Member of Parliament and former Minister Alan Johnson had a long career as a post operative before entering into union politics and entering the House of Commons. He began as a precocious 18-year-old in the late Sixties, and finally left the job two decades later.
In this documentary he offers a personalized history of Britain's Royal Mail from its inception almost five hundred years ago to its modern technology-led incarnation. He touches on some familiar historical moments such as the creation of the penny postal service by Rowland Hill in 1840, the separation of what was once known as the General Post Office (GPO) into the post and (privatized) telecommunications services during the Thatcher years and the recent selling of the Royal Mail into private hands.
Inevitably there is a certain degree of nostalgia about the documentary, with Johnson looking back on an era when letters were the principal mode of communication and e-mail, texts and other virtual methods had never been thought of. Nonetheless the Royal Mail continues to exert a hold over the British public imagination: Johnson visits a small sub-Post Office in rural Surrey now owned by a collective of local villagers who saved it from closure; and talks to post operatives who still undertake the daily ritual of providing mail and getting to know the communities they serve.
In an age of rapid technology, the postal service still fulfills an important role, even if it is mostly parcels rather than letters that we choose to send to one another. Despite the rapid, almost inexorable rise of a virtual environment, tried and tested communicative methods doggedly survive.
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