Royal Mail marks 50th anniversary of special stamps, with many featuring famous North East landmarks

On the 50th anniversary of the Royal Mail’s special stamp programme, Sara Nichol looks at how people and places from the North East have featured on postage stamps

Royal Mail/PA Wire Royal Mail stamps. 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the company' s modern Special Stamp programme, which celebrates the UK
Royal Mail stamps. 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the company' s modern Special Stamp programme, which celebrates the UK

What do the Tyne Bridge, Kevin Keegan and the Durham coastline have in common?

All have been licked and sent round the world, some are rated first class and some second.

The answer - and the criteria could also include Paralympian Josef Craig, the musical Billy Elliott and Hadrian’s Wall - is that all have featured on UK postage stamps, their images being sent on letters to loved ones, business contacts or perhaps on bills being paid just in time.

Now these images and thousands more have been collected on put online by the Royal Mail to mark the 50th anniversary of the Special Stamp programme, a project launched by the then Postmaster General Tony Benn in 1965 to add some variety to the stamps we use.

Instead of the well-known image of the monarch’s head, special stamps have commemorated hundreds of topics, from the centenary of the Salvation Army in 1965 to Buckingham Palace at the end of 2014. Along the way, stamps have commemorated writers (including Dickens and Jane Austen), sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, and historical figures ranging from Prime Ministers to scienntists, architects and film makers.

Philip Parker, Royal Mail’s stamp strategy manager, said: “Before 1965, Royal Mail very occasionally issued commemorative stamps. These really were mostly royal occasions and postal anniversaries.

“However, in late 1964, the Government changed and the new Labour Government appointed new people, which included appointing Tony Benn as the new Postmaster General. He wanted to change things a bit and he wanted to change stamps.

“So he devised a criteria for Special Stamps, which included marking special anniversaries, the British way of life and Britain’s contribution to world affairs.

“He also wanted to look at other subject matters, such as wildlife. He began looking into new designs and worked with a designer into looking at how stamps could be modernised.

“The criteria has not changed much at all since then - the stamps celebrate and commemorate the best of British.”

During 50 years of Special Stamps, the North East has made sporadic appearances, with Durham Cathedral featuring in 1969 on a British Architecture series and the nearby Milburngate shopping centre as the 20-and-a-half pence stamp in a series on urban renewal in 1984.

The Angel of the North and Lindisfarne Priory featured as the A and L of a UK A-Z series in 2011, with the Tyne Bridge coming a year later as the T. Stamps issued around the Millennium were also North East-heavy, featuring the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the Durham coastline, Newcastle’s Centre for Life and Project Suzy on Teesside. More recent images on stamps have included the The Response, the Newcastle war memorial featured on the first series of four planned to mark the centenary of World War One, and famous footballers, which included Kevin Keegan and Bobby Charlton.

Mr Parker said: “We get many hundreds of requests every year for subject matters, so we do chose carefully. I can confirm that we will be bringing out a new stamp relating to Newcastle in the New Year but I can’t say much more than that at this stage.”

Though the dawn of the internet and email has lessened demand for stamps, the regular issues of special stamps is much anticipated by stamp collecters, while the programme, featuring as it does both eagerly anticipated subject matter and high class artwork and photography, still has a place in the wider UK consciousness.

To capture some of that interest, the Royal Mail is now marking the 50th anniversary of the special stamp programme with a website featuring every issue. Visitors to the site can browse through the stamps by the decade and also view the stamps that were issued in the year that they were born.

To find out more, go to www.rmspecialstamps.com .

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