03 April 2018
Paul Brittain looks at British sporting triumphs celebrated on British stamps and reflects on the unfulfilled optimism that often comes with a major sporting event
Judging by media reaction it seems England has only really ever had one major sporting success – and that was fifty years ago.
I well remember 18 August 1966, the day that England winning the World Cup was celebrated by a 4d stamp. It was university vac time and I was working for a stamp wholesaler in Brighton. He had ordered 200 sheets of the stamp, and asked me to go to London to collect them from the Philatelic Bureau.
The Bureau was still in London at that time, on the sixth floor of the building in St Martins-le-Grand. When I arrived, there was a queue stretching from the Bureau, down the six flights of stairs, and round the building outside.
All wanted just one thing – the new 4d stamp. Probably the Post Office had not done itself any favours by announcing in advance that 12 and a half million copies of the stamp would be printed. In terms of a standard inland letter rate commemorative this was low, but since the majority would be bought for keeping, rather than being used on letters, the quantity was more than enough.
However, it seems everyone wanted the stamp.
It went on sale at midnight at the post office in Trafalgar Square, which then opened 24 hours a day.
There had been riots, with window partitions smashed, as all clamoured to buy the stamps. Back at the Philatelic Bureau, customers were being restricted to a block of four. Had those queuing realised that under my arm, fortunately very well wrapped, were 200 sheets, I doubt if I would be alive today to tell this tale.
So confident was the nation after the England team won the 1966 World Cup, it was safely assumed that the triumph would be repeated in 1970. This time The Post Office would be fully prepared: David Gentleman was asked to prepare three designs to mark the victory.
It was David’s design for the 4d value to mark the 1966 World Cup that was adapted to include the ‘England Winners’ inscription. As we know, history did not repeat itself – and the three designs reside in The Postal Museum.
With no other England World Cup victories to celebrate, this one will never be forgotten, and has featured on subsequent stamps.
It has not only been England fans who have been optimistic. Although it was not a widely held view, Royal Mail believed Scotland could win the World Cup in 1978. Again triumphal designs were prepared – but all in vain.
There have been sporting successes along the way, of course, marked by issuing miniature sheets with images captured at the time. The first, in 2003, was able to celebrate England winning the Rugby World Cup, followed two years later by England winning the Ashes in cricket.
Plus no one can deny the successes of TeamGB at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with Royal Mail scoring its own victory with the popularity of the stamps to honour all of the Gold Medal winners.
Then in 2013, after many years waiting, came a British Men’s Singles Champion at Wimbledon.
Again Royal Mail issued a miniature sheet, depicting Andy Murray on his way to victory. The sheet was branded with ‘1st Class Sporting Success’, with the stated aim that such sheets would accompany every future British sporting triumph.
Perhaps such optimism was certain to put a jinx any future success. But we live in hope…