Monthly Archives: January 2012

An interview with Pieter Huveneers

Netherland born Pieter Huveneers is a designer popular amongst GPO poster enthusiasts for, amongst other things, his designs for airmail and telephones. In Europe he designed for a number of large companies including BOAC, British Railways, Schweppes, ICI, Pepsi Cola and Philips.

For some decades he has lived and worked in Australia. Before his retirement Mr Huveneers designed nearly 70 names and logos for Australian corporations and employed a dozen staff. His Australian work included logos for Australia Post, Telecom Australia, and the Westpac bank.

Now 87 and retired, he continues to make paintings, including some innovative silver metal designs, and wonderful portraits.

We are indebted to Pieter’s partner Tanis for her assistance with this interview.

How did you become a poster artist/graphic designer?

I completed a design course at the Academy in Arnhem, Holland, during and after the war. I chose this particular course because of its wide application. You can make a design, it can be repeated in multiple applications and provide to the designer exposure to the public.

How and why did you begin designing for the Post Office? What other companies (whether commercial companies or advertising agencies) were you working for at the time?

Road Safety, BOAC, British Railways, Schweppes, Mullard, British Titan, General Electric Company, ICI, British Aluminium Company, Babcock, Pepsi Cola.

When designing a poster, did you have a clear idea of the image you wanted to create?

The image you want to create should be in line with the service offered.

Did the Post Office give you much freedom in your designs?


How many drafts would you make before the final poster was produced?

You don’t make drafts so much – I made doodles.

You were very young when you were commissioned by the Post Office. Did you feel under a lot of pressure?


What is your favourite design you produced for the Post Office?

The Post Office Guide.

The 'Post Office Guide' supplies all the answers, designed by Pieter Huveneers, July 1955 (POST 110/3226, PRD 0786)

The 'Post Office Guide' supplies all the answers, designed by Pieter Huveneers, July 1955 (POST 110/3226, PRD 0786)

You produced designs for various Post Office campaigns, including ‘Post Early’, ‘Buy stamps in books’, the ‘Post Office Guide’, and ‘Speak clearly’. Did you have a favourite campaign?


What prompted your move to Australia in the 1960s?

I worked at Philips Head Office in Eindhoven as International Creative Director in the mid 1960s. I had made many designs. It was really an opportunity to go to a country with new horizons.

Did you find freedom and opportunity for creativity in British graphic design declined in the 1960s?


Buy stamps in books, designed by Pieter Huveneers, c. 1950 (POST 110/4331, PH896)

Buy stamps in books, designed by Pieter Huveneers, c. 1950 (POST 110/4331, PH896)

Our archivist Anna’s favourite posters of yours are the ‘A pleasing tone always’ and ‘Speak clearly’ posters. Who, or what, was your inspiration for these posters?

I chose to portray the telephonist as young and alert.

You went on to work for Australia Post. Was there something that particularly appealed to you, or inspired you, about the postal service?

Not really.

Which was your favourite organisation to work for?

The organisations which provided a well paid salary were attractive!

What would you say the differences are between poster design in the 1950s and now?

The graphic solution to the reproduction has reduced and relies more on photography now rather than design by hand. The personal and more painterly touch is missing.

Telegrams are urgent messages, designed by Pieter Huveneers, April 1952 (POST 110/1611, IRP 056)

Telegrams are urgent messages, designed by Pieter Huveneers, April 1952 (POST 110/1611, IRP 056)

Would you say the development of technology has made graphic designers more or less creative?

Less creative!

The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case

Today marks 180 years since the birth of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To celebrate this occasion I thought I’d share with you a group of items from our museum collection invented by Lewis Carroll himself, namely, The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case and Carroll’s accompanying Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing booklet.

The Wonderland Postage Stamp Case was not intended by Carroll to be carried around in a pocket but rather to be kept with your writing materials in an envelope case or similar. Inside the stamp case there are 12 separate pockets for stamps of each denomination at the time, from ‘½d’ right up to 1 shilling, with an extra pocket for the most used price of one penny. Each pocket could comfortably hold up to six stamps.

'Wonderland' postage stamp case, interior - 12 separates pockets for stamps of various stamp values, 1889 (OB1995.415/2)

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, interior – 12 separates pockets for stamps of various stamp values, 1889 (OB1995.415/2)

What made Carroll invent it, as he states in his accompanying booklet was

the constantly wanting Stamps of other/ values, for foreign Letters, Parcel Post, &c.,/ and finding it very bothersome to get at the/ kind I wanted in a hurry.

The case is a lovely item in itself, besides its functional purpose, as it contains what Carroll refers to as two ‘Pictorial Surprises’. The case comes in an outer cover which has a chromolithographic image of Alice holding the Duchess’s crying baby, an illustration that does not appear in Carroll’s books. However, when you take hold of the stamp case within and pull it out, the baby turns into a pig.

'Wonderland' postage stamp case, exterior - printed with chromolithographic images, 1889 (OB1995.415/1)

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, exterior – printed with chromolithographic images, 1889 (OB1995.415/1)

In Carroll’s opinion

If that doesn’t surprise you, why, I suppose you wouldn’t be surprised if your own Mother-in-law suddenly turned into a Gyroscope!

The case and cover also feature an illustration of the Cheshire cat on the reverse.

In his Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing Carroll shares with the reader his thoughts and opinions on how to begin, go on with, and end a letter, many of which I’m sure the Post Office would applaud to this day such as the golden rule of ‘write legibly’. However, the booklet also has nuggets of witty repartee often presented in the form of conversations between Carroll and the reader that make for entertaining reading.

'Eight Or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing By Lewis Carroll', which accompanies The 'Wonderland' postage stamp case, 1889 (OB1995.416/3)

‘Eight Or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing By Lewis Carroll’, which accompanies The ‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, 1889 (OB1995.416/3)

First published in 1889, the stamp case and booklet show the extent to which there was a culture of letters developing throughout the nation, indeed Carroll states:

I believe the Queen’s laundress uses no other.

Even in this short work, Carroll uses his playful nature as a vehicle for sharing his interests and enthusiasms, in this case, letter writing.

– Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

To see these items on our online catalogue please search for Wonderland on our online catalogue.

Mail to Australia, allegro con brio

The painting Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by the Australian artist Tom Roberts may not seem to have an immediate connection with Britain’s postal service, but it is supposedly the General Post Office (GPO) which attracted Roberts to paint the scene.

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Bourke Street was then and still is a vital thoroughfare in the heart of commercial Melbourne, and the GPO building was an important focal point in the capital of the rapidly-developing British colony of Victoria. Such was the importance of the mails to the city’s residents that flags where hung from the GPO’s clock tower to signal their progress – from when a ship was sighted off the coast of Albany, Western Australia (more than 1,500 miles away) through to the completion of sorting.

As records in the Royal Mail Archive tell us (POST 29/286B), in 1880 it could take up to 58 days for mails to travel from Southampton to Melbourne. By the time Roberts painted Bourke Street west, a telegraph connecting Australia to the rest of the world had been in operation for more than a decade; this enabled messages to travel between London and Melbourne in 24 hours, but it was businesses which could most afford to use the technology.

Communications between the United Kingdom and the Australian colonies were not just vital for businesses though, they were vital for people too. As a group of Australian and New Zealand colonial leaders who attended the 1867 Inter-Colonial Postal Conference in Melbourne put it in a “Memorial” of their meeting addressed to Queen Victoria:

While the productive capabilities and the commerce of the associated Colonies have attained a magnitude which, it is humbly submitted, entitles them to a foremost place in the consideration of Great Britain, their geographical extent imposes upon them deprivations and hardships which can only be alleviated by new and various means of communication with the rest of the world. The farther the settlement of population advances the greater becomes the difficulty. Thus the enterprise of the colonists in extending the bounds of the Empire, and spreading the lustre of Your Majesty’s name, entails upon them the penalty of their more certain exclusion from British intelligence. In the early years of Australian colonization this virtual banishment was a condition of life to be faced and endured as inevitable; but the Colonies of the present day, as fields of production and as markets of consumption for the national manufacturers have advances to a position which makes their intimate connexion not less important to the United Kingdom than to themselves.

– Postal Conference – Memorial of the Representatives of the Six Colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, New Zealand, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania Postal Conference – to Her Majesty the Queen, c. 1868 (POST 29/151)

Amongst the attendees of the conference was Henry Parkes, then a rising politician and soon to be elected Premier of New South Wales. By the 1890s, the era in which Allegro Con Brio was painted, Parkes was calling for a united Australia, arguing that a central government could make important decisions about, amongst other things, telegraphs and postal services. The points made in the 1867 Postal Conference Memorial about the communication needs of ordinary people must have informed his thinking, and he presumably understood that for the ordinary people and entrepreneurs alike the flags hanging from Melbourne’s GPO clock tower were more than just a colourful addition to the busy street scene Roberts captured and described as Allegro con brio (a musical term meaning “fast and with spirit”), they were an vital signal that news had arrived.

Unfortunately for us those flags are not visible in Robert’s painting, although the GPO’s extensions appear in the girder to the far right of the canvas. The people on Bourke Street, some of whom were no doubt going to or coming from the GPO, are the stars on show here.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

The History of Australia
by Manning Clark, Meredith Hooper and Susanne Ferrier, 1988
National Gallery of Australia – Collection Search – Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west
Royal Mail Archive – Australian Colonies. Postal services with Inter-Colonial Conference at Melbourne, c.1868 (POST 29/151)
Royal Mail Archive – Melbourne-Ceylon mail service. Contract between Victoria and P&O (Peninsular and Oriental) Steam Navigation Co., c.1880 (POST 29/286B)

Night Mail: a classic?

Night Mail holds an iconic place in British culture. Say the words ‘this is the Night Mail crossing the border’ and you’ll likely get the response, ‘bringing the cheque and the postal order.’ But critics haven’t always been so impressed. There’s a strand of thinking that says Night Mail is a classic of British documentary by virtue of being the one that everyone knows. This is a critical assessment worth picking apart, because Night Mail is far more than the film of the poem.

Commissioned in 1935 to commemorate the centenary of the travelling post office, Basil Wright sought to apply the lessons of silent Soviet cinema to inter-war Britain. Viktor Turin’s Turksib was an important model. Borrowing techniques from Hollywood (Turin was obsessed by Westerns) Turksib tried to turn social, political and technological exposition into an exciting tale of progress. He cast the train between Turkestan and Siberia in the role of the lone gunslinger bringing order to the frontier. Night Mail apes this approach, albeit modestly, it illustrates how Britain is socially, economically and technologically bound together.

However, Wright’s love of the expressive grammar of silent cinema was disrupted by co-director Harry Watt, who wanted to focus on the life of the postal workers. It is creative tension in the best sense of the term. Interestingly, Watt’s eagerness to get across a flavour of the workers’ lives meant that the train interior had to be shot in a studio. Night Mail’s ‘realism’ was achieved by building a set of the travelling post office and scripting the workers’ dialogue.

Night Mail was also funded by the GPO to help improve morale. Beset by the industrial disputes of the slump era, the film was supposed to help staff understand how even the most humdrum of jobs could be of crucial importance. Not only is Night Mail probably the greatest train film of all time then, it’s also possibly also the greatest training film.

Night Mail’s unique sensibility remains key to its appeal. The dialogue may be flat, and the acting might be wooden, but the film retains a whiff of authenticity. ‘There’s something in these bags all right, Bert’, a postman says at one point, to which the sparring reply is, ‘must be old Fred’s coupon night’. There is something about the dialogue that makes you believe it, and more than that, makes you trust the sentiment that underpins it. Then again, Myles Burnyeat has argued that the meaning of great works changes over time. The fact that every time you watch Night Mail it says something different might be what, in the end, makes it a classic.

– Scott Anthony

Dr Scott Anthony is a Fellow of Christ’s College, University of Cambridge, and co-editor of a new book The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit.

The BFI have produced a new DVD The Soviet influence: From Turksib to Night Mail, featuring GPO films.

The ‘Black Panther’

In 1974 the Post Office experienced a spate of violent robberies from sub post offices. On 15 February 1974, New Park Telegraph Sub Office was attacked. The Sub Postmaster, Donald Skepper, was shot and killed in the raid. Seven months later on 6 September 1974, Derek Aston the Sub Postmaster of High Baxendale Telegraph Sub Office was shot and killed in similar circumstances. On 11 November 1974, Langley Telegraph Sub Office was targeted. The Sub Postmistress, Margaret Frances Grayland was severely beaten and suffered several skull fractures. Her husband, Sidney James Grayland, was shot and killed. It was suspected that these attacks were linked and Lancashire Police, together with the Post Office Investigations Department, began a detailed investigation.

The investigation began by examining other Post Office related crimes that had similarities to the ones in Harrogate, Baxendale, and Langley. In total 180 attacks on post offices between 1964 and 23 October 1974 were identified for reinvestigation. Of these 167 were determined to be definitely unconnected, while the remaining 13 were regarded as possibly related.

The size of the investigation into these attacks cannot be underestimated. In total 6,000 named criminals were listed for elimination by Lancashire Police. The possibility that some who worked for the Post Office was considered and a list was compiled of almost 500 employees of sub post offices who had admitted offences against the Post Office since April 1971. All of these were eliminated from the enquiries. A further 3,800 employees of the Albright and Wilson factory near Langley post office were interviewed, but no suspect emerged. These individuals were interviewed as the company issued staff with rubber gloves and boots similar to evidence found at Langley sub post office. At the height of the enquiry 600 police officers were engaged full time in the investigation.

Length of clothes line used to tie up Mrs Grayland, and the type of glove and boot believed to be worn by the offender based on evidence left at Harrogate, 1974. (POST 120/470)

Length of clothes line used to tie up Mrs Grayland, and the type of glove and boot believed to be worn by the offender based on evidence left at Harrogate, 1974. (POST 120/470)

There was widespread media interest in the case, with the offender being dubbed the ‘black panther’, due to the dark clothing described by his victims. A series of rewards were offered for information leading to the apprehension of the offender. Initially a reward of £5,000 was offered after the attack in Harrogate. A further £5,000 was offered after the attack in High Baxendale, a figure which was later increased to £15,000, with £5,000 being contributed by the Federation of Sub Postmasters. Another £5,000 was offered after the attack on Langley. Finally the figure was raised to £25,000 and a poster produced showing all the three Sub Postmasters who had been killed by the offender.

Reward poster, 1974. (POST 120/470)

Reward poster, 1974. (POST 120/470)

By the beginning of 1975 no further attacks had been identified, and the investigation was at the point of being wound up. Then on 14 January 1975 a young heiress, Lesley Whittle, was kidnapped from her home in Highley, Shropshire. On 7 March 1975 she was found dead in a drainage shaft. On 15 January 1975 Gerald Arthur Smith, a security guard at a railway yard in Dudley was shot when confronting a trespasser. He survived the attack (although he died on 25 March 1976 as a result of injuries sustained) and was able to assist in the production of an artist’s impression of his attacker.

Artist’s impression of attacker of Gerald Arthur Smith, 1975. (POST 120/471)

Artist’s impression of attacker of Gerald Arthur Smith, 1975. (POST 120/471)

Forensics were able to prove that the gun used in this attack was the same one that killed Sidney James Grayland in Langley, establishing a definite link between the Post Office cases and the kidnapping. Again there were suggestions that the offender had some connection to the Post Office, this time on the telephone engineering side. These suspicions were based on the grounds that ransom instructions had been left in call offices and the offender was apparently aware of telephone tracing procedures. However further investigations into staff working in the telecommunications side of the business were unsuccessful and the offender remained at large.

As the winter of 1975 approached the Post Office issued a warning to all Sub Postmasters to be alert to suspicious behaviour (previous robberies had all occurred during the winter).

Warning to Sub Postmasters to be alert, 1975. (POST 120/471)

Warning to Sub Postmasters to be alert, 1975. (POST 120/471)

On 11 December 1975 Donald Neilson was approached by police officers in Mansfield who believed him to be acting suspiciously. He refused to provide his name and address and produced a gun. He got in their car and demanded to be taken to Blidworth. The officers eventually managed to arrest him with help from members of the public. Initially Donald Neilson was not linked with the Post Office robberies or the kidnapping and murder of Lesley Whittle. However when his bag was examined in contained a brace and bit (used to gain entry to the post offices) and a face mask matching descriptions given by his victims.

On 14 June 1976 Donald Neilson went on trial charged with the kidnap and murder of Lesley Whittle and blackmailing her family. He was found guilty of all charges. On 5 July 1976 he went on trial on the following charges:

  1. Stealing a shotgun from premises at Thornhill on 17 November 1970
  2. Stealing pistols, a rifle, a shoulder holster and shooting spectacles on 28 January 1971
  3. The murder of Donald Lawson Skepper at Harrogate on 15 Feb 1974
  4. The Murder of Derek Astin at High Baxendale on 6 September 1974
  5. The Murder of Sidney James Grayland at Langley on 11 November 1974
  6. The attempted murder of Margaret Frances Grayland on 11 November 1974
  7. Grievous Bodily Harm to Margaret Frances Grayland on 11 November 1974
  8. Attempted murder of Stuart Micheal Mckenzie (one of the apprehending police officers) on 11 December 1975
  9. Possession of a firearm on 11 December 1975

He was found guilty on charges 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9, but not guilty on charges 6 and 8. On sentencing him to life imprisonment the judge told Neilson:

that the enormity of his crimes put him in a class apart from all convicted murderers in recent years. He described the kidnapping and eventual murder of Lesley Whittle as the ultimate in villainy and said furthermore that whilst he was at large Neilson had struck terror into the hearts of Postmasters, Subpostmasters, and their families throughout the country.

 (POST 120/477)

Neilson was sentenced to life imprisonment, with life to mean ‘natural life’. He died in custody on 18 December 2011.

Records of the investigation into the attacks by the Donald Neilson, and his eventual arrest and trial, are held in The Royal Mail Archive in POST 120.

– Helen Dafter, Archivist

Valentine’s at Blists Hill

In February, BPMA will be displaying a small selection of Valentine’s cards at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge. These will complement the Victorian Post Office as well as the family activities linked to the cards which will take place in the Goods Shed on the site from Saturday 11th to Sunday 19th February.

A selection of cards we may use for the display if they are in adequate condition.

A selection of cards we may use for the display if they are in adequate condition.

Despite the display being relatively small and only open for just over a week, a lot of planning and preparation is needed to make sure the items chosen are going to be interesting to the public, easy to transport and that they will be safe and secure while on the site.

This week, three of us visited Blists Hill in order to take some measurements in readiness for the arrival of the cards in February. This meant my first use of a hygrometer (sadly not the whirling variety) to test relative humidity in the display area, tests for light and UV, and taking some simpler length and width measurements of the room so that the appropriately sized case can be ordered.

Exhibitions Officer Dominique Bignall and Head of Heritage Chris Taft check levels in the Museum of the Post Office in the Community while we are on site.

Exhibitions Officer Dominique Bignall and Head of Heritage Chris Taft check levels in the Museum of the Post Office in the Community while we are on site.

It also gave us the opportunity to do some tests in the Museum of the Post Office in Community and determine which items might need to be replaced or refreshed to give them a rest from being on display.

The Post Office at Blists Hill.

The Post Office at Blists Hill.

Visits like these are really important to make sure we get more of our collection seen by more people. If you are in the area between 11 and 19 February, pop in and see the display – some unexpected interpretations of Valentine’s will be on show – and come and make a card of your own in the Goods Shed!

– Laura Dixon, Learning Officer (Events & Outreach)

Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection to speak at BPMA

Marking The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, Michael Sefi, the Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection introduces and discusses aspects of this famous collection at The British Postal Museum & Archive. In his talk on Thursday 23 February he will cover the history of the collection, illustrate some highlights from it and outline the current structure and operation of what is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest stamp collections.

Waterlow’s accepted design for the Colonial Silver Jubilee omnibus (Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen)

Waterlow’s accepted design for the Colonial Silver Jubilee omnibus (Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen)

Highlights featured in the talk include the Post Office Mauritius, the development of the colonial design for King George V’s Silver Jubilee, stamps and artwork from the British Empire, high value stamps, and famous errors such as the Cape of Good Hope “woodblock” error of colour and the stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Falkland Islands, featuring HMS Glasgow instead of HMS Kent.

An example from the British Empire can be seen below. The hand-painted, stamp-sized watercolour was created as artwork for the 1848 Courbould Britannia design. Underneath the image, the painter has written: ‘The engraver, with a magnifying glass (such as I have not) can finish the toe nails rather more’.

1848 Courbould Britannia design

1848 Courbould Britannia design (Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen)

For further information and bookings please see our website.