Peter York On Ads: Post Office speaks in a universal language. Does anyone understand it?

We're losing our shared culture. They were on about it on the 'Today' programme last week.

The idea is that there used to be a mass of common reference points that were resonant across the country, up and down the class system, across generations. This would help, say, the Queen Mother to talk to working-class women or Harold Macmillan to be a one-nation Tory communications wizard.

People who seemed to have nothing in common – life chances, health prospects, money – were at least able to make stilted conversation that would leave both parties feeling they'd connected across the divide. "Only connect."

Religion was hugely important here when practically all schools had God in the morning and a period of RE in the week. "Abide with me", "Jerusalem" and a mass of other hymns were hard-wired into the most irreligious young minds.

Meanwhile, the BBC – all of telly until 1955, all of radio till the 1960s – provided our home-made celebrities. Such impossible figures as Gilbert Harding or Sir Mortimer Wheeler were completely universal.

And there were other institutions – the Coal Board and the London Electricity Board – that supplied absolutely everyone. The universal phone book operated in a pre ex-directory world where Bermondsey and Belgravia numbers were listed side by side.

All this universality, along with its associated constraints and boredoms, and the fragmentation to come, is brilliantly described in David Kynaston's 'Austerity Britain'. It's an unimaginably different country.

But the Post Office is still there. Curiously structured, oddly managed – by high-profile, high-reward corporate outsiders – but still broadly public sector owned. Allegedly a mass of Spanish practices, the Post Office is a funny thing. How old do you have to be to feel warm and wet about it?

The new Post Office commercial presses every nostalgia button going. There they are, in a Victorian-windowed 'Open All Hours' cornershop set in what looks like a Northern terrace, with a proper cast-iron red postbox outside (inside, it looks more like a building society branch from the 1980s).

They've gone full-on with the casting. There's John Henshaw from 'The Royle Family' doing his usual; there's a nice Northern Mum, a perky young Asian assistant in a suit and a shiny-eyed Billy Budd apprentice. The script is tremendously Northern Camp in the Alan Bennett/Victoria Wood/ Coranora manner.

The manager has called a morning meeting because he's had an epiphany. "Are you all right now, Ken?" "Never better, Amir."

Then he sees the light – meaning the lovely traditional Post Office light outside, which prompts a very odd exchange in a mix of Blair-speak and marketing-speak: "That's not just a logo – we have more than a brand – we have an institution... we have the trust of the nation because we are the People's Post Office".

"Let's serve the people", says the shiny-eyed boy... "Let's serve Joan Collins." At that point Dame Joan enters to stage left for several seconds, greets Ken and does some minimal business before returning to Eaton Place or Cap Ferrat. She's just like the Queen Mother, providing the stuff of social cohesion.

I think it's very entertaining nonsense – but, with the exception of Joan Collins, I doubt whether anyone under 20 would recognise a word of it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory