Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sir Stephen Tallents and the GPO

The poster for Night Mail designed by Pat Keely

The poster for Night Mail designed by Pat Keely

Sir Stephen Tallents, the innovative public relations man responsible for creating the GPO Film Unit, establishing poster design as an important part of the Post Office’s marketing activities and introducing the Valentines telegram (among other things), was the subject of a talk given at the BPMA on 29th October 2009 by Dr Scott Anthony, Director of the MA in Modern British History at Manchester University and author of the BFI Classics book on Night Mail. This talk is now available on our podcast

Tallents had a varied career before he joined the General Post Office (GPO). He served in the Irish Guards during World War I, but was badly injured in Festubert. Thereafter he returned to London and worked for a number of government departments until he became Secretary to the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) in 1926. The EMB’s purpose was to promote trade between British Empire nations and Tallents made full use of the modern media, setting up a film unit (led by John Grierson) and employing artists such as Edward McKnight Kauffer to design posters.

A still from the GPO Film Unit film Rainbow Dance

A still from the GPO Film Unit film Rainbow Dance

When the EMB was abolished in 1933, Tallents took up public relations work for the GPO, bringing the film unit and Grierson with him, and establishing a way of working which drew on the expertise of leading figures from the arts and communications industries in a consultative capacity. Kenneth Clark, then Director of the National Gallery but later most famous for the BBC TV series Civilisation, was one of many involved.

Dr Anthony’s talk examines Tallent’s career, showing how his many experiences and jobs led him to virtually invent public relations in the UK, and establish a long-lasting corporate identity and marketing strategy for the GPO.

Tallent’s work in the area of poster design will be one of the subjects covered in our next podcast, in which Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins, London, will explore the history and development of poster art and communication at the GPO.

The Royal Society 350 Years

This year is the 350th anniversary of The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. In celebration, Royal Mail has today released ten 1st class commemoratives featuring significant Royal Society figures whose portraits are paired with dramatic and colourful imagery representing their achievements. 

Royal Society 350th Anniversary stamps

The Royal Society 350th Anniversary stamps

The “brainstorming” design was the idea of Hat-trick Design, responsible for the interlocking “jigsaw” approach used for the 2009 Darwin stamps. But with more than 1,400 Fellows and Foreign Members to choose from, how were ten significant scientific figures to be selected?

Fittingly, it was The Royal Society itself which suggested the solution: a case of basic division. It was agreed to split the 350-year history into ten 35-year “blocks” in which it could be demonstrated how, through the work of its Fellows, The Royal Society has had a major impact on the World.

Royal Mail consulted with experts from the Society to determine the ten Fellows, and due to the global nature of the organisation, non UK citizens were included, such as one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, and the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford.

Lister Centenary Stamps, 1965

Lister Centenary Stamps, 1965

Science, scientific achievement and scientists have long been featured on British stamps. It could be argued that the British Empire Exhibition (1924 and 1925) or Festival of Britain (1951) commemoratives in part marked scientific and industrial achievement, as both events featured scientific displays. Even the National Productivity Year commemoratives (1962) hint at the business imperative behind much scientific research. However, the first British stamp issue explicitly celebrating scientific achievement was the Lister Centenary stamps (1965). Fittingly, Sir Joseph Lister, who first developed antiseptic surgery, is also commemorated on the new Royal Society stamps.

300th Anniversary of Isaac Newton's Principa Mathematica, 1987

300th Anniversary of Isaac Newton's Principa Mathematica, 1987

Newton's Moon and Tides Diagram with Early Telescopes stamp, released as part of the Astronomy issue, 1990

Newton's Moon and Tides Diagram with Early Telescopes stamp, released as part of the Astronomy issue, 1990

Other notable scientists commemorated on the Royal Society issue are appearing on British stamps for the second or even third time. The 300th anniversary of astronomer Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking Principa Mathematica was celebrated in 1987. Newton’s achievements were again celebrated in 1990 as part of the Astronomy issue.

Bicentenary of American Independence stamp, 1976

Bicentenary of American Independence stamp, 1976

A bust of Benjamin Franklin (commemorated here for developing electricity) appeared on the 1976 stamp marking the Bicentenary of American Independence, and Edward Jenner’s development of the smallpox vaccine was commemorated in 1999 as part of The Patients Tale issue. The birth bicentenary of Charles Babbage, who pioneered the computer, was commemorated in 1991 as part of the Scientific Achievements issue, and crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin was previously featured in the Women of Achievement issue (1996).

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stamp, released as part of The Patients Tale issue (1999); Birth Centenary of Charles Babbage (computer pioneer) stamp, released as part of Scientific Achievements (1990); Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (scientist) stamp, released as part of the Famous Women issue (1996).

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stamp, released as part of The Patients Tale issue (1999); Birth Centenary of Charles Babbage (computer pioneer) stamp, released as part of Scientific Achievements (1990); Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (scientist) stamp, released as part of the Famous Women issue (1996).

Newcomers to British stamps are chemist Robert Boyle, naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford and earth scientist Sir Nicholas Shackleton.

One Royal Society Fellow not present on this issue is Rowland Hill, although from a philatelic point of view Hill’s work has been celebrated many times. You can find out more about Rowland Hill and the Royal Society by reading the speech given by Philip Parker, Head of Stamp Policy at Royal Mail, at last night’s launch of this stamp issue, which is now on our website.

COMPETITION! We have a number of Royal Mail’s Royal Society 350 Years wall posters to give away. To win one e-mail us at blog@postalheritage.org.uk with your comment(s) on what you’d like to see more of on this blog. Please include your name and postal address. Posters will be allocated on a first come first serve basis. And yes, we will post overseas.

Spring Stampex 2010

Merchandise on display at the Friends of the BPMA stall at Spring Stampex 2010.

Merchandise on display at the Friends of the BPMA stall at Spring Stampex 2010.

The 2010 Spring Stampex opened today at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London. The BPMA Friends can be found at stand 20 this year. They will be happy to tell you more about the BPMA, and you can also become a Friend yourself.

Next door at stand 18 is Bletchley Park Post Office, who will be hosting an event as part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps in August – you will be able to find out more about this nearer the time.

As part of their stand on the Village Green at Stampex, Royal Mail are offering visitors the chance to make their own smilers. The image below is a Smiler sheet created by Chairman of the BPMA Friends Cyril Macey. It shows the BPMA Friends stand, with 2010 Festival Manager Jennifer Flippance and John Chapman from Bletchley Post Office.

A Smiler sheet created at Stampex showing the Friends of the BPMA stall

A Smiler sheet created at Stampex showing the Friends of the BPMA stall

Admission to Stampex is free, and the show is on until Saturday (27 February). For more details visit the Stampex website: www.stampex.ltd.uk

Britain Loves Wikipedia

Visitors looking at pillar boxes at Britain Loves Wikipedia

Visitors looking at pillar boxes at Britain Loves Wikipedia

On Saturday we held our Britain Loves Wikipedia event at the British Postal Museum Store. We were very pleased with the number of attendees, who were a mix of Wikipedians, postal history enthusiasts, keen photographers and people who live in the local area.

Our vehicles and post boxes generated the most interest, although the films made by the GPO film unit, which we screened throughout the day, were also popular.

A number of great photographs taken on the day have already been uploaded to the Britain Loves Wikipedia website. If you attended the event but haven’t uploaded your photos yet please do so before 14 March – a trio of DVD box sets celebrating the work of the GPO film unit will go to the person who uploads the best picture.

Films by the GPO film unit are screened at Britain Loves Wikipedia

In the near future the best photos take at the Museum Store as part of this event will be available on Wikimedia Commons and can be used to illustrate articles on the Wikipedia site. There are already some fascinating photographs related to Britain’s postal heritage on Wikimedia Commons, including this wall box in Radford, built in to an elaborate house-type structure, and we’re sure the photos taken at the Museum Store will be great additions to the site. We’ll post a link to them when they’re made public.

Another successful upload to the Britain Loves Wikipedia website

Another successful upload to the Britain Loves Wikipedia website

Stamps in the 21st Century

Next month the BPMA will host the panel discussion Stamps in the 21st Century, which will look at the use, design and future of the postage stamp.

The panel will be chaired by Brian Goodey, Chair of The Postal Heritage Trust and Professor Emeritus in the Joint Centre for Urban Design at Oxford Brookes University. Brian Goodey will speak about Architecture as Public Art – Buildings on British Stamps at the BPMA in December.

The 4d Carmine, 1855. The first stamp to be printed using the surface printing method.

The 4d Carmine, 1855. The first stamp to be printed using the surface printing method.

The rest of the panellists are:

Jean Alexander, co-author of the British Stamp Booklets series (available from The Great Britain Philatelic Society) and a member of the Stamp Advisory Committee, which advises Royal Mail on the design of British Stamps.

Tony Bryant, who has been with De La Rue plc for over 20 years. De La Rue has been printing stamps since the UK’s four penny Carmine in 1855 and continues to be at the forefront of stamp technology.

Barry Robinson, former Design Director at The Post Office. Barry Robinson estimates he was responsible for over 200 special stamp issues, the ongoing development of the Machin and country definitives, and the full range of support products.

Guy Thomas, editor of Stamp Magazine. Having recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, Stamp Magazine is Britain’s best-selling independent magazine for philatelists.

The panel discussion takes place at the Phoenix Centre, Phoenix Place, Clerkenwell, London, WC1X 0DL on 11 Thursday 11th March from 7.00-8.00pm. Tickets are free. To book for this event call 020 7239 2570 or email info@postalheritage.org.uk.

We are now looking for questions to put to the panel. If you have a question, please send it with your name and contact details to newsletter@postalheritage.org.uk or by post to Laura Dixon, BPMA, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL.

The panel discussion will be recorded for our podcast and will be made available at the end of April.

This event is part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

Bath Postal Museum King George V Exhibition

An Air Mail cover on display at the exhibition

An Air Mail cover on display at the exhibition.

As part of the London 2010 Festival of Stamps, the Bath Postal Museum’s King George V Exhibition opened on 1st February.  The overall Festival marks the centenary of the accession to the throne of King George V, and Bath’s display shows through stamps and other memorabilia the important events of his reign and how these were either affected by the postal service or influenced the post.  

Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition Wembley

Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition Wembley

Included in the exhibition are rare items from the first flights to carry air mail in the UK between Hendon and Windsor in 1911.  The Great War caused problems for the Post Office and inflation meant huge increases of 50% and more in the cost of sending a letter.  But better times followed and by 1924 the British Empire Exhibition had been created with the first commemorative stamps being issued in the UK.  Many souvenirs were created for the exhibition which lasted for two years and some of these are on show.

special preview of this exhibition is now on the London 2010 Festival of Stamps website.

The exhibition runs until 30th October at Bath Postal Museum, 27 Northgate Street (corner of Green Street), Bath BA1 1AJ, http://www.bathpostalmuseum.co.uk/. Bath Postal Museum is open daily from 11am to 5pm (last entrance 4.30pm). Entry is Adults £3.50, Concessions £3.00, Children £1.50. There are reductions for groups of 10 or more.

Image courtesy of The Trustees of the Bath Postal Museum

Museum Store Tours

Pillar boxes arranged in a line at the British Postal Museum Store

Pillar boxes at the British Postal Museum Store

Throughout the year we open up our Museum Store to visitors. The Store is a working space, where our curators look after our collection of large objects – everything from pillar boxes and cycles, to mail vans and sorting equipment. There are also some interesting surprises, like the desk of Sir Rowland Hill and a Post Office (London) Railway (or Mail Rail) car.

Join us throughout 2010 for an afternoon or evening tour led by one of our curators. There are also several special events at the Museum Store this year, including Britain Loves Wikipedia and an Open Weekend (more details to follow).

Museum Store Tours 2010
Afternoon Tour, March – Wednesday 3rd March, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, April – Wednesday 7th April, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, May – Wednesday 5th May, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, June – Wednesday 2nd June, 2.00-4.00pm
Evening Tour, June – Monday 7th June, 6.00-8.00pm
Evening Tour, July – Monday 5th July, 6.00-8.00pm
Afternoon Tour, July – Wednesday 7th July, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, August – Wednesday 4th August, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, September – Wednesday 1st September, 2.00-4.00pm
Evening Tour, September – Monday 6th September, 6.00-8.00pm
Afternoon Tour, October – Wednesday 6th October, 2.00-4.00pm
Afternoon Tour, November – Wednesday 3rd November, 2.00-4.00pm 

Museum Store Special Events 2010
Britain Loves Wikipedia – Saturday 20th February, 10.30am-4.00pm
Open Weekend – Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th May, 10.00am-4.00pm

In celebration of Charles Darwin

Today is International Darwin Day, a global celebration of science and reason held on or around the birth anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. Last year Royal Mail released a set of stamps and a miniature sheet to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, but Darwin or Darwin’s achievements have featured on three other stamp issues, making him one of the most celebrated non-Royals on British stamps.

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 2009

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 2009

Charles Darwin Galapagos Islands miniature sheet, 2009

Charles Darwin Galapagos Islands miniature sheet, 2009

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection came about following his journey aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830’s. The main aim of the Beagle’s voyage was to conduct a hydrographic survey of South America, but Captain Robert FitzRoy wanted a naturalist onboard who could investigate local geology and natural history; Darwin, who had recently left the University of Cambridge, was chosen. During the journey Darwin collected the fossils of extinct mammals and noted the slight variations in species from region to region. It was these discoveries which were lead to Darwin’s famous theory.

Darwin made his first appearance on British stamps when Royal Mail issued four commemoratives in honour of his death centenary in 1982. The stamps were designed by David Gentleman and are well known to philatelists, but Gentleman’s original concept for the issue was rather different. Gentleman described it in his book Artwork as “four portrait heads [of Darwin], drawn or photographed in childhood, youth, maturity and age…These Victorian portraits of a growing and evolving person were fascinating in themselves and also suggested the idea of a personal evolution.”

When this concept was rejected by the Stamp Advisory Committee, Gentleman came up with a new idea: “For the second set I used only one head, that of Darwin as an old man, flanked in three of the designs by the three pairs of creatures [iguanas, finches and tortoises from the Galapagos Islands] whose puzzling variations helped to spark off his evolutionary theory…The fourth design shows two anthropoid skulls, one from early in the evolutionary scale, the other from halfway along it, again with Darwin’s own inquiring and thoughtful face between them.”

Death Centenary of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 1982

Death Centenary of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 1982

Darwin's Theory of Evolution stamp from The Scientist's Tale issue, 1999

Darwin's Theory of Evolution stamp from The Scientist's Tale issue, 1999

John Collier's portrait of Charles Darwin as it appeared on a stamp as part of the National Portrait Gallery 150th Anniversary issue, 2006

John Collier's portrait of Charles Darwin as it appeared on a stamp as part of the National Portrait Gallery 150th Anniversary issue, 2006

In 1999, as part of The Scientists’ Tale issue, Darwin’s theory of evolution was again celebrated, with a design featuring a fossilised skeleton and a Galapagos finch. A portrait of Darwin, painted by John Collier a year before Darwin’s death, appeared in the 2006 issue celebrating 150 years of the National Portrait Gallery, London. (For a large view of Collier’s portrait, and for more information about it, see the National Portrait Gallery website.)

At the start of this blog we mentioned that Darwin was one of the most celebrated non-Royals on British stamps. In April we’ll be featuring another famous Briton who has also appeared on British stamps multiple times.

Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

Just like last year, The British Postal Museum & Archive will have a stand at Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE 2010, the country’s biggest and most comprehensive family history event, taking place on 26 – 28 February 2010 at Olympia in London.

Family History records at the BPMA

The British Postal Museum & Archive is the best place to find out more information on postal ancestors. Royal Mail Group is still one of the largest employers in the country, and with over 370 years of history it has had an impact on countless lives.

Pensions and gratuities records

Pensions and gratuities records

The BPMA holds a wealth of material useful to family historians researching postal ancestors, such as Appointment records; Staff Establishment Books and Pensions & Gratuities.

The Pensions and Gratuities records tend to be the main source of information for family historians. They include information such as name, rank, date of birth, years of service, positions held, and amount of pension/gratuity awarded.

BPMA at WDYTYA Live

At the BPMA stand this year you will be able to get information and put questions to our knowledgeable staff that will be manning the stand throughout the weekend.

WDYTYA Live 2010

The crowds at Who Do You Think You Are? Live

The crowds at Who Do You Think You Are? Live

WDYTYA Live is the country’s biggest family history event, sponsored by Ancestry.co.uk and powered by Times Archive, and featuring a host of exhibitors covering everything from recording and documenting your research to maps and photo preservation. There will also be opportunities to get one-to-one guidance from specialists in Ask the Experts.

Kate Humble and Esther Rantzen will be 2 of the celebrities taking to the stage to bring the TV show to life with an exclusive peek behind the scenes.  New for 2010, there is also the brand new Truprint Photography Gallery, where you will be able to have your photos dated, identified, digitised or restored.

We hope to see you there!

2 FOR 1 TICKET OFFER!

We’re giving you the chance to buy two adult tickets for £22 – that’s a saving of £22*! To claim this special offer and get your tickets to the country’s biggest and most comprehensive family history event, simply call the ticket hotline on 0871 230 5596 or visit www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk and quote EX241

*£2 transaction fee applies. 2 for 1 offer ends 19th February 2010. On-door standard entry tickets priced at £22 each. Workshop tickets available free on-site, or in advance at a cost of £2. This is not a BBC event.

Homosexuality in Post Office History

To commemorate Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans History Month, BPMA Archivist Helen Dafter examines the Post Office’s past attitudes to homosexuality and homosexual employees.

When thinking of The Royal Mail Archive most people immediately think of stamps, or how letters got from one place to another. It is less common for people to consider how the materials in the archive might reflect wider social history. One aspect of this social history is how the issue of homosexuality was dealt with by the Post Office.

Conduct of staff and how this may reflect on the image of the Post Office was a matter of concern. This was particularly the case with senior members of staff-whose position would have a more direct impact on the overall reputation of the Post Office. One such was the Prosecution of Gustavus Cornwall, Secretary to the General Post Office in Dublin in the late nineteenth century. In July 1884 Cornwall lodged a libel claim against the publication United Ireland for articles printed in May 1884 implying that he was associated with James Ellis French (head of the Criminal Investigation Department in Dublin Castle), and guilty of the same crimes alleged against Ellis. The pattern of this case was similar to that of the case of Oscar Wilde a decade later.

A cartoon about the United Ireland trial captioned "Flogging them to the fight: Earl Spencer having in vain attempted to crush United Ireland himself, by fair means, goads on the foulest scoundrels in the Castle Service, under pain of losing their salaries, to assail the obnoxious newspaper with a legal battering-ram of £40,000 damages".

A cartoon about the United Ireland trial captioned "Flogging them to the fight: Earl Spencer having in vain attempted to crush United Ireland himself, by fair means, goads on the foulest scoundrels in the Castle Service, under pain of losing their salaries, to assail the obnoxious newspaper with a legal battering-ram of £40,000 damages".

Gustavus Cornwall lost his case for libel on 7 July 1884 and was suspended from duty in the Post Office – a suspension which lasted until his compulsory resignation in August 1885. Shortly after the libel action Cornwall was prosecuted for Felony (Sodomy) and conspiracy with Martin Kirwan (of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers) to “procure others to commit diverse lewd and filthy practices”. He was swiftly acquitted on the Felony charge, but the jury was unable to reach a decision on the conspiracy and he was retried and acquitted in October 1884.

In light of his acquittals Cornwall requested a new trial for the libel case. This was refused in November 1884 and Cornwall appealed. Finally a new trial was granted in May 1885. This trial was only to consider whether the original claims of felony were libellous, it did not address the claims of conspiracy. At this point Cornwall decided that he did not have sufficient funds to pursue a new libel trial and thus failed to take it further.

The copy deposition of the Queen a. Cornwall & Others - Unnatural offenses

The copy deposition of the Queen a. Cornwall & Others - Unnatural offenses

It was decided that given the circumstances it would not be appropriate to allow Cornwall a pension – despite 45 years of employment by the Post Office. He was advised to resign and offered full pay for the period of his suspension up to 31st July 1885. This decision reflects the impact accusations of this nature could have. Although Cornwall was acquitted of all charges, the fact that the initial libel trial had found against him, combined with the fact that the acquittal on the conspiracy charge was due to insufficient evidence, damaged his reputation seriously enough for the Post Office to cease all association with him, lest it also be tarnished.

Seventy years later the Post Office was still struggling with issues associated with “sexual perversion and indecency”. These issues were wide ranging as outlined in the Ritson Report on Discipline in the Civil Service circa 1955 (POST 122/8049). This report defines sexual offences as “these offences include homosexual offences, indecent assault, indecent exposure, and rape”. Files from this period reflect changing societal attitudes at this time. The shift towards a medical approach to sexual offences begins to emerge, although in correspondence relating to the case of Mr A F Gardner in 1958, a postal employee convicted of “gross indecency and publishing obscene photographs” and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, states that “there is no evidence that homosexuality is in itself a disease, and a person with homosexual propensities will not necessarily respond to medical or psychiatric treatment” (POST 122/8050). These discussions were occurring against the backdrop of the Report of the Department on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (Wolfenden Report), published in September 1957 and recommending that homosexual activity, in private, between consenting adults should be decriminalised, and stating that homosexuality should not be regarded as a disease.

While The Royal Mail Archive cannot be said to have a wealth of LGBT material, the material it does hold provide an interesting insight into the attitudes of the Post Office and the wider Civil Service towards homosexuality.