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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'