New UK passport design: Men, postage stamps and telephone boxes take centre stage

Only two female figures are pictured in the 16-pages celebrating the British 'cultural pantheon'

Simon Calder
Tuesday 03 November 2015 17:22
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The opening pages from the new British passport design that have been unveiled at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London
The opening pages from the new British passport design that have been unveiled at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London

In the pantheon of British creativity, there is no room for Jane Austen, the Beatles or J K Rowling: that is the conclusion of Her Majesty’s Passport Office. But the most decorative and hi-tech British travel document in history finds plenty of space for men, as well as everyday objects such as the postage stamp and telephone box.

Yesterday the immigration minister, James Brokenshire, travelled just two miles from his Westminster office to London’s South Bank to unveil the new design for British passports that will accompany tourists and business people across billions of miles.

The launch took place at Shakespeare’s Globe, one of the structures deemed to define the “Creative United Kingdom” - the theme for the new document, which uses creative thinking to defeat the forgers.

“We work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of the criminals who attempt to abuse the UK’s immigration laws,” said Mr Brokenshire.

The designers aim to close of the most frequent loopholes used by criminals - replacing the holder’s picture - by introducing tamper-evident features on the personal-details page. On page 3 of each passport, a second image of the holder is constructed from the letters and numbers that make up their surname and date of birth. Futuristic techniques are also used on the visa pages to deter forgers, with ink that becomes visible only under infra-red or ultra-violet light. For example, under UV light the headlamps on the Tube train on page 19 illuminate.

Yet the security measures went unmentioned in the furore that followed the launch. Hardly had Mr Brokenshire left the stage at the Globe than the London Labour MP, Stella Creasy, tweeted: “home office could only find 2 UK women 2 celebrate in 500 years of history.” Her colleague, Emily Thornberry, tweeted: “Here we go again - new UK passport 7 men featured and just 2 women.”

Besides the author of Pride and Prejudice and the creator of Harry Potter, high-profile creative women ignored by the Home Office include Charlotte Bronte, Barbara Hepworth, Laura Ashley, Maggie Smith and Amy Winehouse.

The only females deemed worthy of inclusion are the architect Elisabeth Scott - who designed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford - and the Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace, who shares a page with Charles Babbage.

The men featured are the clockmaker John Harrison, the designer Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and the artists John Constable, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor.

Mark Thomson, director-general of HM Passport Office, told The Independent: “We chosen what we think is a great representation of UK creativity over the last 500 years. With just 16 pages to use, there’s always going to be some choices. There’s always going to be someone who says to me, ‘What about x and y?’ We think we’ve got a great range.”

“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that today is about launching one of the most secure documents in the world. So the fact that we’re also using the opportunity to celebrate creativity is really good, really nice, but fundamentally it’s about making sure this is a very secure document.”

Icons such as the London Underground also appear, with a curious choice of Tube station. Rather than going for one of the original Victorian stations, the designers have selected Waterloo - possibly a sly dig at the French.

The new design was unveiled in Shakespeare's Globe

Nine out of 10 British citizens has a passport. At the start of the century, security was so lax that an average of eight new passports a day were reported lost in the post after despatch from Passport Offices. On the black market, reasonably new British passports change hands for around £2,000.

A legal British passport currently costs £72.50. There have been calls for a much simpler and cheaper Passport Card, which would be valid for travel to Europe. Mr Thomson called it “an interesting idea” and indicated the concept was being considered.

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