How Kendal and the Lake District inspired the creation of TV show Postman Pat

You know the iconic red van, you know the song, you know his small and furry sidekick.

The kid’s television show Postman Pat has been a staple of British culture since it first appeared on our screens backs in 1981.

Since then the show, which follows the exploits of a local postal worker and his cat, while he does his rounds in the fictional village of Greendale, has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.

Today you can view Postman Pat in Namibia, Malaysia, the USA, Ghana, Brunei, Israel and Iran. In the Middle East Postman Pat is broadcast to children in Arabic while European nations from Spain, to Iceland and the Czech Republic also air the exploits of this famous postman.

Postman Pat has grown into a cultural icon for children across the world but few people know that the shows creator, John Cunliffe, was inspired by his experienced in Kendal and the Lake District to create the beloved TV character.

The Lancashire born writer, who was born and brought up in Colne, first became interested in the literary arts when his great uncle Herbert introduced him to William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

Postman Pat and other titles are in the deal to sell Entertainment Rights
Postman Pat with his cat Jess.

After attending Colne Grammer School, Cunliffe left Lancashire and lived in Kendal, Westmorland.

It was here that he would be inspired to create the fictional village of Greendale as well as the characters of Pat, and his faithful black cat Jess.

Cunliffe was living in a small terraced cottage on Greenside, just up the hill from Kendal Town Hall and in full view of the building and its iconic tower, when he first conceived the idea of creating Postman Pat.

It has been suggested that Greenside influenced the creation of Greendale, the fictional village in Postman which is based on the valley of Longsleddale just down from Kendal.

While in the Westmorland town, Cunliffe worked for many years as a librarian, and also as a teacher at Castle Park Primary School which is still working as an educational institute to this day.

Postman Pat and his faithful companion Jess the Cat
Postman Pat is the faithful postman of the fictional village of Greendale.

At Castle Park Primary School, Cunliffe worked with one Molly Clifton who provided him with inspiration for many characters in Postman Pat.

She had many friends in farming and her insight would lead to the creation of George Lancaster, Alf Thompson and Julia Pottage, reoccurring agricultural characters in the series.

According to Cunliffe she spent a day taking him around farms in the Kendal area, introducing the author to the people and giving him a unique look at their way of life.

“I soon saw what wonderful people they were; friendly and hospitable,” Cunliffe told the BBC in 2014.

“Always ready to help, or to offer a cup of tea to the thirsty traveller.”

But the biggest influence was the little post office at the end of Greenside which Cunliffe used to frequent.

John Cunliffe who wrote and created Postman Pat.

“There was a little post-office at the end of my street in Kendal, and I often chatted to the friendly man who kept the shop,” Cunliffe told the BBC.

“He told me quite a bit about how the country postmen go about their work, and that went into my writing.”

Postman Pat began life as a series of children’s books that Cunliffe enjoyed writing, given that he taught at a primary school he had a pretty good grasp on his audience.

Cunliffe got his big break when the parent of one the children in his class at Castle Park approached him after school one day.

She told Cunliffe that a woman working at the BBC was looking for new writers, for a new TV series. She suggested that Cunliffe send in his children’s books for consideration.

He later applied for a role as a producer for children’s programmes, and was invited to London for an interview with Cynthia Felgate. Cunliffe was offered the job but did have the opportunity to pitch Postman Pat to the BBC.

Cunliffe was first commissioned by the BBC to write Postman Pat, produced by Ivor Wood, in 1980 before the first episode aired in 1981.

The clock at Kendal Town Hall.
(Image: SLDC)

According to Cunliffe he was bullied at school for being tall and gangly and he created Pat and Greendale as an idyllic village where everyone was nice to each other, in contrast to the taunting he had suffered when growing up.

Following the success of the kid’s TV programme, Cunliffe became something of a local celebrity in Kendal. He even has a room dedicated to him at the town’s Museum of Lakeland Life.

In 1988 Cunliffe gave up teaching to pursue his writing venture on a full time basis.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Postman Pat has since spawned eight series and more than 180 episodes, plus several spin off programmes and a blockbuster movie.

Since his first children’s books came out Cunliffe’s iterations of Postman Pan have been sold more than 12 million times worldwide.

Cunliffe sadly died from heart failure at his home in Ilkley, Yorkshire, in 2018.

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