Simon Kelner: The A-Z of Britain in stamps? I want to see them all

Kelner's view


Philately has never got me anywhere, although my early interest in stamp-collecting means I still take an interest in matters relating to postage stamps. As a boy, I loved everything about stamps: they were like miniature works of art (the good ones, anyway), and I found them a much more interesting and engaging way to learn about geography.

Plus, of course, they were quite useful when you wanted to send a letter (in those days, email was so futuristic that it hadn't even appeared on Tomorrow's World, the TV programme that showcased all sorts of unlikely inventions, such as digital alarm clocks and toasters).

I was too young and unsophisticated to have heard of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but, to me, the postage stamp was a classic example of form following function. It was always a big thing in my young life when a new set of stamps was issued: I can clearly remember an excited trip to my local Post Office on the day in 1966 when the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings was commemorated by a collection depicting the Bayeux Tapestry.

Stamps were a way of expressing national pride, from victory in football's World Cup to the completion of the Forth Road Bridge to the glory of the Post Office Tower. This celebration of the best of Britain is what's behind the issue of Royal Mail's latest collection, the A-Z of our national landmarks. The 26 first-class stamps – yes, you'd better start saving up for them now – have been designed to depict some of our great visitor attractions, from the Angel of the North to London Zoo, and have obviously been selected in a politically correct fashion, ensuring a fair representation of all regions of the United Kingdom.

As far as I can see, the only contentious inclusion is the Kursaal amusement park in Southend. Although this was one of the world's first purpose-built pleasure palaces – dating back to the very beginning of the 20th century – and gave its name to the Kursaal Flyers, a pop band of the mid-1970s, you wouldn't imagine that it's on the must-see itinerary of many tourists. "Essex culture immortalised" was how one sceptic put it on Twitter yesterday, while some felt that Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow would have been a more suitable representation of the letter "K".

You could argue all day long about what should, and should not, have been included, and when it comes to tourist attractions you can do the entire alphabet without leaving London. Speaking personally, I was delighted to see Manchester Town Hall – one of Britain's most majestic examples of Gothic architecture – make the cut, and I was also pleased to discover that I had visited – or seen, first-hand – 15 of the 26 landmarks featured on the stamps. However, this only made me want to complete the set (the old stamp-collector's mentality). I particularly like the look of the two Northern Irish sites, Narrow Water Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

Royal Mail gets a lot of stick these days – particularly over charging the equivalent of a second-hand car for a first-class stamp – but, in terms of promoting British tourism, their new stamps will be more effective than any number of TV ads with Twiggy or Jamie Oliver.

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