Tag Archives: Sinn Fein

Postmarketing: slogans from the seventies

Kim Noulton who has been volunteering with the BPMA blogs about what she has found among a series of Post Office registered files in the Royal Mail Archive which were created by the Marketing Department in the 1970s.

Since August I have been cataloguing second review material; this means that the files have undergone a decision-making process in which they have been selected for permanent preservation. Topics that I have catalogued so far, which are now available to search on the BPMA online catalogue, include files pertaining to strategies conceived by the BBC and GPO on broadcasting capabilities in the event of nuclear fallout from the 1950s; the creation of the postal minibus service, which includes photographs; and postmark slogans from the 1960s to 1980s. It is the last topic that I will be discussing in this post.

At first sight, postmark slogans seem an inoffensive form of marketing; a tool for the Post Office to promote its new postcode system to the public or advertising events on a wide scale. However, one such campaign led to worries about causing offence to the highest office in Britain; the Crown.

File POST 154/3 details how Chessington Zoo, an establishment housing exotic animals since the 1930s, commissioned designs for a postmark in 1972. The result was the slogan ‘Chessington Zoo Open Every Day of the Year’ and a rather harmless-looking monkey which however, when stamped over the Queen’s head, created an outrageously unflattering image. Such was the outcry that the Lord Chamberlain’s office became involved, to which the Post Office responded promptly by creating new designs for the Zoo. Disaster was thankfully averted with the help of an elephant.

The monkey slogan overprinted on a stamp. (POST 154/3)

The monkey slogan overprinted on a stamp. (POST 154/3)

The revised Chessington Zoo slogan featuring an elephant. (POST 154/3)

The revised Chessington Zoo slogan featuring an elephant. (POST 154/3)

The material in the file takes a different perspective when it is revealed that a woman made a complaint to the Post Office about the nature of the postmark. Her concern was that the postmark was forced upon her when receiving a letter, despite her dislike for zoos, circuses and any other institution keeping wild animals in captivity. This raises questions about advertisements in general being forced upon people in receipt of their post without their consent.

One other controversy revealed in this section of Marketing Department files (POST 154, the first part of this series to be available online) concerns the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland  in the early 1970s. The file (POST 154/1) documents the unlawful overprinting of stamps with politically motivated messages, including ‘Support Sinn Fein’ and ‘Dail Uladh 1971′. The file itself shows how something as simple as postmark slogans can create a political storm.

List of stamps on sale from the Irish Republican Philatelic Office, Dublin. (POST 154/1)

List of stamps on sale from the Irish Republican Philatelic Office, Dublin. (POST 154/1)

With the Irish Republican Army (IRA) upping the intensity of their attacks during 1971, such messages caused alarm and great offence, especially to those who had suffered fatal casualties at the hands of the IRA. One serving officer of the Queen’s Regiment explains his view in a letter, stating very clearly that he believes the Irish government knew about the overprinting and was therefore ‘wilfully supporting terrorism’.

An interesting feature of this particular file is that the Post Office’s policy, available to view within the files, was to reject all manner of political statements, with their standpoint to remain unbiased in its place as a public service.

Search for these files on our online catalogue.

2013 Royal Mail Archive openings: bring on the 20-year rule

The start of the year has traditionally been the time we’ve made batches of material available to public research for the first time based on the long-standing ’30-year rule’. This year things are slightly different since the ’30 year rule’ is no more and we (along with The National Archives and some other holders of public record material) are starting a ten year transitional period to a ’20-year rule’.

Closed until various dates until 2013.

In the past we opened files that had reached the thirtieth anniversary of the latest document in them over the previous year on the 1 January of the subsequent year. So on 1 January 2012 we opened all files that had documents from 1981 in them.

Material at the BPMA will now generally be available to researchers according to the 20-year rule transitional timetable which like transfer to The National Archives will deal with two years’ worth of files each year until 2023.

This is set out below:

1 Jan 2013 – Files from 1982 and 1983 will become open

1 Jan 2014 – Files from 1984 and 1985 will become open

1 Jan 2015 – Files from 1986 and 1987 will become open

1 Jan 2016 – Files from 1988 and 1989 will become open

1 Jan 2017 – Files from 1990 and 1991 will become open

1 Jan 2018 – Files from 1992 and 1993 will become open

1 Jan 2019 – Files from 1994 and 1995 will become open

1 Jan 2020 – Files from 1996 and 1997 will become open

1 Jan 2021 – Files from 1998 and 1999 will become open

1 Jan 2022 – Files from 2000 and 2001 will become open

1 Jan 2023 – Files from 2002 will become open (end of transition phase)

N.B. A very small number of files (or parts of files) in The Royal Mail Archive have extended closure periods generally under Freedom of Information Act personal information exemptions; these will be unaffected by this change.

This process has applied to more than 500 files this January, particularly material from the following POST classes: POST 19 (Postal Business Statistics), POST 52 (Stamp Depot), POST 69 (Royal Mail Board and its Predecessors) and POST 73 (Regional Administration and Operations).

Below I’ll tell you about some of the files that have interested me the most. A few of them focus on two of the major issues affecting UK politics in the early 1980s, Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands.

POST 23/219 relates to the operation of a rival postal service in Derry/ Londonderry.

William Ross MP had complained in December 1978 about Sinn Fein Christmas mail (which would deliver Christmas cards in the city at a lower rate than the Post Office) and whether it infringed the Post Office monopoly. A letter from Danny Carty, PO Northern Ireland head, to Minister of State Adam Butler discusses the issue. Press releases had been sent out every year since 1975. Stamp Collecting magazine had ‘issued the Sinn Fein press release without really understanding the issues involved’. On the issue of the monopoly Carty wrote about the dangers of going to court:

Goliath might slew David on this occasion, but at what price to the Post Office in Northern Ireland.

Following up in December 1982 Carty informed PO Chairman Ron Dearing:

Sinn Fein Christmas Post is not going to go away…I have discussed this issue at my executive meeting today and the view, with no voice of dissent, was we should do nothing. I realise this is the soft option, pragmatist that I am, but feel this is the sensible approach to take at this time.

Ron Dearing wrote to Philip Cooper, Under Secretary, Department of Industry, 1 December 1982:

I want to avoid being drawn into a position of taking legal proceedings against Sinn Fein for two reasons:-

1). part of their objective will be to promote confrontation wherever they can, and the Post Office has particular value to them in this context because it is seen as representing the UK Government and because the Post Office in Dublin is perhaps the best remembered point in the fighting that took place before the establishment of the Irish Republic.

2). risk of violence to postmen on their walks (part of the time in the dark)….For if our postmen became the centre of a campaign and were subject to threats of violence, and some actual violence, we might find that staff were understandably unwilling to make deliveries in Roman Catholic areas or indeed more widely. Then the Sinn Fein would really have won the battle.

This service was still in operation at Christmas 2012.

The context in which these developments were occurring can be seen in the contents to POST 23/370. This covers civil disturbances at the time of the IRA hunger strikes and their impact on postal services. In a memorandum covering the week 20-26 April 1981 (hunger striker and MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Bobby Sands had died on 9 April) it lists 14 serious incidents including attacks on sorting offices, vehicles and post boxes. On 17 April…

Rioters attacked Londonderry HO Sorting Office with petrol bombs, bricks and iron bars. Staff on duty managed to extinguish petrol bombs which landed on roof of building and in the yard. No injuries.

Other memos put the events into context detailing deaths of hunger strikers and other political events.

Civil Disturbances Weekly Report, 20-26 April 1981. (POST 23/370)

Civil Disturbances Weekly Report, 20-26 April 1981. (POST 23/370)

POD/AN/1060 (yet to be assigned a finding number but available) contains material on mail to the Falkland Islands in the run up to, during and following the Falklands War. A telex to Royal Research Ship John Biscoe just after the Argentinian invasion reads:

Did you hand the mail over to anyone in Port Stanley? If so who? Or have you still got it on board your ship? An urgent reply would be appreciated.

Telex to RRS John Bisco(e), 15 April 1982 (POD/AN/1060)

Telex to RRS John Bisco(e), 15 April 1982 (POD/AN/1060)

The cost of contacting members of the British Task Force sent to recapture the Islands became a subject of public interest. In response the Post Office introduced free aerogrammes.

Towards the end of the file there is an interesting set of questions and answers, particularly on the issue of mail during the Argentinian occupation. In response to ‘Why did you handle this mail when we were at war with Argentina’ this sheet states:

It is our responsibility to carry out a postal service whenever and wherever possible. It is for the Government to decide whether this service should be terminated.

POST 104/33 concerns the end of the telegram service from the Queen (the means by which congratulatory messages marking 100th birthdays and 60th wedding anniversaries had been sent since 1917). With the switch to British Telecom’s telemessage the issue of delivery time from the sorting office where it was picked up through the post to the recipient became significant. This file contains correspondence between Ron Dearing and Royal Private Secretaries. In response William Heseltine wrote on 25 September 1982:

It will be interesting to see how the new system works and I will certainly take advantage of your offer of further assistance if the new system does not come up to Her Majesty’s expectations.

Unfortunately on the first day BT had equipment failure and five of the messages did not arrive. According to a memo of 12 October 1982:

It will be wise for us to start thinking of a wholly PO service eg Intelpost, Datapost.

Today these messages are sent on cards by Royal Mail Special Delivery.

POST 108/80 is a MORI report on ‘The Reputation of the Post Office’ which highlights:

The split of the Post Office into separate postal and telecommunications entities is now firmly established in the people’s mind. The split (and the creation of British Telecom) is the dominant theme of ‘recent changes’ associated with the Post Office. The ending of the telegram scheme is the second most common theme; few are aware of new services such as Intelpost…Few spontaneously mentioned the freezing of prices – price increases appear to be more memorable.

POST 119/177 is a Plessey report looking into the possibility of extending the Post Office Underground Railway (Mail Rail) to other main London railway stations including Marylebone, Kings Cross and Waterloo. An unextended Mail Rail closed in 2003.

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, cover. (POST 119/177)

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, cover. (POST 119/177)

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, diagram of possible extensions. (POST 119/177)

Plessey report, Post Office Railway Extension, 1982, diagram of possible extensions. (POST 119/177)

- Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

The Royal Mail Archive is open to the public, find opening hours and visitor information on our website.

Reds in the Bed

by Adrian Steel, Director and Acting CEO

2009 saw the 60th anniversary of the formal establishment of the Communist state in China. When it came in 1949, this added to a fear in the Western world that Communism was spreading and that its spread was inevitable. From the start of the Cold War, efforts were made to secure the United Kingdom against “the enemy within” and like many British organisations and businesses, the Post Office sought out any possible Communist infiltration intended to do it harm – the “reds in the bed”.

POST 121/357 in our archive details investigations into the communist activities of Post Office staff.

POST 121/357 in our archive details investigations into the communist activities of Post Office staff.

In fact the Post Office had its attention drawn to other potential troublemakers within its ranks by the British Government before Communism became its main focus. These were Irish Republican or Sinn Fein sympathisers, and when it is borne in mind that the Post Office covered the whole of the island of Ireland it is clear that there was a high chance it had Republican sympathisers among its staff. There were determined central efforts to look at this in the period prior to 1914, and according to records in The Royal Mail Archive between 1920 and 1922 (after the Easter Rising and during the Irish independence process) 15 staff were investigated for Republican sympathies. Only four of these were dismissed, and there was no case proven against the rest. During this same period, and against a background of industrial unrest only 10 staff were investigated for Communism, and of these three were dismissed. POST 121/357 gives the details.

Of interest is the fact that most enquiries were made as a result of police or intelligence service request. The report ‘Disloyalty in the Post Office’, written in secret in 1923, stated:

“The scope of the enquiry which it is possible to make in the cases brought under notice is usually restricted by some consideration or other. In the majority of instances the information is received from the police and is based on confidential reports from Police agents within the movement concerned. Any extensive enquiries in such cases by the Post Office might therefore result in the officer affected becoming suspicious of a leakage within the movement, and this might possibly militate against the agent’s further usefulness to the Police.” (POST 121/357, May 1923)

Evidence also shows that in 1931 “certain officers” were watched at the height of the financial crisis, under suspicion not only of Communist sympathies but also of tampering with Bankers’ mail. But it was in April 1948, with the “Reds in the Bed” scare at its height, that the Post Office Board considered “Fascists and Communists employed on Secret work” and how infiltration could be dealt with. In discussion the Director General told the board that:

“in fact the maintenance staff in London probably included a number of Communists… It was possibly fortunate that the aim was at present to prevent leakages of information rather than acts of sabotage. Sabotage of the telephone service was comparatively easy to anyone who knew his way about, and there had been one or two nasty cases in the last year or two – but unfortunately the culprits could never be traced.” (POST 69/38 meeting of 9 April 1948).