Tag Archives: GPO film unit

Royal Mail Archive added to UNESCO Memories of the World Register

Recently the BPMA has received some exciting news. The Royal Mail Archive, which we look after, has been added to UNESCO’s Memories of the World Register. The archive spans the years 1636 to 1969 and covers a wide range of items from promotional posters to the Penny Black and employment records to telegrams about the Titanic.

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Telegram telling of the sinking of the Titanic

UNESCO was impressed by the unique insight the archive offers into the development of communication within the UK and abroad and the way it reflects the social and personal impact that the postal service has had upon people across the country.

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GPO poster

Head of Archives Vicky Parkinson tells us about being added to this year’s list of inscriptions:

“Back in 2011 my colleagues attended that year’s inscription reception following the successful nomination of the work of the GPO film unit, which was a joint application with our colleagues in the BFI and BT. On the back of that success we felt that the Royal Mail Archive was worthy of inscription and the nomination paperwork was submitted in January of this year.

We were delighted to hear that the UNESCO committee agreed with us and on the 19 June 2014 Helen Forde, Chair of our Board of Trustees, and I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the award ceremony, along with the other successful nominees.

Vicky and Helen

Vicky and Helen at the reception. Photo by Lesley Ann Ercolano

The reception, hosted by Lloyds Banking Group at their iconic site on the Mound in Edinburgh, was about celebrating the UK’s outstanding history and raising awareness about some of the country’s documentary riches. For me it was a wonderful reminder of how the archive, and the work we do to look after it and make it available, fits into the bigger picture of how history, and more importantly the original records, still play a vital role in today’s society.

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One of the thousands of photos in the collection – women mending parcels at the Home Depot during the First World War

For those of us lucky enough to work with the archive on a day to day basis it’s easy to see just how significant the collection is, documenting the vital role the postal service has played in the UK. Having that importance recognised by schemes such as UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register and the Arts Council’s Designation scheme is a vital way of spreading awareness of the riches we have in our custody.”

It is these stories and more that will be told in The Postal Museum when it opens in 2016. To hear some of these fantastic stories, and see the wealth of objects all of our collections hold, before then keep an eye on the blog. Over the coming months BPMA staff will be telling you all their favourite stories and showing you all manner of intriguing and enticing objects.

This is the Night Mail crossing the border

On Thursday 11 July Dr Scott Anthony will give a talk here at the BPMA on the classic film Night Mail which will be accompanied by a screening. In this blog Dr Anthony talks about Night Mail‘s timeless relevance.

This is the Night Mail crossing the border
Bringing the cheque and the postal order
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.

Night Mail – the 1936 cinematic account of the travelling post office, to text by WH Auden – is the most famous film from the GPO documentary unit. It’s as evocative of the 1930s as Battersea Power Station, the Shell Guides and Agatha Christie.

For much of the past 20 years Night Mail has also been deeply unfashionable. It’s liable to be seen as the kind of thing that might have starred Harry Enfield’s Mr Chumley Warner.

It’s true that, for a documentary, parts of Night Mail are not that realistic. For a start, the scenes of travelling post office workers sorting the mail were filmed on the GPO’s lot in Blackheath with the posties urged, Star Trek style, to sway gently from side to side.

Still from Night Mail.

Still from Night Mail.

Indeed, Night Mail is actually the film of a train set. The GPO had commissioned the exquisite Bassett-Lowke to produce a miniature travelling post office for display at exhibitions. The miniature proved so popular with the public that it then became a documentary. When people say that Night Mail portrays a model post office, they’re more right than they know.

However, the genesis of Night Mail – the corporate promo – was far from straightforward, and it began with the future Labour prime minister, Clement Attlee. Pressure was growing for the reform and part-privatisation of the GPO. Besieged by criticism, the then postmaster-general Attlee hired the publicity expert Sir Stephen Tallents to project an image of the GPO as the “outstanding example of collective capitalism”.

Previously, the British establishment had frowned on government advertising during peacetime; it was considered something indulged in only by dubious continental regimes. Now, though, state innovations were to be unveiled with dramatic showmanship. During 1934′s Telephone Week speakers were erected in Trafalgar Square to blare out Jack Hylton’s jazz band as they were flown over London in an Imperial Airways plane. Tallents commissioned the artist Macdonald Gill to design a new brand logo for the GPO. The introduction of the speaking clock, telephone chess and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s redesign of the Jubilee telephone kiosk followed.

The classic Night Mail poster.

The classic Night Mail poster.

Night Mail was part of Tallents’ effort to use emerging new media to promote an up-to-date concept of Britishness. Films such as Night Mail and Humphrey Jennings’ Spare Time are testament to Tallents’ collective method of developing an appropriate identity for Britain’s burgeoning social democracy.

But such nostalgic risks reducing Night Mail to the status of a tatty-eared Penguin classic, when those who commissioned, made, starred in and watched the film were confronting some startling contemporary dilemmas. Grappling with public service reform, technological, social and economic change, as well as the growth of internationalism, is a tricky task. Just ask the Communication Workers Union. Or Vince Cable.

Visit our website to purchase tickets for Dr Scott Anthony’s talk and the film screening of Night Mail.

Night Mail is available on DVD from our online shop.

New Lower Prices on BPMA Products

The BPMA Shop now offers new lower prices on selected products:

Original Post Office Green Papers. In the 1930s the General Post Office hosted lectures on various new or innovative aspects of its business, from engineering to public relations. The Green Papers were published versions of these lectures, and they have become an invaluable resource for information about the postal past. These are the original copies of the Green Papers from the 1930s, 40s and 50s – so numbers are strictly limited.
Was £5.00 – NOW £3.00 each – or get 5 copies for the price of 4! Enter GR33N544 discount code at the online shop checkout when ordering 5 copies of more to receive the discount.

Original GPO Green Papers

Speeding the Mail – An Oral History of the Post Office from the 1930s to 1990s Audio CD. Covering 60 years of postal history, this superb audio CD provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes to see how the job was done. Postal workers past and present talk about the way they used to work – recollections from the days of the GPO; stories by those who delivered letters, packets, parcels and even pairs of rabbits; stamp designers and those postal workers serving the public behind the Post Office counter.
Was £11.99 – NOW £5.99

Speeding the Mail – An Oral History of the Post Office from the 1930s to 1990s Audio CD

Postal Reform & the Penny Black – A New Appreciation. Douglas N. Muir, BPMA Curator (Philately), describes the long campaign for postal reform in this important study. He illustrates his account of the period leading to the issues of the Penny Black and the Mulready Covers with a wealth of contemporary designs, proofs and other philatelic material.
Was £5.99 – NOW £4.99

Postal Reform and The Penny Black – A New Appreciation, by BPMA Curator (Philately) Douglas N. Muir

Night Mail T-Shirt. The striking poster design of the GPO Film Unit classic Night Mail (1936) has been adapted for these shirts. Like the film itself – a classic work.
Was £9.00 – NOW £5.00

Night Mail T-Shirt

You can find all these products and more in our online shop www.postalheritage.org.uk/sale.

The BPMA Shop now also has a new postal address and phone number for shop orders and enquiries:

BPMA Product Sales
Room 309, 3rd Floor
5 Almeida Street
LONDON
N1 1AA
Tel. 0044 (0) 207 354 7272

And finally, a little reminder that Christmas is approaching fast – so ‘Post Early’ and order your Christmas cards soon from the BPMA Shop: www.postalheritage.org.uk/greetings.

Britten Films: An Exploration

The young Benjamin Britten wrote:

1936… finds me earning my living – with occasionally something to spare – at the GPO film unit… writing music and supervising sounds for film

In 1933 Britten became a member of the General Post Office film unit, which was originally set up to produce sponsored films relating to the GPO’s activities. As a result of Britten composing the music for the short films, there was a quick turnaround time and this helped Britten to refine and nurture his compositional tools.

The nine short films he worked on – covering subjects ranging from postage stamps to pacifism, the abolition of the slave trade to the electrification of the London-Portsmouth railway – are wonderfully made and fascinating historical documents. For example, Night Mail is a documentary about a London, Midland and Scottish railway mail train. The rhythm of the poem imitates the stages of the train journey, where the increasing rhythmic pace throughout the poem symbolises the acceleration of the mail train.

A still from Night Mail showing the mail train on its journey

A still from Night Mail showing the mail train on its journey

Britten’s music brilliantly reflects, amplifies and underpins the screen images with scores of rich variety and invention. It is a celebration of composer’s craft and filmmaker’s technique, an insight into 1930s Britain, and a snapshot of the art of propaganda before the term became besmirched forever by the extreme forces of political repression.

Aldeburgh Festival will be screening Britten’s nine GPO films in June with a live orchestra in the event Britten Films. Before the screening commences there will be an illustrated discussion, Britten Films: An Exploration, looking at the astonishing artistic collective which was the GPO film unit and how some of Britten’s very first professional commissions were to leave a powerful impression on his future creative life.

For more information on the events visit www.aldeburgh.co.uk or phone 01728 687100. The website’s ‘visiting us’ page helps you find out about where to eat, where to stay, and how to find us of course. Tickets can be purchased from the website and through the box office on 01728 687110.

Leanne Cox - Aldeburgh Festival

The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit is available from the BPMA Shop.

Reaching milestones in our documentation and cataloguing work

At the end of February, we reached some significant milestones in the documentation work carried out on our museum and archive collections.

Submitted design (No. 15) by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons.

The first milestone reached was the completion of an audit of material contained within the museum collection. What this means is that we have entry and location data for every object inherited by BPMA when it was formed in 2004 and for every object subsequently deposited with us. This includes objects held in our Freeling House repository and in our stores in Debden and at Christie’s.

Documentation of collections is a core part of any museum’s activity. Without details such as provenance, custodial history, physical condition and the terms and conditions relating to deposit, a museum cannot be assured of its responsibility and rights to preserve, display, digitise or even dispose (should the item not meet the museum’s collecting policy) of objects in its custody. Furthermore, precise information about an object’s location in our repository and stores means that we can carry out collections review work more efficiently and better prepare for our forthcoming move from our site here at Freeling House to the new postal museum.

This has been a significant amount of work and has taken seven years to complete. Very few museums have achieved a full audit of their holdings and it means that we can now concentrate our efforts in reviewing object collections, creating descriptive catalogues for the online catalogue and also plan our digitisation programmes accordingly. The completion of this work is due to the hard work and discipline of our museum cataloguers past and present, and we congratulate them all for doing such a great job!

The second milestone is that we’ve passed the 100,000 mark of records available to view on our online catalogue. We now have 100,703 records published. Our most recently published records include:
King George VI London Olympic Games 1948 stamp artwork
• Uniforms
• Handstamps
• Posters
Photographic stills from Post Office films, c.1969-1986
Finally, at the beginning of each year, we also open files that have been closed for 30 years. You can read in the blog by my colleague Gavin McGuffie how we process these. This year, we’ve opened approximately 100 files and the descriptions of these can be viewed via our online catalogue here.

Martin Devereux – Acting Catalogue Manager

Family Fun Day

On Saturday 31 March our Museum Store in Loughton, Essex will host a day of activities especially for families. This free event will include short tours of our collections of vintage postal vehicles and post boxes, film screenings, craft sessions, and the chance to handle some original objects and try on postmen’s uniforms.

Postal vehicles at our Museum Store

Postal vehicles at our Museum Store

Our collection of vehicles and post boxes includes the London Ornate pillar box, which has a compass on top in case you get lost whilst posting your letter, and the Inspector’s Bicycle, which has the letters GPO (General Post Office) in the chain wheel. Take a tour with our curators to learn even more about our holdings.

Artist Michelle Reader will be on hand throughout the day to help you make mini sculptures using recycled materials like cardboard, old CDs, plastic objects and buttons. Be inspired by our vehicles and see what you can create.

Try on a postman's hat at our Family Fun Day

Try on a postman's hat at our Family Fun Day

We will also screen films made by the GPO Film Unit, who documented the General Post Office’s work in the 1930s and 1940s. Of particular interest is A Job In A Million which followed John Truman, as he joined the Post Office as a trainee messenger boy.

The Family Fun Day runs from 10am-4pm on 31 March at the BPMA Museum Store, Loughton. The event is free and there is no need to book. Visit our website for full details and travel directions.

The Family Fun Day is part of the 2012 Loughton Festival. The Festival is raising money for Haven House Children’s Hospice. A collection will take place during the event, with all proceeds to this worthy cause.

Get 10% off at our new online shop

We have just launched our new and improved online shop.

New BPMA online shop

Visit the shop at www.postalheritage.org.uk/shop before 10 April and get a 10% discount off all your purchases. To obtain the discount enter the code BPMAW3BS1TE when you make your payment.

What we sell

The BPMA shop sells a range of products including greetings cards, postcards, publications, philatelic products, DVDs & CDs, models & keyrings, homewares and stationery. New products on offer include Gift Republic’s “Stamp Collection” mug, notebooks and greetings cards featuring the Machin design, and the publications The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit and Mail Trains.

Gift Republic's "Stamp Collection" Machin greetings card

Gift Republic's "Stamp Collection" Machin greetings card

Events booking

You can also book for our paid events through the shop. Book online now for the upcoming talks Disaster at Sea! and The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.