The first classic Postman Pat episode aired on the BBC in 1981.
Two years previously John Cunliffe, a primary school teacher in the Lake District, had begun creating the fictional town of Greendale and its central character Postman Pat Clifton.
Cunliffe had been commissioned to write a new series set in the countryside. He came up with the idea almost immediately and wrote the original 13 episodes in just five weeks on an old typewriter in his back bedroom.
It was the towns, villages and people who lived around the area of Kendal in Cumbria that inspired the vision of Greendale and informed Cunliffe’s imagination as he created Postman Pat.
Months later John Cunliffe was introduced to Ivor Wood by the BBC. Ivor Wood, regarded as the best animator in the UK, had previously produced several successful children’s TV programmes including the much-loved Magic Roundabout, The Wombles and Paddington Bear. Now Wood had just set up his new venture Woodland Animations and agreed to transform Cunliffe’s writing into 13 fifteen minute animated films for the BBC.
It was at this time that John Cunliffe agreed to sign over the merchandising rights to Postman Pat to Woodland Animations. Cunliffe kept the royalty rights to book publications provided that the books used images from the animated TV series. Plus he retained 10% of merchandising royalties.
What Cunliffe did not realise was that Woodland Animations could release new Postman Pat books on cardboard written by third party authors over which he had no control.
In the mid 80’s Woodland Animations assumed all responsibility from the BBC for Postman Pat merchandising. They licensed many hundreds of Postman Pat products and the series grew in popularity. Around the world from Australia to Japan and from South Africa to China more and more children fell in love with Pat and Jess and their little red van.
John Cunliffe, though he no longer controlled it, had created an agrarian idyll of village life where everyone helped each other out in a fictional utopia loved by children the world over. As they grew and became parents themselves, so their own children enjoyed new iterations of Postman Pat.
As the new era of global merchandising dawned Postman Pat had become a megabrand. Pat’s image adorned a myriad of products, and not all of them licensed. Today Postman Pat Special Delivery Service, as it is now known, is one of the most important brands in the pre-school market.
In the 1990’s John Cunliffe went on to create another successful kids TV series in Rosie and Jim and has also written many other children’s book.
In November 2001 Ivor Wood, founder of Woodland Animations, sold his company to Entertainment Rights plc for a figure of £5.1 million.
Entertainment Rights went into administration in 2009 and was briefly acquired by US private equity specialist GTCR, before being sold on in July 2012 to US media giant Dreamworks Animation.
After several redirects Postman Pat may finally have found his ultimate destination!