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 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.
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.