Over the Christmas break we are revisiting some vintage children’s TV programmes.
AT the beginning of the 1980s, teacher John Cunliffe was working in Kendal, in the Lake District, and decided to write about a character who toured the area visiting his friends and helping them out of a jam. The result was the stop-motion animation Postman Pat.
Our hero is Patrick Clifton, who drives a red Royal Mail van and is accompanied by his black-and-white cat Jess as he delivers letters and parcels around the valley of Greendale, based on Longsleddale, near Kendal. The gentle pace of life gives him ample opportunity to enjoy the beautiful countryside and he and Jess often stop for a picnic. Here is a selection.
The first series of 13 episodes was screened in 1981 and passed me by, but the second, in 1997, came at a time when we had two small children who became addicted to it. At this point Greendale was still a quiet village but later series featured the bustling town of Pencaster, based on Lancaster.
By the 21st century Postman Pat had become big business around the world after Cunliffe, for reasons best known to himself, failed to retain the rights to the character. By 2009, more than 12million books had been sold.
In Japan there was a problem – Pat has only three fingers and a thumb, as have many members of the criminal organisation the Yakuza, who often chop off their little fingers as a sign of loyalty to their leaders. Amid hysterical reports of businessmen throwing themselves out of windows because they saw Pat as a message from the Yakuza, there were calls to give him an extra digit. This was impractical because all the programmes would have had to be re-recorded so the censorship was limited to books and posters.
Back in Blighty, Postman Pat had proved promising material for parody. In 1987, when Royal Mail was employing lots of casual workers at busy times, ITV’s Spitting Image portrayed the lazy student ‘Temporary Postman Pratt’. He is seen driving a yellow van which runs over a black-and-white cat on a country road. To save time, he dumps his mail rather than delivering it.
Similarly, the BBC’s Mock the Week featured the lines: ‘Yodel delivery driver Pat, Yodel delivery driver Pat, He’s thrown your parcel in a hedge.’
And on Harry Enfield and Chums there was a sketch titled ‘Il Postino Pat’ with the characters all speaking Italian. It concluded with a communist revolution in Greendale, with poor old Pat shot and killed by fascist soldiers.
The Greendale post office, where Pat picks up the mail from elderly postmistress Mrs Goggins, was based on one in Greenside, Kendal, a few doors away from John Cunliffe’s home. It closed in 2003.
While today’s city dwellers would see early episodes of the programme as an anachronistic fantasy, I can say that here in the Ribble Valley our regular postman, Nick, has much in common with Pat. He is friendly, helpful and stops for a chat. No cat, but he’s a really happy man.