THE creator of Postman Pat has caused consternation in the Highlands by flatly denying 30-year-old claims a local postie inspired the children’s classic.
Many residents of tiny Arisaig and beyond have been certain for years that postman Pat McCarthy, who died in 1994, was the basis for the series.
The cherished belief, backed by local media reports from the 1980s, was partly based on the notion that Postman Pat creator John Cunliffe had visited the west coast village.
But Mr Cunliffe, 81 – who lives 334 miles away from Arisaig in Ilkley, West Yorks – insists he has never visited.
The writer added that the name Postman Pat was picked at random from a phone book and revealed that he gets around half a dozen similarly ill-founded claims a year from UK communities.
In Arisaig, about an hour’s drive west of Fort William, the news was met with disbelief. One relative of Mr McCarthy even suggested the writer was hiding the truth.
The late postie at the centre of the storm, Pat McCarthy, was already a local celebrity before Postman Pat aired. Mr McCarthy starred in a 1968 BBC documentary about his life as a rural postman. He kept several pet cats, including a large black and white tom called Roguey.
Following the massive success of the Postman Pat series, Arisaig started to put two and two together. Mr McCarthy, whenever he was asked, was to smile enigmatically and shrug his shoulders.
A local newsletter called Gaelic Broadcast told its readers in the 80s: “There seems little doubt that Pat was the inspiration for the now legendary Postman Pat.
“The creator spent several days on holiday in Arisaig, and accompanied Pat around the village and district in his mail van.”
The article even added that if Mr Cunliffe “would only own up” the area could become “a centre of pilgrimage for thousands of children”.
Last month, one of Mr McCarthy’s nephews wrote about the Highland connection on social media.
Stephen McBride, 54, posted old pictures of his uncle and told friends: “Postman Pat was a Scot – not some mythical guy from the lake district. Even his cat Rougey was copied and became Jess – which curiously enough was Pat’s mother’s name.
“Here is the proof – my uncle Pat – the real one from Arisaig.”
But a bemused Mr Cunliffe said: “The nearest I came to Scotland when writing Postman Pat was Northumberland and the Lake District.
“It’s lovely when people identify with the series, but there is no connection. There are a lot of postmen called Pat and a lot of black and white cats.
“I chose the name for the series because it just sounds nice. I thought he would need someone to talk to as he went along.
“I got maybe half a dozen people last year saying they were the inspiration. It happens when it’s in the news.”
Mr McBride responded: “I don’t understand it. It was on the gaelic radio station. Maybe John Cunliffe feels if he admitted anything the family would be looking for money off him. Nobody would, of course.
He added: “Pat was a good postie, a well-liked character. He never buried the mail like some of them.
“Pat didn’t lie about anything, he was dead modest. If you asked him anything about himself he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.”
Arisaig Post Office’s current manager, Jane Kerrall, also believed the story was true and was taken aback to hear of Mr Cunliffe’s denial.
She said: “When we were kids in the village we were told the series was based on our local postie. The local kids all thought that. It’s a wee thing Arisaig thought they had. Obviously they didn’t.”