The Tiger Who Came To Tea

The Tiger Who Came to Tea: Interview with Paul Whitehouse (Milkman)

Category: Interview

When did you first encounter Judith Kerr’s book?

I first read The Tiger Who Came to Tea to my eldest daughter who is now 26. So, it’s been in my life for 27 years and, as I’ve got quite a young daughter as well, I read it to her. It’s never been out of my life, I can’t get rid of it!

What was your first reaction to it?

At first, I thought they were a bit of a daft family, letting a tiger into their house, to be honest, because everyone knows that tigers can be unpredictable at best. But he seemed like a very friendly tiger. My only question to the family would be, how did they know? They took a gamble, they survived it. But don’t try that at home, guys. If a tiger comes round, leg it.

The book was first published in 1968 and hasn’t been out of print for 51 years. Why do you think it has an enduring appeal? 

I think there’s a timeless look to the book and without, you know, descending into cliché, perhaps it does appeal to people of a certain age, because it does sort of harp back to our childhood a bit. And so maybe that’s why we like it and try to impose it onto our children. [Laughs]

Part of its enduring appeal is the simple fact that a tiger comes round, I mean, it does what it says on the tin; The tiger comes to tea.  I was expecting some kind of sub-plot when I first read it. I thought this can’t be right, this is an allegory or something, but, no, the tiger comes round for tea. And it’s quite shocking really, off dad goes to work, then the tiger turns up. And, so, out of the blue, comes this potentially very scary thing but - all’s well in the end!

You’ve got four kids. Did you do the tiger’s voice when you read the book at bedtime?

The Tiger Who Came to Tea has fond memories for me and a close association with my girls; I’ve read it to all my four girls. It was quite good because still there’s a real bias of books having the protagonist be male. It’s one of the not-that-many books where the girl is the central character. I read it to all of them and I didn’t do very many daft voices because whenever I tried to do my stock-in-trade: “Hey girls! I’ve won awards for this sort of behavior,” they’d always go: “Shhh! Don’t do that, don’t do the voice.” So, I tend to read stuff very straight to my girls. I mean there’s an obvious shocking moment. You know as I say, you’ve got this sort of quite cozy, you know, suburban environment built up and suddenly ‘Whack!’ in comes the jeopardy.