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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive - West London - £35,000

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A luxury fashion retailer based in W...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable