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John Cunliffe
1933 - 2018

John Arthur Cunliffe was an English children's book author and television presenter who created the characters of Postman Pat and Rosie and Jim. Cunliffe was born in ColneLancashire on 16 June 1933, the only child of Nelly and Arthur Cunliffe. His father left the family when John was a baby. His great-uncle Herbert introduced him to the literary works of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, and let him use the microscope he kept in his front room. Cunliffe was very tall for his age and bullied at school because of this.


He attended Colne Grammar School, and later lived in KendalWestmorland, where the area's small towns and villages provided inspiration for his most famous character, Postman Pat. Greendale, where the series is set, is based on Longsleddale. Although Cunliffe wanted to become a writer when he left school, he was unsure how to go about this and from 1951 to 1973 was employed mainly as a librarian. From 1955 to 1956, he drove a van as a mobile librarian in rural Northumberland, and drew on this experience when creating Postman Pat. Cunliffe's first book, Farmer Barnes Buys a Pig, was published in 1964 through contact with children's author and publishing editor Philippa Pearce.

In 1979, whilst teaching in Kendal, he applied unsuccessfully for a director's job on the BBC TV programme Play School, but at lunch following the interview was asked if he could write a 13-part series for children set in the countryside. This resulted in the creation of Postman Pat, which was animated and directed by Ivor Wood, and first broadcast on 16 September 1981. He created Pat and Greendale as an idyllic village where everyone was nice to each other, in contrast to the bullying he suffered while growing up. Following the success of Postman Pat, Cunliffe became something of a local celebrity, and had a room dedicated to him at Kendal's Museum of Lakeland Life.

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Until 1986, he received limited income from libraries through the Public Lending Right scheme, for which most of his books did not qualify being under 32 pages long. Cunliffe's other well-known creation, Rosie and Jim, was shown on ITV from 1990 to 2000. He scripted and presented the first 50 episodes, then turned some of them into books. He intended to create a series closer to what he wanted overall, after being disappointed by some of the merchandising and tie-in books for Postman Pat, over which he had little control.

His role as presenter was taken over by Pat Hutchins in 1995, and later by Neil Brewer in 1997. In 2010, he released Ghosts, a children's story for the iPad. He was patron of the Ilkley Literature Festival. Cunliffe married Sylvia May Thompson in 1960, and the couple had one son, Julian Edward. They lived at 32 Greenside in Kendal when they first came to the Lake District. Cunliffe was a keen fan of Alfred Wainwright, another Kendal resident, and annotated his copies of Wainwright's books after completing particular walks.

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Despite the success of Postman Pat, when interviewed in 1987, Cunliffe and his wife were still living in their "modest semi-detached house" in the Manchester suburb of Withington, and for two and a half days a week he was working as an advisor to City of Manchester Education Committee on the use of computers in schools. Cunliffe died of cardiopulmonary on 20 September 2018, at the age of 85. His death was first announced in the local newspaper, the Ilkley Gazette, which said he "left his Ilkley home in a deluge of rain, never to return".

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