We were warned not many people would watch Post Office drama, says writer

Gwyneth Hughes said ‘nobody at the Post Office hierarchy wanted to get involved’ with the four-part ITV series.

Charlotte McLaughlin
Sunday 14 January 2024 11:12 GMT
Subpostmasters discover how live accounts were being fiddled in Mr Bates vs The Post Office

The writer of a drama about the Post Office scandal has said she was warned that “probably not many people would watch it” ahead of the ITV show acting as a catalyst for action.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which began on January 1 and stars Toby Jones, has led to the Government speeding up its response to help subpostmasters who were victims of a miscarriage of justice.

We've all been blown away by it ... The whole thing is unbelievable

Gwyneth Hughes, writer of Mr Bates vs The Post Office

Gwyneth Hughes told Sky News programme Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “We’ve all been blown away by it.

“On the eve of transmission our boss sent us all (a) comforting email warning us that (it) probably wouldn’t do that well, and probably not many people would watch it, but, never mind, it will find an audience, which is television speak for nobody is ever going to watch it.

“So we woke up (the) next morning, and he literally thought that he had misheard the ratings, and it just has got bigger and bigger.

“The whole thing is unbelievable, the story of the postmasters, and what happened to them was completely unbelievable from beginning to end and this is, I think, just the (latest) unbelievable chapter in the unfolding, ongoing story.”

Ms Hughes said “nobody at the Post Office hierarchy wanted to get involved” so they used the emails, transcripts and interviews of former chief executive Paula Vennells to depict her.

Ms Vennells has since announced that she will hand back her CBE and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said hundreds of the wrongly prosecuted Post Office managers in England and Wales could have their names cleared by the end of the year under blanket legislation.

Ms Hughes, who is also a documentary-maker, said even the best documentaries “sort of appeal to your head rather than to your heart”.

She added: “It’s always someone sitting there telling you something terrible that happened to them in the past, whereas in drama, you’re right there during this terrible event, experiencing it through the eyes of the person who went through it, and, in the hands of a brilliant actor, that just can grab your heart and grab your attention like nothing else.”

Ms Hughes says she currently has no plans for the future because this has been “the most extraordinary couple of weeks”.

She added: “The inbox is full of people saying to me ‘I’ve got a story for you, it’s even worse than the Post Office’ so, yeah, I (will stay) in a darkened room then think of something else.”

The Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses handed criminal convictions after faulty Fujitsu accounting software made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

More Post Office managers have come forward following the airing of the TV drama.

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