by Gavin McGuffie, Catalogue Manager
Last year I blogged on the 2009 file openings at the BPMA. At the start of every year we make a batch of Royal Mail Archive material available to public research for the first time. These are files that reached the thirtieth anniversary of their closure the previous year, so for last year files which contain material dating up to and including 1979.
This year we’ve opened about 180 files and descriptions, particularly material from the following POST classes: POST 19 (Postal Business Statistics), POST 52 (Stamp Depot), POST 69 (Royal Mail Board and its Predecessors), POST 73 (Regional Administration and Operations) and POST 122 (Registered Files, Minuted and Decentralised Registry Papers). Below I’ll tell you about one or two things which caught my attention while opening these files.
POST 65/178 is a copy of an interim report by the University of Warwick’s Industrial Relations Research Unit into the ‘Post Office Industrial Democracy Experiment’. This involved union representatives from the Council of Post Office Unions being appointed to the Post Office Board for two years. Among the conclusions of the report which focus primarily on the “conflicting interests of management and unions” is what its authors’ call a “paradox . . . that within the Board it was often the management members who stressed conflict and the union nominees who espoused the theme of unity”.
Continuing on the subject of the Board, matters discussed in recently opened POST 69 Board minutes inevitably include many industrial relations issues, particularly the Post Office Engineering Union’s claim for a 35 hour week. Others issues that interested me included the acknowledgement that the “standard of [Post Office] design was a serious responsibility” and that the “double-line alphabet [designed by Colin Banks] and visual identity programme already being implemented . . . [was] the best way to achieve major design impact” (Management Board minute, M79/9), matters relating to developing technology and computing having “widespread and far-reaching implications throughout the Post Office” (Board minute 79/53) and a proposal to acquire St Botolph’s Church as a “wing of the existing National Postal Museum to present visually a comprehensive picture of the development of the British postal services.” (Management Board minute M79/38)
POST 108/55 is a memorandum from the Marketing Department to the Controller of Press and Broadcasting on the imminent publication of the Williams Committee Report on Obscenity. It suggests how best to deal with potential criticism of a “low profile” 1978 change to Post Office procedures for “incoming overseas postal packets containing material which might be deemed indecent or obscene, and which Customs and Excise release to the PO” by which such “postal packets will receive treatment identical to that for any other postal packets opened for Customs inspection and released by them”, i.e. it will be “forwarded to the addressee”. It stresses that ”our defence must be that: our function is to provide postal services, not to act as a watchdog”.
Another POST 108 (Public Relations Department) file (POST 108/74) that intrigued me is a report by MORI on the ‘Reputation of the Post Office’ comparing it with 66 other major businesses in the public and private sector. Perhaps unsurprisingly among its key findings was the “widespread appreciation that the Post Office is more than simply postal services and telephones. Two out of three felt that it had more to offer … that the High Street Post Office serves a useful social function.”