Tag Archives: publicity

Ringing the Change: Post Office promotion of the telephone and telegraph service, 1925-1939

On Thursday 8 November the BPMA are delighted to host our guest speaker, David Hay, Head of Heritage at BT Group PLC. David Hay will be exploring the radical change in Post Office telephone marketing strategy in the 1930s in a talk entitled Ringing the Change.

"Telephone rates" publicity leaflet, c. 1930 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 9)

“Telephone rates” publicity leaflet, c. 1930 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 9)

Between 1925 and 1928 the Post Office invested almost £1 million a month in the telephone network as it began the roll-out of automatic telephone exchanges, enabling subscribers to make local calls directly without involving a telephone operator. The result of this new technology, together with the introduction of new mass-produced telephone instruments using early plastics, was that the cost of having a telephone gradually began to fall. The Post Office also introduced new services during this period, such as the first transatlantic radio telephone service in 1926, direct telephone communications with countries in Europe and the expansion of the public telephone kiosk network.

Cover of Automatic Exchange leaflet (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 637).

Cover of Automatic Exchange leaflet (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 637).

However, much of this innovation went unnoticed by the public. Indeed, despite the enormous investment in new technology, there was widespread concern by 1931 that Britain was lagging behind other countries in Europe in the take-up of the telephone. Up to 25 per cent of the capacity of the telephone network was lying idle.

"Always at your service", telephone service publicity poster designed by Austin Cooper, 1934 (BT Archives, TCB 319/PRD 76).

“Always at your service”, telephone service publicity poster designed by Austin Cooper, 1934 (BT Archives, TCB 319/PRD 76).

This richly illustrated talk will explore the early attempts of the Post Office to address this and to market the telephone to a wider part of society then before, efforts which were revolutionised in 1933 by the recruitment of Sir Stephen Tallents as the Post Office’s first Public Relations Officer. The decade before the Second World War was in many ways a golden period for GPO marketing, not least in the publicity machine unleashed by Tallents who had a passionate belief in the role of the arts promoting what were then Government services. Tallents and his team commissioned artists, designers, film makers and photographers to project a modern view of the Post Office to its customers and to its own employees.

"Come on the telephone", telephones publicity leaflet, c1933 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 3)

“Come on the telephone”, telephones publicity leaflet, c1933 (BT Archives, TCB 318/PH 3)

The result was that by the end of the inter-war era many of the GPO’s products and services – such as the Jubilee red telephone kiosk designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, the Speaking Clock and the 999 Emergency Service – had become iconic parts of the nation’s cultural fabric, and remain so to this day. And the Post Office itself, which entered the decade criticised on all sides for failing to promote its telecommunications services and communicate its role generally, was ultimately respected as a national asset vital to the country’s success.

We hope you will join us for what promises to be a fascinating talk!

Tickets are £3 per head or £2.50 for concessions, and can be bought on the door on the night or you can book tickets online.

Publicising the postcode

Today’s episode of The Peoples Post explored the issue of modernising the Post Office, looking particularly at the development of postcodes.

In order for the introduction of postcodes to succeed the public needed to be willing to adopt them. Psychological studies showed that the best means of achieving this was for the postcodes to “compromise familiarity and brevity”[1]. Once a system of postcodes encompassing both these virtues was developed and rolled out, the next step was for the Post Office to publicise the new means of addressing the mail.

The Post Office invested heavily in a range of campaigns to increase the use of postcodes. In the late 1970s these campaigns were intended to “remind, not persuade people to use their postcodes”[2]. This recognised that the main reason for not using a postcode was forgetfulness, rather than outright resistance to postcodes.

One character helping promote postcodes in the 1980s was Poco the elephant. Although the use of an elephant in publicity campaigns played on people’s forgetfulness when using postcodes, Poco himself is well remembered by visitors to the Royal Mail Archive. In addition to this poster, we also have a range of other material produced as part of this campaign, including a pen, a sweatshirt, a badge, and a vinyl record (the Postcode Song, with Poco on the cover).

Poco the elephant says… (POST 110/3083)

Poco the elephant says… (POST 110/3083)

Other campaigns, such as the one below from the 1970s, attempted to use storytelling as a means of increasing the use of postcodes. This style of poster gave more scope to explain why postcodes were important. The storytelling element also helped members of the public relate to familiar situations.

Slapdash Harry and the missing postcode - educational poster featuring a cartoon storyboard explaining postcodes, c. 1970 (POST 110/2686)

Slapdash Harry and the missing postcode - educational poster featuring a cartoon storyboard explaining postcodes, c. 1970 (POST 110/2686)

Finally this poster from the 1980s uses the notion of a romantic rendezvous to drive the postcode message home.

Let's meet under the GU1 3AA. Please use your postcode - poster promoting postcode usage, c. 1980 (POST 110/1137)

Let's meet under the GU1 3AA. Please use your postcode - poster promoting postcode usage, c. 1980 (POST 110/1137)

This romance echoes attempts in the 1930s to promote the use of London postal districts, as beautifully portrayed in the film N or NW.

– Helen Dafter, Archivist

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Post Code. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.


[1] POST 17/173, Code Design and the Design of Keyboards: Report of work carried out on behalf of the Post Office, 1958-62.

[2] MD/FE/1342 Postcode system – design of postcodes and the extent to which consumer reaction was tested. Including “social survey on post office services” 1956.

War time postal publicity campaigns

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

The Second World War hit postal and telecommunications services hard. Lack of personnel due to conscription meant that all services were under pressure and the Post Office used the Public Relations Department to carry their twin calls for understanding and assistance to the general public.

One of the Post Office’s main concerns was the delivery of mail to HM Forces overseas. Delivery times for letters sent via Air Mail services were greatly slowed down due to enemy action in the Mediterranean and the Post Office needed to find a speedier alternative; it decided to adopt the Airgraph service.

Sending an Airgraph involved customers writing a letter on a special form which was transported to a central despatching office and photographed onto a film. At the Receiving Office, large prints on bromide paper could be made from the films and despatched by post to the addressees. Although there was a slight delay for processing at each end, the service had the benefit of being faster than normal Air Mail as the films travelled in comparatively small high speed aircraft.

The service proved to be popular and in May 1942 it was extended to include civilian correspondence. The Public Relations Department were called in to help ‘popularise’ the service and as part of their strategy they produced a series of posters encouraging the public to use the service. These included posters by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero) (POST 110/2971), Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 110/2972), and Anthony Frederick Sarg (POST 110/3194).

Send Airgraphs - they save aircraft space, designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg

Send Airgraphs - they save aircraft space, designed by Anthony Frederick Sarg

Austin Cooper also designed posters advertising airgraphs: (POST 110/4151 and POST 110/1184); in addition he produced a poster to advertise the first Christmas Airgraph in 1943 (POST 110/1185).

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, designed by Austin Cooper

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, designed by Austin Cooper

The Airgraph for the following Christmas was advertised in a poster produced by Leonard Beaumont (POST 110/1193). The Christmas Airgraphs proved very popular, with six million incoming and outgoing for the two years that they were available.

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, produced by Leonard Beaumont

Send him Greetings on a Christmas Airgraph form, produced by Leonard Beaumont

Closer to home, the telecommunications service was under pressure to perform and it was forced to drastically reduce the services that were on offer to the public as it simply could not cope with the demand. In the years 1943 and 1944 the Public Relations Department were instrumental in getting the public to reduce their use of the trunk telephone service. They did this in a number of ways, including the use of newspaper advertisements and the production of a short film to be shown in most cinemas.

They also produced a number of posters encouraging the public to ‘write instead’ of using the telephone or telegraph services. These were designed by artists such as Leonard Beaumont (POST 110/1188), Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero) (POST 110/3200) and Hans Arnold Rothholz (POST 110/1187).

Think Ahead, Write Instead, designed by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero)

Think Ahead, Write Instead, designed by Hans Schleger (A.K.A Zero)

Posters produced for these two wartime campaigns were displayed on postal vans as well as inside post offices and they helped to create a situation where the public worked in partnership with the Post Office to ensure that available services were effectively operated.

Some of the other major publicity campaigns coordinated on the Home front during the Second World War by the Public Relations Department were: ‘Post Early in the day’, the annual ‘Post Early for Christmas’ campaign and a campaign beseeching the public to ‘write clearly and correctly’. The latter practice was essential so that inexperienced staff, standing in for those at war, could effectively sort the mail.

Posters played a key part in spreading the word of these campaigns and artists such as Hans Schleger (Zero), Tom Eckersley and Jan Lewitt and George Him helped to get the message across.

The BPMA exhibition Designs on Delivery: GPO posters 1930-1960 will open at the London College of Communications on 7th October 2009. 2b9pdhtfur

GPO publicity: ‘Post early in the day’

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

In 1925 a national campaign was launched, encouraging the public to ‘Post early in the day’.  The idea was to alleviate pressure on the postal work force by avoiding a rush on letter boxes at the end of the working day. After an initial interest, the campaign proved largely unsuccessful. 

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

It wasn’t until the early 1930s that another national scheme to spread the ‘Post early’ message was considered; with two of the earliest publicity posters commissioned by Public Relations Officer: Stephen Tallents, being on this theme.

These posters, produced in 1934 and depicting postmen on their rounds: PRD 0086 (POST 110/4340) and PRD 0087 (POST 110/1439) are the only two in the collection designed by Graham Sutherland, a then up and coming artist.

POST 110/1439: Post Early

POST 110/1439: Post Early

This initial push was followed a few years later by an all out national campaign targeting businesses in particular; this was officially launched by the Assistant Postmaster General in a speech to the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce in February 1937.

A leaflet entitled ‘Post during the lunch hour’ (which became the slogan of the campaign) was published in the same month.

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

This was followed up by two posters. The first, PRD 0155 was entitled: ‘Post during lunch hour’ (POST 110/2491), it was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer, who went on to produce a set of GPO posters for use in schools entitled ‘Outposts of Britain’ later that same year.

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

The second poster, PRD 0173 was entitled: ‘Post early in the day’ (POST 110/1159); it was designed by Pat Keely, who went on to produce a number of posters for the GPO throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

The campaign gathered momentum throughout the early years of the Second World War, when it was particularly important to get the message across due to extra pressure on the postal workforce brought about by conscription.  Some key artists of the era were called in to produce posters; these included Hans Schleger (Zero), who produced a set of posters (PRD 0250-0252) featuring a running chef, encouraging the public to ‘Post before lunch’ In order to achieve the best war time delivery (see POST 110/4150, POST 110/2966 and POST 110/1173). The posters were used both in post offices and on mail vans in an attempt to reach the widest possible audience.

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

Other war time artists included Jan LeWitt and George Him, who worked together on a number of inspirational poster designs between 1933 and 1954 when their partnership dissolved.  They produced some memorable posters for the ‘Post Early’ campaign, each involving the image of a cartoon postman dragging a large letter over his shoulder (PRD 0238 and PRD 0241 (POST 110/3184 and POST 110/2502)).

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0242: Post early - And dont miss the Noon post

PRD 0242: Post early - And don't miss the "Noon" post

‘Post early’ was not the only publicity campaign to be pursued during the Second World War; posters were also produced on themes such as: ‘Save for national security’; ‘Don’t telephone or telegraph if a letter or postcard will do’ and ‘Airgraphs get priority’. I will be exploring some of these posters in my next blog.