Postman Pat and the slow death of the postal service

A quick post in response to a conversation on Twitter today:

You know, Pat has moved on a lot since I was a kid. Obviously there’s the whole thing where he is married with a kid now (not enough to stop those rumours about him and Ted), but the show has also moved with the times politically.

OK, I’ve not seen Pat on the picket line but the newest Postman Pat series, Special Delivery Service sees Pat face the reality of life in the dying days of the postal service. He now commutes from Greendale to the nearest big town. From here the mail service is run on an industrial scale, and Pat’s job is no longer to be an affable fixture of village life, a constant in a world that is changing too fast, a character and a public servant, but to provide premium delivery services.

Mrs Goggins is moved to the periphery of the mail story (they haven’t yet, as far as I know, closed her post office but surely it must be constantly under threat). This is Postman Pat as delivered by Consignia, it is very much a sign of our times and actually I find it all quite poignant. Pat is now something of a superhero, but like all the best superheroes you feel that behind the mask there is darkness, sadness, tragedy.

I can tell that Pat is afraid for his village, for the community, for Mrs Goggin’s post office, afraid of the very death of the English countryside as its vitality is sucked towards the bright lights of the big towns. But he’s trapped – trapped by a duty to get the mail delivered on time (whatever that may mean now) and trapped by the need to put food on the table for the family he possibly never really wanted.

Perhaps Pat should have gone on that picket line after all when he still had the chance, but it’s too late now and he must muddle through trying to make the best of his new reality.

You may also like: media policy for the under 6s, a beginner’s guide to Zingzillas.

Media policy explained for the under-6s

CBeebies, the BBC’s preschool channel, has now completed its switch from BBC Television Centre, London to Media City, Salford. There’s probably more interest in the moves of things such as BBC Breakfast (also to Salford) and Question Time (to Glasgow) but I think there’s something quite fascinating about the Cbeebies move, because my two year old son has just witnessed a big shift in public service broadcasting policy, played out between Bob the Builder and Everything’s Rosie.


You see, one of the things that makes CBeebies great is that it doesn’t treat kids as fools – it just treats them as kids. That means that when the entire station moves, and the presenters with it, that is played out for the children at home and they are given a story to explain what is happening.


Alex, Andy, Carrie and Sid have moved house


It’s as simple as that really. The CBeebies continuity links have always been played out on a set called “the CBeebies house” (it even has a garden – I’ve always assumed a corner of the Blue Peter Garden). Through the CBeebies links yesterday we saw the continuity team enact moving into their new “house” and unpacking their things. The change in life for the presenters (moving North) hasn’t been hidden, rather it’s been explained plainly to the pre-school audience. Look a bit further, and there’s something else interesting going on.


The differences between the old and new CBeebies houses tell a story of change. What we could see of the London CBeebies house suggested it was very much a post-war semi in a London suburb, complete with a neat if fusty garden. It was every inch the South East. It was very much the 20th Century BBC. The new CBeebies house appears to be a loft apartment in some sort of mill conversion. The feature window at the back of the set alternates images according to time of day but one that I have seen features a post-industrial skyline. This is the house that the 21st century creative economy built – it’s rising on the back of Victorian industry to provide a new adventure playground for metrosexual media types Alex, Andy, Carrie and Sid, like a cartoon advert for urban dwelling on the Salford Quays, a pre-school version of Friends. This is media policy for the under-6s: we’ve moved, it’s exciting, we’re on an adventure and things are changing, come with us as we take things forward.


So while CBeebies isn’t of itself political, it wears the politics that have shaped it in plain sight. And it’s bloody marvellous.

A favourite ‘Six Feet Under’ clip, perfect for you Rapture watchers

We finished watching ‘Six Feet Under’ last night. I’ll celebrate by sharing this rapture themed clip with you.

Incidentally I’m landscaping my garden today, so I’m going to look pretty stupid if the rumours are true.

A local media thought experiment: “The Bearwood Question”

So local TV is back on the agenda, offering more questions than answers. In the Guardian Media Talk podcast Matt Wells questioned Jeremy Hunt about the ability to deliver “local” in any meaningful way through broadcast television. TV, in its traditional broadcast sense, is territory based: signals have a “footprint” to which they are broadcast and which they can be received, and that footprint means that there is a hard map of territories and locales which can be served. And those locales do not always make sense to the people who receive the messages. 

One of the problems with local TV over digital terrestrial, as Wells points out, is that the footprints mean that some large areas that have two distinct identities cannot be served independently. So Manchester and Liverpool cannot receive “local” TV at the same time. Internet technology is seen as affording something much more flexible: both cities could receive local services simultaneously via an IPTV transmission.

That’s great but it shows that the problem is always framed by TV-think even by those who can see problems in the system. The question that is answered by IPTV isn’t “what should local news look like?” but “how do we overcome the limitations of radio waves to produce more broadcast footprints?”.

This is where the idea of “The Bearwood Question” comes in. Bearwood is a lovely area of the West Midlands that I’ve lived in a number of times. It sits across a local authority border and manages to not quite be Sandwell and not quite Birmingham. When I lived there I looked to Sandwell for local government, and to Birmingham for my cultural and social life. So what does “local media” mean in Bearwood?

  It’s incredibly subjective. I’m sure some of my neighbours were Black Country diaspora, drifting towards Brum the same way I was drifting out, and their sense of “local” would be very different to my own. Regional media is actually quite good at providing “local media” in this context as it sits across the footprint that encompasses Brum and Sandwell. That means it will deliver everyone in Bearwood a bit of what they need to answer local questions (albeit with a large dollop of things that are of little importance to their locale). Hyperlocal is effective at telling you what is happening on the doorstep, but the space between hyperlocal and regional is complicated, nuanced and personal. And that’s what putting local media online can answer – not “how do we make a broadcast footprint smaller?” but “how do we help people fill their own footprint with media that matter to them?”.

(if any of this sounds familiar it’s because I’m a bit obsessed with Bearwood’s boundaries)

Owning conversations: the commercial TV back channel for #xfactor

Twitter’s a funny place. The folk I follow on there are passionate champions of free speech one day, insisting that my local councillor can make racist jokes for example, and the next they’re all “this isn’t the place to talk about popular culture – I will unfollow you if you tweet about xfactor you idiot!”.

Now I don’t really like X Factor much but actually the back channel on Twitter is a bit of a laugh. And I have to have the show on the TV as my wife likes it, so why not get involved?

Like it or loathe it, social media commentary of popular shows is very on trend right now. The BBC has taken to publicising preferred hashtags for shows (Digital Revolution, Question Time for example) so that we can all engage on Twitter. ITV shows have their own, organic, folksonomic back channels on Twitter and other social networks but ITV has gone to the trouble of setting up a special social space that fans can go to to do the live commentary thing. X-Factor is one of their high profile shows on ITV Live.

A few weeks ago I decided that, in deference to the factor tweet haters, I’d pop over to ITV Live to see what it looks like as a space.

Here are my findings, visualised:


Twitter can be quite rude and raucous, especially when some of the more divisive characters in a show are on screen. ITV live seems a little cosier, less hostile and without the sarcasm and bitchiness. Interestingly usernames are often some sort of fanfom based pun; several members of the community

 add contestants surnames to their own name, so I might become “Jonathan Waissel” while others demonstrate preferences through names like “xxJon4Danixx”.

The space is live moderated, and the moderators lead the conversation, they don’t just police it. Because of this many messages are responses to questions posed by the moderator – that pre-moderates things to some extent by keeping the conversation on rails.

Advertising looms large. The Yeo Valley campaign, which features prominently in the show’s ad breaks, and is apparently the companies entire TV spend for the year, gets cross-platform synergy into this space in the form of banners and sponsored messages in the conversation timeline.

I guess really it’s exactly what I expected: safe, uncontroversial, brand friendly, commercial.