Thursday, 16 September 2021

Break(ing) news, mid-September 2021

I apologise that I forgot to include here a message that we would be away from the office for a few days - which meant that an unusually large number of people wrote about the latest postmark slogan (see previous post).

I hope you all received the 'out of office' message from gmail.

Aside from the new slogan postmark not much news has broken in the few days for which we were away.


However I understand from an anonymous source that the Christmas stamps will be the first stamps with barcodes readily available to ordinary users.  If this applies to the stamps in booklets they will be much larger than usual; if it applies to the large letter stamps then the sheets will be much larger than usual!

This is what last years 2nd class might have looked like.

Whether this is just a rumour or a rumour based on fact, only time will tell.


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

September slogan postmarks

This is the place for all new slogans for September, and any other interesting postal markings that I find or which are reported.  August was a totally blank month as far as I am aware - does anybody remember having another such month in the recent past?

Already we have had two new slogans, and two of the illustrations have added twists!

Pride Month revisited. For some reason Preston's Lancashire and South Lakes Mail Centre started off the month going back in time to June when Pride Month 2021 was celebrated. This is one twist, and the example from DP showing its use on 02/09/2021 had the added twist of using a forged 1st class Large Signed For stamp. (Apparently this was not scanned at the PO - so probably dropped in a box - but scanned on delivery.)  Note this doesn't have the 'Delivered by Royal Mail' segment.

June 2021 Pride Month slogan reused 02/09/2021 at Preston Mail Centre (Lancashire and South Lakes).

I believe the last line of the postmark indicates machine 131, whereas this one, also from DP later the same day is from machine 151.  This is the correct 'supporting child mental health with Action for Children' default.  This Christmas stamp is a forgery.

Default 'Action for Children' slogan used 02/09/2021 at Preston Mail Centre (Lancashire and South Lakes).

Update 9 September:  My thanks to John Enfield for reminding me yet again about the numbering system on these machines, now corrected above.  "The first 3 digits of the bottom line of Integrated Mail Processor cancellations show the machine number. IMPs are numbered in a national series, and Preston has 131, 144 and 151. (The next 2 digits denote the half-hour period of the day in which the item was processed, and the last 5 are a unique item identifier). 

"Intelligent Letter Sorting Machines (iLSMs) are numbered locally, and thus the 'Dorset & S W Hants' slogan [below] came from Poole's iLSM 2.  (Again the next 2 digits denote the half-hour period, and the last 5 are a unique identifier)."


Another new slogan was announced by Royal Mail on social media (specifically Twitter) but they didn't indicate how long it would be in use for.  This one marks the success of TeamGB and Paralympics GB at the Tokyo 2020 event.  [They won't be painting any postboxes, just as they didn't for Rio 2016.]

This reads

Congratulations
to all our
Team GB and
ParalympicsGB
athletes
Tokyo 2020

From DP again at Preston's Lancashire and South Lakes Mail Centre and from MM who provides one from Southampton Portsmouth & IOW both 06/09/2021.  DP's Christmas stamp is also a forgery.

Congratulations Tokyo 2020 slogan used 06/09/2021 at Preston Mail Centre (Lancashire and South Lakes).

Congratulations Tokyo 2020 slogan used 06/09/2021 at Southampton Mail Centre.


Update 8 September: Thanks to KD we now know that the slogan is in use for longer than just one day, as he has sent this other layout from Dorset & S.W. Hants mail centre on 07-09-2021.

Congratulations Tokyo 2020 slogan used 07/09/2021 at Dorset & S.W. Hants Mail Centre.

UPDATE 16 September - we now know that the Olympics slogan was in use until 10 September, when the system reverted to the default, as shown here from North West Midlands Mail Centre on 11 September.

'Action for Children' slogan used 1109/2021 at North West Midlands Mail Centre


Nothing more was expected, save perhaps for something promoting the DC-Comics stamps, but then events in New York brought a rethink, as Emma Raducanu won the Women's US Open Tennis title.  The last time there was a British winner of a major a sheet of stamps was issued:

Miniature sheet of 4 stamps issued to mark Andy Murray winning the Wimbledon Men's title, 2013.

 

No news yet from Royal Mail about a similar commemoration for Britain's new champion (would it make as much money as popular American comics?) but at least they rushed out a special slogan postmark which ran from 13-16 September.

Congratulations
Emma Raducanu
2021 US Open
Women's Chamption
A First class performance!

Some people posted comments to the blog, which I declined as, at the same time, others were sending the actual images, so thanks to the large number of people who wrote about this including PW, MB, KD, MM, JG, CH, JE, JN, JW & RW who remarked that Exeter seem to have found the ink drum again:

Emma Raducanu slogan postmark Exeter Mail Centre 14-09-2021

Emma Raducanu slogan postmark Lancashire and South Lakes (Preston Mail Centre) 13/09/2021

Emma Raducanu slogan postmark Plymouth and Cornwall Mail Centre 15-09-2021






All other slogans and any interesting postmarks and labels will be shown here.

 

Convenient Delivery - Parcelforce

Here's one I found while going through my cupboard.  I don't think I've seen one before or since!  We don't get much from Parcelforce these days with the competition (Amazon, UPS, DHL, etc) so evident. 

This came on a parcel from Stanley Gibbons in 2015, which was delivered to the village post office for collection - possibly because SG used my PO Box (which Parcelforce can't access) instead of the street address.  Note it is Post Office Parcelforce and reference to scanning it in and our on Horizon, so this must have been only for deliveries to branches.  The label number PW991/08 suggests that this was printed in 2008.

Post Office Parcelforce 'Convenient Delivery label PW991/08 used 2015.



Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Be scared! Now it's Batman & friends as Royal Mail take another opportunity to "Extend Beyond Philately" - 17 September 2021

Our apologies that an incomplete version of this post appeared; it was scheduled to publish at midnight, but I was prevented from completing it, which has now been done.

For no apparent reason, other than they have secured a licensing agreement and have reserved a space in the calendar, Royal Mail will issue on 17 September 2021 a set of stamps (plus) celebrating DC Comics Super Heroes and associated Super-Villains.

It was this issue that prompted me to write the '2015 turning point' post here.

Whereas in the case of previous licensed topics Royal Mail have pointed out 'the British connection' in the information they supply to dealers (as part-justification for the inclusion in the stamp programme) no such details are included this time, although there are connections.

Indeed on his Commonwealth Stamps Opinion blog, WhiteKnight writes 

"the American philatelic agency IGPC* revealed the designs of the 12 stamps and 1 miniature sheet containing 6 further stamps to be issued on 17 September 2021 by Royal Mail on the subject of characters from the American DC Comics".

 *They didn't, but anybody who reads that blog often will be aware of WK's acerbic comments on IGPC and Stamperija - and Royal Mail, Australia Post, Isle of Man Stamps, Guernsey/Alderney, Jersey, Gibraltar and any other organisations which seem hell-bent on as much money-grabbing as they can from stamp collectors before everybody stops writing letters and using stamps.  Conversely he also highlights those places which produce really interesting stamps of local worth and usage.

Anyway, I shall reproduce an edited version of what was supplied to us by Royal Mail:

DC Collection

Royal Mail celebrates DC Comics through the ages and the Super Hero genre that it helped create with a bumper 18 stamp set of Super Heroes and Super-Villains including; 12-stamp set of the world-famous Batman, his allies and his foes and a special Justice League Stamp Sheet including the iconic trinity, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.   2021 also marks the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Wonder Woman, who was among the first-ever female Super Heroes in comics.

Key Product Range Information:

  • Twelve stamps exclusively illustrated by the prestigious Comic artist, Jim Cheung and colourist, Laura Martin, celebrating Batman, his greatest foes and allies.
  • An exclusively commissioned Justice League stamp sheet for the Royal Mail illustrated by the same artists, including characters Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and more.
  • Framed prints showcasing the initial sketches of the stamps, as well as signed versions from the artists.
  • New, exclusive silver-plated and gold-plated medals with exclusive stamp imagery, as well newly packaged silver medals.

Set of 10 x 1st class DC Comics stamps 17 September 2021 (as usual, click on images to enlarge them)

Justice League miniature sheet containing 6 x 1st class stamps 17 September 2021

The sheet stamps depict: Batman, Batwoman, Robin, Batgirl, Alfred, Nightwing;
The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, The Riddler.

The Miniature Sheet is an exclusively illustrated six-stamp miniature sheet celebrating the Justice League; the World’s Greatest Super Heroes joining forces to protect the planet:

Batman, Green Lantern and The Flash, Wonder Woman, Superman, Cyborg and Aquaman, Supergirl and Shazam.

Technical details

The 35 mm square stamps are designed by Interbang using artwork by Jimmy Cheung and colourist Laura Martin.  They are printed in sheets of 60 on gummed paper by International Security Printed in lithography.  The miniature sheet is self-adhesive with two stamps 50 x 30 mm, two 35 x 37 mm, one 60 x 23 mm and one 27 x 37 mm.
BATMAN and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics. WB SHIELD: © & ™ WBEI.(s21).  JUSTICE LEAGUE and all related characters and elements © & ™ DC Comics. WB SHIELD: © & ™ WBEI.(s21).  Stamp designs © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2021.

As usual individual stamps can be purchased in multiples of 5 each.

Other products

Two retail booklets the contents of which have already been revealed to Royal Mail's standing order customers by the inclusion of 'BM' and 'WW' on their pre-issue invoices.  These contain 1st class Machin definitives with code MCIL M21L. These stamps are printed in gravure.

Batman and Robin retail booklet 17 September 2021

Wonderwoman retail booklet 17 September 2021

DC Collection - Prestige Stamp Book
The DC PSB takes a brief look into the timeline behind DC Comics and in particular, the key Super Heroes and Villains that contributed to its success. A bumper facts book that explores every character from the official DC Collection Stamp Set and Justice League Stamp Sheet in more detail, the one-off product also delves into the impact of the ‘British invasion’ and the remaining strong ties between DC and the UK today.  (And THAT is the first intimation that there is any connection to the UK, but it doesn't say what it is!)



The 8-stamp Machin definitive pane contains 2 x 1st class stamps, 3 x 2nd and 3 x 20p, which at least means the apparent 'leftovers' are useful values.  But of course we have already had a 1st class stamp in the Music Giants V PSB, and a 20p in the Industrial Revolutions meaning that the 2nd class is the only new stamp with £2.30-worth of stamps spare.

Two of the non-stamp pages describe 'The British Invasion':


"The 1980s saw a host of creators from the United Kingdom joining DC as the company sought out talent in what became known as the 'British Invasion'.  Alan Moore led the way with a genre-defining run on Swamp Thing before collaborating with Dave Gibbons on Watchmen and with Brian Bolland on Batman: The Killing Joke.

That illustrious group was quickly joined by a legion of talented experts in their craft, such as Jamie Delano, Mark Millar, Peter Milligan, Steve Dillon, Alan Davis, Glenn Farby, and Irish-born Garth Ennis."

The name of Alan Davis is known for the production of the Marvel Comics miniature sheet, but apart from that these are unknown to me.  The only name instantly recognisable further on, is Neil Gaiman, who combined with the late Terry Pratchett in the writing of the Discworld novel Good Omens, and is also known for radio/tv series Neverwhere, and for The Sandman, and for work with Marvel Comics.

The stamps are the same as in the sheets and miniature sheet, ie the Justice League stamps are self-adhesive, which means that all the WonderWoman stamps are self-adhesive - although those in the retail booklet are gravure rather than litho.

Fluor tricks
Once again spot-fluorescence has been applied to the stamps - though not always successfully.  With my new UV lamp, the effects show up when fully in the spotlight, but only if it is not overwhelmed by the brightness of the lamp.

On the Batman stamp the batlogo in the background is hightlighted, but so is the one on his chest, unfortunately overprinted with black!   Below that, Batgirl doesn't have that problem.  Other areas are he spotlight on the Batwoman stamp, and the bats and cave entrance on Alfred's stamp.

The Nightwing chest logo, and Robin's staff are also highlighted, although the latter is of minimal significance.  


With The Joker, the letters HA are highlighted, although as they are printed in dark orange the fluor doesn't show well.  The window and crystal held by Catwoman, and above that the disk and outlining of the letters are highlighted.


For The Penguin it's his hat, and The Riddler the staff/crook and ? highlighted on his hat.


The miniature sheet also has highlighting though more difficult to show.  The DC logo, Batman's chest logo (again overprinted in black) and belt?, Green Lantern's eye-piece and Flash's.. flashes.



For the rest of the miniature sheet, Aquaman's water splashes, and possibly WonderWoman's rope. It's difficult to see with the Super set; I think the areas highlighted may be too small on these to properly work.

Now if Royal Mail also sold a simple UV lamp with these, even if it is only the special edition PSB, then all the fans would appreciate it as well, rather than just philatelic nerds who have to shine a UV lamp at everything!

The Limited Edition Prestige Stamp Book (limited to 1939 when Batman first appeared in Detective Comics) is priced at £49.99 (a reduction on previous LE PSBs).  As always the stamps are said to be exactly the same as in the regular PSB, so no need for more details here.


Batman Collector Sheet, includes all 12 stamps from the set, alongside what Royal Mail now terms as 'stickers' rather than labels. The sheet is litho self-adhesive printed by ISP, and priced at £11.40, only £1.20 more than the face value of the stamps.


Other products

Three Stamp Character Packs (ie like a presentation pack but just a carrier card): the set, 10 x Batman, 10 x Joker.

Batman and Wonder Woman medal covers, each silver plated (£20) or gold-plated (£25), and silver medal boxes (£100 each).

Batman Art Print Collection which includes 12 high-gloss art prints, card with 12 stamps affixed, and a 10% voucher for use in the Royal Mail shop!  (£25)

Framed products including prints of the 'progressives' of the Batman, Joker, and Justice League sheet with pencil, then ink by Jim Cheung, and then colour by Laura Martin. These exclusive products, at least, are impressive even at £46 each.

I'm sure Matt Parkes will be pleased with this, and that there will be sufficient sales to encourage Royal Mail to do more similar - what else though?  Rolling Stone magazine has a list of the top 50(!) Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels but many are on subjects which would be unsuitable, some are anime (nothing wrong with that), and none have the fan-base of the superheroes, save perhaps for Tin Tin.  Suprised Asterix didn't make it in there.

Anyway, I don't think that there is anything more that I can write on this.  Only two more issues this year, Rugby Union and Christmas.


Friday, 27 August 2021

Coils produced for applying to Bureau FDCs date from at least 2001 - and not just for definitives.

It has been well known for many years that the definitive stamps applied to Royal Mail standing order FDCs are produced in mutli-value side-ways delivered coils, usually with a different direction of print (DOP), to those sold in sheets.  This has been of interest mainly to extreme specialists who can see and therefore monitor and collect DOP differences. They are produced this way because the stamps are affixed by machine rather than by hand. 

If you think this is a familiar story, I wrote that paragraph here in 2018 when the difference between counter sheet stamps and those definitives produced for the new tariff was more than just direction of print

Registered dealers can also buy uncancelled Royal Mail FDCs with stamps affixed which enables us to have any first day postmark applied for customers, without the workload involved in carefully affixing over 4 stamps or long se-tenant strips to the covers.  

For a period during the early part of the present century the machinery used by Royal Mail for affixing gummed stamps to their FDCs must have been wearing out because I had to return a number on which the stamps were not fixed in alignment or not totally stuck down  (including one where there was a spare single stamp only just affixed over the printed address on the cover!).

But in 2001 the first self-adhesive special stamps were issued - the Cats and Dogs 'booklet' and folded sheet.  This was followed by that year's Christmas stamps, and the Rudyard Kipling folded sheet in 2002 and that year's Christmas stamps. In 2003 the innovative Fruit & Vegetables sheet was issued, but it was the Ice Sculptures Christmas stamps that year that provided conclusive evidence and brought an admission from Royal Mail that they did indeed use stamps printed in a different arrangement for at least the Christmas stamps.  

I wrote this for the Association of GB First Day Cover Collectors journal in early 2004 (and did have it on our website, but it got lost in one of the updates or migrations).


I happened upon an unusual Christmas FDC offered for sale on eBay. This was described as: 

The World's Rarest First Day Cover? 2003 Christmas issue on official Royal Mail FDC with 1st class and "E" stamp printed in red. Worth £5,000-£10,000? Selling with normal cover for comparison - striking! .A most amazing error and... starting at...only £4.99.

The World's Rarest First Day Cover? 2003 Ice Sculptures Christmas stamp FDC
 

Of course the stamps were not printed in red as suggested, but were printed in the regular colours on red repair tape. But if the stamps were printed in separate sheets, as we know they were. how did the tape come to be on both the 1 class and E rate stamps. The reason seemed to be that all six stamps in the set were printed in one sheet for fixing to the PO cover.

Just before he dashed off for his Christmas break, my contact at Royal Mail confirmed what we thought:

Apparently coils are only produced to fix self adhesives to FDCs. The first time the self adhesive affixing machine was used was for Cats and Dogs in 2001.

"For Christmas (2003), coils were run for the first time with 6 stamps on the coil printed in sequence. The coils will have joins in them (one or two joins per coil) but this should not impact upon the quality of the product."

 

Royal Mail have used machines to fix the stamps to their FDCs for Bureau standing order customers and for those provided to key account holders for some time. But this is the first time to my knowledge that we have known about special printing arrangements. Obviously this cover should not have been sent out from Edinburgh, but it was. So should the SHC have processed it, or should they have impounded it? I suppose we should be thankful that they processed it, because this has shed light on a new printing arrangement.

And don't forget, as the coils are horizontal, produced from on a web, then the red repair tape would have been applied to the wider web, not just the narrow coil. If this is the case, then more covers COULD exist, but they may not have reached dealers. Time will tell if this cover is unique. This one sold for £500 – the winning bidder tried a £28 start but was pushed up by other bidders. What do you think of this price for what should have been wasted?

I asked some overseas colleagues about this cover before we got the RM reply, and this brought out interesting new information on the system in other countries. Apparently in some of the Scandinavian countries (and others?) the printers have produced slightly different stamps for fixing to FDCs – the gum or perforation is different. In some cases the PO FDC is the only source of the variety as the bureaux were not aware until collectors told them! It might be worth checking all Royal Mail Bureau FDCs that collectors spurn, just to see if the same thing has happened here, without anyone noticing! 

Well, since 2004 no more have appeared as far as I know, but my fortunate chancing upon this eBay listing shows that everything you find by chance that appears to be different, is worth recording and sharing.  And if you haven't got the means to share it (like a blog) then pass it to somebody who has. You'll get credit (or not, as you wish).


British Army Vehicles - 2 September 2021

Writing about these stamps on Commonwealth Stamps Opinion my fellow blogger White Knight questions the reasons for this stamp issue.  "The vehicles are well illustrated but what is the point of this issue? I can not see any particular anniversary or event that is commemorated by this issue and so far no explanation for it from Royal Mail."

He's right, of course.  Even if you accept that some special stamp issues are necessary, why these?   Some time later it occurred to me that whilst all three services had a 'Uniforms' issue (the Army twice), only the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have had stamps showing their means of transport.

1997 stamp issue, British Aircraft Designers - but all military SG 1984-88.

And some of these had already appeared in 1986, and would appear again later.

1996 History of the Royal Air Force (SG 1336-40)



2018 set of 6 marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force (SG 4058-63) There is also a MS showing the Red Arrows display team. 

The following year the Royal Navy had eight of their vessels, ancient and modern, in 'Royal Navy Ships'.

2019 Royal Navy Ships (SG 4264-73 including two self-adhesive of the 1st class. As well as the Mary Rose and HMS Victory, HMS Dreadnought and the new HMS Queen Elizabeth are included.

In 2001 Royal Mail marked the Centenary of the RN Submarine Service with four stamps (plus a PSB which included four new Naval flag stamps).

2001 Royal Navy Submarine Service Centenary set (SG2202-5).

As some remarked in 2019, the Mary Rose, HMS Victory and Dreadnought, plus two others, had already appeared on the Maritime Heritage set in 1982!

1982 Maritime Heritage set (SG 1187-91)

And so it is fitting, that if Royal Mail is doing anything more for the Armed Forces, the British Army deserves a turn, albeit the Ministry of Defence currently getting some bad press over the situation in Afghanistan.

British Army Vehicles - 2 September 2021 - details from Royal Mail unless in red.

In its long history, the British Army has at times led the world in military technology, while at other times it has had to borrow, adapt or improvise to meet the wide-ranging challenges it faces. The equipment and vehicles it uses are not just tools for the job – they often become a means of national identification and icons of an era. The stamps are illustrated by Mike Graham using acrylic paint for the paintings. Mike was part of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, serving fifteen years, and was a Gunnery Instructor on a Chieftain before turning his hand to art.  

The 8 stamps feature stunning paintings of 8 iconic British Army Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV’s) since the First World War and are accompanied by a 4 stamp miniature sheet with photographs of vehicles currently in service.

This stamp issue continues the military transport thematic series which includes Royal Navy Ships and the RAF.

2021 - British Army Vehicles set of 8, 4 each 1st class and £1.70.


The tanks and other armoured vehicles.

1st Class – Mk IV
The first use of Mark I tanks on the Somme in September 1916 had mixed results, but British Commander-in-Chief General Douglas Haig saw their potential and ordered 1,000. The Mark II and III tanks were made in small quantities, but it was the Mark IV, with over 1,200 made, that saw the most use before the war’s end. Tanks were designated either ‘male’ or ‘female’, according to gun types fitted. The male Mark IV tanks had shorter six-pounder guns than on the Mark I, and the housings could be pushed into the vehicle to simplify rail movement. The eight-strong crews saw their tanks work well at the Battle of Messines in June 1917 but then flounder in mud at Passchendaele. Doubts were raised about the expense and usefulness of the tank, but the Mark IVs were to prove their worth in a mass attack by over 400 at Cambrai in November 1917.


1st Class - Matilda Mk II
The A12 Infantry Tank, or Matilda, was the second in a series of infantry tanks that Britain put into production just before the Second World War. It was thought that three types of tank would be needed: small light tanks for reconnaissance, cruiser tanks to exploit breakthroughs and infantry tanks that would attack a defended position with the infantry. As they were more heavily armoured, infantry tanks were slower (9mph off-road), but this was considered adequate as they were to support infantry on foot. The Matilda II saw action in France in 1940, its thick armour making it impervious to the standard German 37mm anti-tank gun. Against Italian opposition in North Africa, the success of the Matilda led to it being called ‘The Queen of the Desert’. Its small turret prevented the fitting of a larger gun, so from 1942 the Matilda was relegated to use in the Far East, where the Japanese fielded only lighter tanks.

1st Class – Churchill AVRE
The costly failure of the raid at Dieppe in 1942 led a Canadian Royal Engineer Lieutenant JJ Denovan to propose a conversion of the Churchill infantry tank. In the turret, a spigot mortar, called the Petard, could fire a 40lb (18kg) demolition charge to a range of 200 yards. This would have a devastating effect on defensive structures or obstacles. Fixtures on the tank allowed it to be adapted – to carry large loads or devices such as bobbin to lay trackway or demolition charges. The AVREs – Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers – were issued to the 79th Armoured Division, 60 for each of three assault regiments, and they first went into action on D-Day (6 June 1944).
Along with other specialised vehicles of the 79th Armoured Division, the AVREs were issued across Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in the North West Europe campaign, and they were considered a great success.

1st Class - Centurion Mk9
The Centurion was the British answer to the German Panther tank, developed in the Second World War. It missed seeing wartime action by a month but went on to have a long service life. The tank went through 13 marks (or models) in British Army service, showing an ability to be upgraded. It started with a 17-pounder gun, then a 20-pounder, followed by the very successful L7 105mm gun. The Rolls Royce Meteor engine gave the tank 650 horsepower – double that of most other wartime tanks.
However, earlier models had a range of only 60 miles (97km), so a fuel mono-trailer was used until a larger internal tank was provided. The Mark 9 tank was an improved, rebuilt version of the Mark 7 with the L7 105mm fitted. This powerful gun became a NATO standard. The Centurion tank first saw action in the Korean War and was a huge export success, with some tanks still in service.

£1.70 - Scorpion
The Scorpion was part of a family of vehicles designed by Alvis in the 1960s around a number of common components. The 76mm low-velocity gun could fire a range of ammunition types and gave the small, light (8 tonnes) tank quite a punch. With aluminium armour (to keep weight down) and the Jaguar J60 4.2-litre petrol engine (the same as the E-type sports car), the tank’s top speed of 45mph made the Scorpion a difficult target to hit as a reconnaissance vehicle. Two Scorpions could fit inside a C-130 Hercules transport plane, and the original width specification was to allow it to pass through Malaysian rubber plantations. It was exported widely, and Scorpions are still in service. The vehicle saw action with the British Army in the Falklands conflict and in the First Gulf War before being withdrawn from service in 1994. Many remember the vehicle as the Action Man toy tank

£1.70 – Chieftain Mk 5
Britain decided that the priority for a main battle tank (MBT) in the Cold War was to have the best firepower and great protection; mobility was seen as less important. The stabilised 120mm gun was tremendously accurate compared to those of the wartime generation, and it was placed in a new style of mounting without a traditional mantlet (or shield). The driver had a semi-recumbent driving position, meaning that the hull could be lower, to present a smaller target. The steel armour was sloped to increase the level of protection, and additional ‘Stillbrew’ armour was added when the Soviets introduced the 125mm gun. However, the L60 engine had many reliability issues in service – a definite weakness of the tank. The tank was upgraded, running through 12 marks, after being introduced to the Army in 1967. It had some export success in the Middle East and left British service as a gun tank in the late 1990s.

£1.70 – Challenger II
The Challenger 2 tank was initially started as a private venture by Vickers Defence, given that the Army saw the Challenger 1 (a design originally intended for the Shah of Iran) as only a stop-gap vehicle. The Challenger 2 was issued to regiments in 1998 after extensive testing. It has Chobham armour, a still-secret composite arrangement of material including ceramics that gives much greater protection than steel alone against modern weapons. When going into action, extra armour can be fitted to the tank, along with a range of other devices, such as electronic countermeasures. The Challenger 2 has a 120mm rifled gun that can fire a range of ammunition types and a thermal imaging system to allow it to fight at night. The Perkins diesel engine creates 1,200 horsepower. As with many tanks, the vehicle is being upgraded to respond to new threats and challenges on the modern battlefield.

£1.70 - Ajax
Ajax is the scouting vehicle in a new family of 589 medium-weight armoured vehicles just coming into service with the British Army. Using state-of-the-art digital technology, the Ajax has advanced intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities and can process and share digital information with other vehicles and higher formations. The Ajax has a turret mounting a new 40mm cased telescoped armament system (CTAS) that can fire a variety of ammunition types accurately on the move. The vehicle is protected by modular armour and a number of defensive systems to detect threats, one of which has acoustic shot detection sensors that can tell the crew the direction of incoming fire. The Ajax family consists of six variants based on a common chassis: Ajax (turreted, reconnaissance and strike vehicle), Ares (reconnaissance and armoured personnel carrier), Argus (engineer reconnaissance), Athena (command and control), Atlas (equipment support recovery) and Apollo (equipment repair).  [This range of vehicles has had development problems, including being too noisy to drive, and commanders being unable to be in the turret over certain speeds.  Whilst this is interesting there are plenty of website discussions on this, so I don't intend to allow much of this nature as comments, unless somebody comes up with a really useful link.[

2021 British Army Vehicles miniature sheet.

The Minisheet
1st Class - Coyote
The Coyote Tactical Support Vehicle is based on the Jackal but has six wheels instead of four. The extra wheels allow it to carry a heavier load and up to five soldiers, and it can act as a support vehicle for the Jackal. The Jackal and Coyote have superb off-road capability and are used for reconnaissance and patrolling.

1st Class - Wildcat
The Wildcat AH Mk 1 Reconnaissance Helicopter has a number of roles to fulfil for the Army (‘AH’ in this variant stands for ‘Army Helicopter’): airborne reconnaissance, command and control, transport of six troops or supplies, and the carrying of a sophisticated battlefield surveillance system. The Army ordered 34 Wildcats and the Royal Navy 28 in a slightly different configuration.

£1.70 – Trojan
Trojan is an armoured engineer vehicle that is equipped to clear obstacles on the battlefield. It can have a dozer blade, or a mine plough fitted to the front, has an excavator arm and can position a fascine – a large bundle of plastic pipes – in a gap to allow other vehicles to cross. It can also tow a trailer-mounted, rocket-propelled mineclearing system

£1.70 - Foxhound
The Foxhound is a lightweight and fast patrol vehicle, with a maximum speed of 70mph. It has a V-shaped hull to channel the blast from mines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) away from the underside of the vehicle. It has a crew of two and can carry up to four troops in the rear.

Technical Details

The 50 x 30 mm stamps were designed by Royal Mail Group based on artwork by Mick Graham Art. All copyright Royal Mail Group 2021 except for the challenger (c) Mick Graham Art.  They are printed by International Security Printers in lithography, in sheets of 48, in se-tenant strips of 4, perf 14.

The miniature sheet is designed by Studio Up and uses photographs to depict the vehicles. Acknowledgements: Coyote photo © HOT SHOTS/Alamy Stock Photo; Army Wildcat, Foxhound and
Trojan photos: UK MOD © UK Crown copyright 2021; Army logos are trade marks of the UK Secretary of State for Defence and used under licence.   The 115 x 89 mm sheet contains stamps 41 x 30 mm printed in lithography by International Security Printers, perf 14½ x14.

Products available from Royal Mail

Stamp set, miniature sheet, first day covers (2), presentation pack, stamp cards (15) and framed prints.  The sheet stamps can be bought from Royal Mail Tallents House in horizontal strips of 4 of the same value or vertical strips of 6 of each design.



Thursday, 26 August 2021

Beyond the Horizon: the next network system for The Post Office and post offices.

While the arrangements for compensating thousands of ex-Sub-Postmasters and holding to account those who were running the organisation at the time (and their contractor), the current management team are looking beyond the Horizon.

I'm indebted to DP for providing a link to this page on Post Office OneOnline by Gareth Clark, the company's Strategic Platform Modernisation Director.



We’re replacing Horizon and we want you to be involved

We want to move to a modern IT system that has been designed for and with postmasters and branch teams. We have an opportunity with the Horizon contract ending, to develop a completely new system rather than seek to extend it further. To design, build and replace over 25,000 terminals and thousands of pieces of kit, across 11,500 branches, outreaches and mobile vans will take time, which is why we’re continuing to make important changes to the Horizon system in the short term while we work on developing the future IT systems.

By developing the new IT system in-house, we will have greater control over making changes and updates as well as being able to launch new products more quickly than we are currently able to. For example, as we open our network to more carriers, we need kit that can easily integrate with third-party systems, and more advanced and up-to-date hardware.  

Building on your feedback

You have already told us lots about what does and doesn’t work in Horizon.  We’re using this knowledge as the starting point for the design of the new system, and we hope to continue to work closely with you as we develop. I am committed to making sure your views and experience are at the heart of all of our decisions and that changes we make to IT will work for you in your branch.

Working with Simon’s team we have set up an IT working group made up of over 170 volunteer postmasters from across the country. We will use this working group and other forums (Branch User Forum, regional forums, and via your Area Managers) to ask questions, refine our proposals, test out prototypes and get feedback on the system as we develop it.

I’m incredibly grateful to those of you who have got involved so far, whether that is through the working group, hosting me or members of the team in your branches, or speaking to us on the phone - thank you for your time and your invaluable insight.

Our priorities

Based on what you’ve told us we have identified the following priorities:

  • Creating a fast, intuitive system with simpler and more consistent transactions
  • Streamlining in-branch processes (e.g. the end of month accounting process and simplifying access to different systems)
  • Upgrading the hardware available to you, and ensuring you have the opportunity to test out different devices to tell us what works for you
  • Ensuring that the new system gives you the information and control you need to run your business, and allows Post Office to make changes centrally with minimal disruption
  • Providing you with appropriate training and support to make sure that you and your branch team feel confident and comfortable using the new system.



Answering your questions

We know lots of you have questions about current and future IT. Please do ask, you can either comment below or email futureIT@postoffice.co.uk.

A few of you have asked if we’re going to offer tablets to all branches. For now, we’re focused on replacing the Horizon counters with a fixed device. We know that handheld devices could be useful to many of you, and we are looking into whether we can offer these in future, but we need to better understand the costs and benefits to make a decision. We will discuss this more with postmasters in future working group sessions.

Some of you have also asked whether you will be able to use the new counter system to access Branch Hub. Yes, this functionality is planned for the new system – though of course we are still in the early stages and have not built this yet.

Timescales and next steps

We are at the very beginning of the process to replace Horizon. We want to take enough time to design and build the new system, ensuring it is well-tested with postmasters and matching postmaster needs. This means we will have Horizon in branches for a few more years. Our planned timelines for rolling out the new system are:

  • Late 2021: A pilot and very small version of the new system will be tested in selected new branches
  • 2022 and 2023: We will run pilots in branches to test the new system with different product groups and to understand how it works, ensuring we design and build with postmasters, for postmasters
  • 2023 to 2025: The new system will start to become available to branches, ultimately replacing the current system in its entirety

We will provide regular updates on our progress through this blog and elsewhere.  Please do get in touch on futureIT@postoffice.co.uk or comment below if you would like more information, have a question or want to get involved.

I look forward to working with you over the coming years as we develop and roll out the new system and hope to meet as many of you as possible along the way.



I thought that somewhere in this blog I had written about the pending end of Horizon before, and sure enough Computer Weekly announced it before, in an article no longer on their website at the same link.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

End of the road in sight for Post Office Horizon system

According to Computer World UK, Post Office Limited is looking for a supplier to provide front office IT application services worth up to £636 million over 10 years.

"The procurement is to support the transformation of the Post Office following its separation from Royal Mail. As part of its long-term strategy published at the end of November, the Post Office outlined plans to modernise its business to become a modern, digital, multi-channel retailer.

"The front office application services contract will cover customer facing transactions across multiple channels, including the Post Office’s nationwide network of 11,500 branches, website, mobile and call centre.

"Fujitsu is the current provider of the Post Office’s branch IT system, known as Horizon. The controversial system was recently found to contain software defects that caused branch managers to be overcharged and accused of fraud, with some being sent to prison over the allegations."
 
 
Nonetheless, Fujistu's contract was extended and Post Office Ltd continued to deny that there was anything wrong with the existing system.  We all know how well that went.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Prosecutions of subpostmasters continued, albeit at a much reduced level, in 2015. 

It is to be hoped that the in-house team includes greater controls over 'Privileged Accesses' than Fujitsu and the inhouse teams did previously. 



Wednesday, 25 August 2021

The Horizon Scandal: outsourcing doesn't have to be a minefield if it's properly managed.

I make no apology for returning to the subject of the Post Office and the Horizon Scandal. With the public enquiry into what went wrong and why (to say nothing of compensation and criminal charges against the people actually responsible) still in progress and some way from completion, the more experts in different fields are contributing to the debate.  And they are not jumping on a kudos bandwagon.  

We have already seen the lawyer's perspective into duties and ethics of the law profession, and on the same link the start of academic research into corporate governance, criminal justice, and professional regulation, as well as government and parliamentary accountability.

Now I can relay the view of the IT professional, more particularly concerning 'high-level access' to systems - that is, access by those not directly involved in entering transactions on a daily basis, nor those working from the outputs of the system in a routine way.  Those with high-level or 'privileged' access would be IT professionals.  

James Christie is a software testing consultant who previously worked for IBM. His main area of interest is the governance issues associated with testing.   He has written a blog about the Horizon computer system and its management by Post Office Ltd entitled:

“Privileged accesses” – an insight into incompetence at Fujitsu and the Post Office

As he mentions, the findings by Ernst & Young (later rebranded as just E&Y) in 2011 that there was "poor control over user IDs with high privilege levels. Not only did this highlight the need to improve Fujitu’s management of the IT service and the oversight provided by the Post Office, it also pointed to an ineffective internal audit function at the Post Office".

At one stage in his IBM career he was an information security manager working with new outsourced accounts.

All the issues relating to privileged access raised by E&Y in their management letter were within my remit. The others, mainly change management, were dealt with by the relevant experts. Each outsourcing contract required us to reach agreement on the full detail of the service by a set date, typically within a few months of the service cutover. In one case we had to reach agreement before service even started. On the service cutover date all staff transferring to IBM were required to continue working to exactly the same processes and standards until they were told to do something new.

I had to set up a series of meetings and workshops with the client and work through the detail of the security service. We would agree all the tedious but vital details; password lengths and formats, the processes required for authorising and reviewing new accounts and access privileges, logging and review of accesses, security incident response actions. It went on and on.

For each item we would document the IBM recommended action or setting. Alongside that we had to record what the client was currently doing. Finally we would agree the client’s requirement for the future service. If the future requirement entailed work by IBM to improve on what the client was currently doing that would entail a charge.

You can read the whole blog post, and earlier ones also relevant to the Horizon problems here. But his conclusions are inescapable:

Getting the basics correct is vital if corporations want to show that they are in control of their systems. If users have high privilege levels without effective authorisation, logging and monitoring then the corporation cannot have confidence in its data, which can be changed without permission and without a record of who took what action. Nobody can have confidence in the integrity of the systems. That has clear implications for the Horizon scandal. The Post Office insisted that Horizon was reliable when the reality was that Fujitsu did not apply the controls to justify that confidence.

Fujitsu may have failed to manage the service properly, but the Post Office is equally culpable. Outsourcing an IT service is not a matter of handing over responsibility then forgetting about it. The service has to be specified precisely then monitored carefully and constantly.

Why were the two corporations so incompetent and so negligent for so long? Why were the Post Office and Fujitsu so much less responsible and careful than IBM, AstraZeneca, Boots and Nokia?

Why did the Royal Mail’s and subsequently the Post Office’s internal auditors not detect problems with the outsourced service and force through an effective response?   

---------
I know how these jobs should be done and it amazes me to see that one of our major rivals was able to get away with such shoddy practices at the very time I was in the outsourcing game. Fujitsu still has the Post Office contract. That is astonishing.


If you work or have worked in IT, and particularly in IT security the protocols should be familiar to you - and if you have any imagination so will the pitfalls that are there if the organisations don't get things right.

But it is doubtful whether you have been involved in a less competent organisation which impacted the lives of so many people at such a low operational level - the foot soldiers - than Post Office Ltd.


Tuesday, 24 August 2021

The turning point for Great Britain special issues was 2015, and here's why.

Readers of this blog fall into several different camps.  Some are specialised Machin or Post and Go collectors (the latter not finding that much to read or collect these days), and some are avid collectors of Great Britain's special (sometimes 'commemorative') stamps supplied by Royal Mail's Philatelic Service.

That used to be known as the Philatelic Bureau, indeed it still produces a Philatelic Bulletin, which fortunately contains some philatelic articles on pre-21st century matters, as well as plenty of puff and glossed images showing the latest offerings.   

In the early part of this century we had a number of stamp issues for which cover producers were presented with certain licensing problems, but they were all essentially British.  Lord of the Rings - the books (2004), Independent Television & The Ashes (2005), World Football Cup (2006), The Beatles, Harry Potter (books) and Scouting (2007), James Bond books, RNLI & HM Coastguard (2008), Album Covers & Wallace & Gromit (2010), Thunderbirds & Thomas the Tank Engine (2011),  Roald Dahl and popular Comic publications - and of course the Olympics and Paralympics (2012), London Underground & Dr Who (2013), Children's TV & Commonwealth Games (2014) - all British.  

 

It can be said that 2015, then, marked a sea-change in the Royal Mail Stamps & Collectibles issuing policy.  

In the autumn of 2014 we were promised "an exciting programme (for 2015) with a great mix of issues that offer high profile opportunities and press coverage alike including stunning new illustrations for the eternally popular Alice in Wonderland. Despite being 150 years old the characters of Alice in Wonderland still bring enormous joy to many children around the world although perhaps a large part of thanks for that goes to Disney as the story features prominently in their Fantasylands across its Theme Parks".  

And that news of the January issue was a taster for what was to come.

So what have we had since 2015?  Here are just a few:


 

What do these have in common? They all - and others - require payment to license-holders, but more importantly they, and many more, have all been brought to the Royal Mail programme by Matt Parkes, Managing Director of Royal Mail Stamps & Collectibles since 2015. 

In his profile on Linkedin (kindly sent to me by one of our readers) he writes that 

"Since my appointment, I have pivoted what was a unit in decline into a rapidly growing and sustainable IP licensing and collectibles business, significantly exceeding revenue and profit targets each year.

I have developed and overseen the implementation of a new content strategy, acquiring major licenses including Star Trek, Marvel Comics, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, David Bowie and Queen.

I am a member of the Royal Mail Group Products & Marketing Executive Board and am Chair of the Stamps Advisory Committee, whose members are selected for their specialist knowledge and outstanding achievement within their area of expertise. I also act as a key liaison with the government and Buckingham Palace."

He has "worked as a senior executive in the entertainment sector for twenty five years, with a particular focus on general management, licensing, business development and marketing" and came to Royal Mail after spells with BBC Worldwide, BSkyB, Virgin Media, Microsoft (Xbox), karaoke business Lucky Voice, and Copyright Promotions Licensing Group (CPLG).  CPLG's clients include, according to Wikipedia, Spider-Man, Peanuts, World Wide Wrestling, Bob the Builder, Sesame Street, LazyTown, Star Trek, Felix the Cat, Where's Waldo, England Rugby, England football, England Cricket & St Andrews. 

It seems likely that his network of contacts from previous employments facilitated the inclusion of heavily-copyrighted and licensed subjects such as those pictured above.  

It didn't take long to make an impact. 

Whether or not it was underway before his arrival (and a two-year preparation period is normal) the first Star Wars issue came in October 2015.

After that we had David Bowie and more Star Wars in 2017, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter (films) in 2018, Marvel Comics, Elton John and yet more Star Wars in 2019, James Bond (films), Coronation Street, Queen Sherlock, Rupert Bear and Star Trek in 2020.  This year we've only had Only Fools & Horses, Paul McCartney, and Dennis & Gnasher - so far;  the second issue of next month has yet to be identified but a 'blockbuster' is usually included in the Quarter 4 programme.

Nasty or Nice?

There has been a declared strategy to “Extend Beyond Philately” by making available products such as special edition PSBs (wherein the stamps are the same as the standard one), 'fan sheets' (Music Giants), and framed products which are marketed to the niche fan markets.  But the fact is, the subject of most of the stamp issues which lend themselves to this approach are ones of which the traditionalist collector might not be in favour.

So is Matt Parkes Mr Nasty, responsible for driving thousands of collectors worldwide away from British stamps while developing the business to attract income from the non-philatelic fanbase of all the colourful and well-known subjects for which stamps have been issued?

Well no, Matt is a nice guy really, I've met him and had email exchanges.  I suspect he has just been doing the job he was hired to do when Moya Greene was CEO of Royal Mail Group. 

But there is no doubt that the income for the Stamps and Collectibles business which comes from genuine stamp collectors (while still the bigger proportion) has swung - which was the idea all along - towards non-collectors due partly to the income from some traditional collectors drying up altogether.