Groening lifts toilet lid on the real-life Groundskeeper Willie

WITH his flame-red beard, fiery temperament and arsenal of earthy Caledonian insults Groundskeeper Willie has become an intrinsic part of the enduring success of the Simpsons.

Responsible for famously labelling the French as "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys," Willie first swept his broom through Springfield Elementary School 17 years ago. Now, the creator of the Simpsons has finally confirmed that he "stole" the belligerent caretaker's character from a Canadian comedian.

In the week when The Simpsons Movie will hit the screens, Matt Groening has conceded that he based Willie on Angus Crock, a ferocious kilt-wearing chef who was a key part of Eighties cult Canadian satire show SCTV.

Funnyman Dave Thomas, who created and played Crock, confirmed that he has never been publicly credited for inspiring Willie or received a single cent in royalties.

But instead of launching into an angry Willie-esque guttural tirade, Thomas is flattered by the success of his brainchild.

And he revealed Groening did pay a belated tribute to his talent by inviting him to make a guest appearance in the series.

"I recently had lunch with Matt Groening and he confirmed that Groundskeeper Willie was inspired by Angus Crock," said Thomas who now runs his own an animation company in California.

Despite the obvious disadvantage of being a fictional animated character, a recent international poll put the cantankerous janitor in the top 10 most recognisable Scots, alongside Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor and Gordon Brown.

Thomas, a comedian, writer, actor and director who has performed with John Cleese, Bill Cosby, Dan Akroyd and Rick Moranis, added: "Ultimately I'm flattered that one of my creations is a key part of one of the world's best-written shows," he said. "This business has been very kind to me both in the accolades of fans and the ridiculous fees we all get paid for our work.

"People in showbusiness who complain are the same ones who would be bitching on an assembly line."

Thomas said he was delighted to have been invited by Groening to contribute to a couple of Simpsons episodes - including providing the voice of the late Bob Hope.

Crock's appearances became one of the most popular parts of sketch show SCTV, which was shown in Canada and the US in the Seventies and Eighties. His attempts at cooking were habitually hindered by his frequent imbibing of whisky.

While Crock was the inspiration for Willie, Thomas revealed that his Scottish roots provided the genesis of his character. His mother was Glaswegian and childhood holidays to Scotland provided ample opportunities to study the accents and traits of its people.

"Crock was inspired by my maternal grandfather William C Muir, a noted Edinburgh herbalist." he said. "My grandfather was unstoppable in his business and in his life. Like Crock, and Willie, he had a temper but was not a negative man.

"He would flare up briefly when someone or something crossed him, remove that obstacle then return to his normal self."

When devising Crock the Canadian peppered his lines with his grandfather's couthy witticisms such as "Lang may yer lum reek wi' somebody else's coal" and (referring to his diminutive stature) "They dinnae make gems as big as bricks".

Willie is no stranger to making similar Celtic outbursts such as "There's nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman" and when his kilt blew up "It's no more than God gave me ye' puritan pukes."

The Simpsons website refers to Willie as a "shaggy-haired, thickly accented, hot-tempered Scotsman whose personal life is as rocky and desolate as his native land."

The Simpsons Movie, which features a cameo role by Willie, opens on Friday.