tonk.”

I had to rewind that a couple times and turn on closed captions to understand what he was saying. If you’re like me, that’s not a phrase you use in your everyday conversation. Well, that’s because it was an expression mostly used by the British around the 1920s and 30s. Think of it sort of like our expression today, “See you later, alligator!” and “After a while, crocodile!”

Back then and in Britain, it was more along the lines of, “Toodle pip, old bean.” or “Tinkety tonk, old fruit.”

Alright, with that mystery out of the way, let’s head back into the movie’s timeline now because after this party scene we see Alan and Daphne ride back home in silence. Later in the evening, Daphne is lying in bed when she tries to help Alan feel better. The world is full of terrible things, she tells him. The great thing is to find something to be happy about and stick to that.

And with that, they kiss and with a bit of movie magic editing, the next shot we see is Daphne giving birth. In the movie, we see the midwife helping Daphne give birth as she’s screaming bloody murder. At one point, the midwife tells Alan not to worry—it just seems that Mrs. Milne didn’t know the mechanics of giving birth.

That’s true, and Daphne admitted that exact same thing to a friend much later.

But, of course, it doesn’t matter how much you know about the mechanics of childbirth—when the baby is ready to come, you can’t stop it. And so it was that at about 8:00 in the morning of August 21st, 1920, Daphne Milne gave birth to a son. Thanks in part to her not knowing what to expect from the ordeal, the birth wasn’t an easy one and probably played into Daphne never wanting to have children again.

At one point, the movie mentions briefly that Alan and Daphne expected a girl. And that’s true. In fact, they had a name all picked out—Rosemary.

In the movie, though, we hear a few different names for the new baby. There’s the one we all know, Christopher Robin, but we hear Alan, Daphne and even Christopher himself refer to, well, himself as Billy Moon. There’s a brief moment where we see Christopher mention that the surname, Moon, came from his inability to say their last name, Milne.

That’s true.

After the baby was born and turned out not to be a girl, they decided to call him Billy. But, they didn’t think it’d be appropriate to christen him as William to give him the name Billy. So, they decided to split the duties and between Alan and Daphne, each come up with a name. One came up with Christopher, the other Robin.

That’s how Christopher Robin ended up with the nickname Billy. As for the last name, it was exactly what the movie says. As a child, Billy called himself Billy Moon because, well, we explained the first name, but he had a hard time pronouncing the name Milne—it came out Moon. Hence, Billy Moon.

It stuck. Before long, his family and friends just called him Moon.

In fact, that’s one reason why Alan decided to go with the name Christopher Robin for the character we all know in the Winnie-the-Pooh books—because it was his son, but also not his son. That wasn’t a name they were attached to, even though it really was his son’s name.

But that’s getting a little ahead of our story.

Back in the movie, almost as soon as Billy is born, we’re introduced to another character. I’m speaking, of course, of Olive Rand. She’s the nanny who little Billy starts calling “Nou.”

In the movie, Olive is played by Kelly Macdonald.

And she was a very real person who, just like the movie shows, had a huge impact on the youngster as he was growing up. And not to get too far ahead of our story, but it’s also true that Olive was the inspiration for the character of Alice in Alan’s poem called Buckingham Palace.

But, of course, palace doesn’t rhyme with Olive—so Alan simply changed her name.

Going back to the film, the next major plot point happens when we see Domhnall Gleeson’s version of Alan on stage introducing a play he’s written. The pops and flashes of cameras take him back to the battlefield. He flinches, closing his eyes for a moment and pausing in the middle of his monologue. Then, after stuttering for a bit, he ends up walking off stage.

Back at their home, Alan and Daphne have an argument about leaving London. Alan is convinced moving to the country will do him some good while Daphne insists that a West End playwright should live in the West End.

Then, it’s clear who got their way when we see the next scene is of the young family moving out of London and into the country.

While those specific scenes are fictionalized for the film, the overall gist is true.

I haven’t really mentioned this much, but Alan Milne was quite an accomplished playwright. From the years 1917 to 1951, he wrote a total of 37 plays. By comparison, he wrote only about two Winnie-the-Pooh books over a two-year span between 1926 and 1928.

I say “about” two because there was the book called Winnie-the-Pooh written in 1926 and then The House at Pooh Corner in 1928, but the loveable bear made his way into some poems outside of those two books—but you get the point.

Even though the movie doesn’t indicate years, the timeline is correct because it was about two years before that first book that they moved to the country. More specifically, it was during the summer of 1924 when Alan moved his family to a place known as Cotchford Farm on the northeastern edge of Ashdown Forest in Sussex. That’s about 30 miles, or 48 kilometers to the south of London.

A few months after settling into their new home, Alan published his first book from his desk at Cotchford Farm. That book, which was published on November 6th, 1924 was called When We Were Very Young. Just a moment ago when I mentioned that there were other books that had the loveable bear in them, and this was the first.

When We Were Very Young was a book of poetry, and one of the poems was simply called, Teddy Bear. The main character in that poem was inspired by his son’s stuffed bear, who is called Mr. Edward Bear in the poem.

As a little side note, we haven’t really talked about him yet, but Alan’s friend, Ernest, was the one who illustrated When We Were Very Young. Or, since Alan went by A. A. Milne, Ernest’s name on the cover was E. H. Shepard.

Ernest is played by Stephen Campbell Moore in the film.

I wanted to point that out because it was one of these illustrations for the Teddy Bear poem that showed the bear wearing a shirt and would later be colored red after Stephen Slesinger acquired the rights to the bear from A. A. Milne. That’s where the image we think of as Disney’s Winnie the Pooh we all know and love today came from.

Going back to the movie, there’s a scene where we see Daphne, Olive and Billy go to the London Zoo. While they’re there, they see a bear named Winnie—short for Winnipeg. Ultimately, it’s this bear that Billy decides to rename his own bear after—changing his name from Edward to Winnie.

As for the Pooh part, according to the movie, that came from the name of a swan that Billy came up with. As the movie explains, if you name the swan “Pooh” and it doesn’t come when you call it—since swans never come when you call them—then at least you can just pretend like you were saying “Pooh.”

It’s the sort of logic that makes perfect sense to a kid.

And that’s all true.

Winnipeg was a bear rescued by a veterinarian named Harry Colebourn. Harry was originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. The month after World War I broke out in July of 1914, Harry volunteered to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Then, it was on August 24th, that he bought a female black bear at a train stop in Ontario.

That was clearly a different time.

We don’t really know where she came from, but because the bear was just a cub, after being purchased and cared for by Harry, she got used to humans. Harry named her Winnipeg, after his hometown, or Winnie for short.

But, the war didn’t stop…not even for cute baby bears. So, Harry made his way to Europe and brought Winnie along. She stayed at the London Zoo while Harry went onto France to serve as a part of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps inside the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Harry survived the war, although Winnie would never leave the zoo in London. She became a very popular attraction, and stayed there until she passed away in 1934.

One of the people who visited her while she was at the zoo was, as the movie shows, young Christopher Robin Milne. And that’s where he got the inspiration to name his own toy bear Winnie. Although the movie is also correct in showing that he originally called it Edward before renaming the bear to Winnie.

As for “the Pooh” part, the movie’s also correct that it came from a swan, although that was in the wild so it didn’t really have as much of a known history as Winnipeg the black bear.

Going back to the movie, after the toy bear is named we find out how some of the other beloved characters got their names. Eeyore because Alan just thinks that’s a good name for a donkey, Tigger because Billy says the toy tiger is “more Tiggerish”, then there’s Piglet because it’s a smaller toy, and of course Kanga and Roo—for obvious reasons.

While the scenes showing those were highly dramatized for the film, of course, the overall gist is true. Winnie was the only toy who really got a name inspired by a real animal. The rest were names that were a little more straight forward or, simply put, made up.

And, while this is just my own opinion, that makes you love them even more because it helps you enter the mind of an innocent child.

Heading back into the timeline of the film, the next major plot point happens when the first book all about Winnie-the-Pooh is published. The book was written by Alan, of course, with Ernest doing the illustrations of the animals in the various places in the woods near their home.

And, of course, since we all know about Winnie-the-Pooh, we already know that’s all true.

The movie doesn’t mention a year, but as we talked about earlier the first book, simply called Winnie-the-Pooh, came out in 1926.

It was an instant hit.

And just like the movie shows next, there was one major difference between this book and some of the other great works of literature of the time.

No one really cared about the author. Well, at least not in the same way they did for other authors. The real star of the show was Christopher Robin—the fictional character in the book that was clearly based on Billy Moon. Once people found that out, they wanted to meet the child who came up with all of these wonderful characters. The books helped them dive inside the mind of a child and they wanted to meet him.

Of course, I say “they” as a generalization for the media, public and plenty of other adoring fans of the book.

According to the movie, it’s exactly this that causes a problem. We see this when Billy leaves home and is sent to a private school. Immediately upon arriving, he’s bullied. We see kids pushing him chanting, “Nobody cares, nobody cares Christopher Robin got pushed down the stairs.”

Then, the scene transitions from an eight-year-old Billy to an 18-year-old Billy. He’s still getting bullied at school.

I mention those ages because that’s what the credits show when they indicate Will Tilston playing an eight-year-old Christopher with Alex Lawther playing the 18-year-old version. But, of course, the years have gone by throughout the movie so the movie’s not exactly accurate with those ages.

However, the age is correct here because it was when Billy—or Christopher if you prefer—was eight years old when he attended an all-boys school named Gibbs. Then, the next year, he transferred to different boarding school and then, by the time 1939 rolled around, he followed in his father’s footsteps by earning a math scholarship to Trinity College in Cambridge.

Back in the movie, as it turns out, the “war to end all wars” that Alan was a part of didn’t end all wars after all. Christopher heads off to war, but before he does, he has a heart-to-heart with his dad.

Alan apologizes to him for writing the books. “I stopped writing as soon as I found out,” he says. Christopher isn’t impressed. That wasn’t right. I just wanted you—I wanted to hang out with my dad. I didn’t want to bring the whole world into our adventures.

I wanted you to write a book for me, not about me.

According to the movie, these conversations weigh heavily on Alan Milne. Especially because, after the conversation between Alan and Christopher, we see the opening scene in the movie.

It’s the bike rider delivering a message. Except this time, we see a little more detail than we did in the opening sequence.

This time, we see Daphne look up from planting her flowers. “Please, no!” she cries. “Don’t open it! Until you open it, it’s not real!”

If you pause the movie like I did, you’ll see a message that reads: Mr. and Mrs. Milne. Cotchford Farm. Hartfield E Sussex. We regret to inform you that 2nd Lt C.R. Milne is missing presumed dead.

It’s the worst possible news a parent could get. I can’t even imagine…

…and that’s true. Well, mostly.

The scenes were certainly fictionalized quite a bit, and he wasn’t quite missing in action, but the basic idea is true.

Just like the movie indicates, Christopher Milne failed his medical exam and was rejected by the military. Thanks to his dad’s success, though, he convinced Alan to pull some strings to get him into the military. That certainly wasn’t something Alan was happy to do—but he did it nonetheless for his son.

In the summer of 1942, Christopher left Crotchford Farm and joined the Royal Engineers.

After two years of what must’ve been an intense attempt at following up with the war news, Alan and Daphne received the telegram we saw in the movie.

Except it didn’t say Christopher was missing in action. It said he’d been wounded in action. More specifically, a head wound, and he was very ill.

So, the message was a little different, but I’m sure that the worry and sadness was quite the same.

In the movie, though, we see that Christopher was, in fact, not missing. He returns home to happy tears. Then, in a moment that’ll bring tears to your eyes watching the movie, he makes up with his dad.

He tells Alan a story about a friend he made during the war. That friend was transported away from the horrors of battle and back home thanks to the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Even though Christopher wasn’t happy about his dad writing the books before he left for the war, that attitude has changed.

The basic idea here seems to be, at least according to the movie, that things end on a happy note.

I couldn’t find anything that backed up the story about Christopher’s friend’s being transported back home thanks to Winnie-the-Pooh and it’s probably a bit of a stretch to say everything ended up happily ever after.

Christopher never liked being that Christopher Robin.

But, he loved his dad. He was proud of the success the books brought his father, but not of the books themselves, if that makes sense. It was the kind of internal conflict, no doubt, that most of us will never fully understand.

In 1948, Christopher married a woman named Lesley de Selincourt. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because that was Daphne Milne’s maiden name. Lesley was Christopher’s cousin.

They lived happily, and even though A. A. Milne made plenty of money from Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher refused to take any of that money for himself. Instead, he and Lesley supported themselves by running a book shop.

Alan and Daphne lived comfortably together on Cotchford Farm until he fell ill. Christopher visited sometimes, but then on January 31st, 1956, Alan Milne passed away.

That same year, Christopher and Lesley had their first and only child. She was named Clare and, sadly, she had severe cerebral palsy. After her birth just a few months after his dad’s passing, Christopher funneled his share of the family fortune into a trust for his daughter.

That money passed to a charity for cerebral palsy in 2012 when Clare passed away.

As for Daphne, after Alan passed away, she ended up selling the farm and moving back to London.

She lived there until passing away in 1971.

Unfortunately, she never really seemed to have the same relationship with Christopher that her husband had. In the 15 years between Alan’s passing and her own death, Daphne Milne never saw her son Christopher again.



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