Tag Archives: Irish Republicanism

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.

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).