Shocking fact-based drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office became a surprise phenomenon at the start of 2024, which catapulted a long-unfolding scandal to the very top of the news agenda in the UK.


In doing so, it made a celebrity of tireless campaigner Alan Bates (the titular 'Mr'), who has amazed and inspired many with his sheer grit and determination in the face of very daunting odds.

He was one of hundreds of subpostmasters falsely accused of fraud and/or theft as a result of accounting errors caused by a faulty computer system rolled out by the Post Office.

Celebrated actor Toby Jones was cast to play Bates in the series and recalled being shocked at how the campaigner did not appear to regard himself as any kind of hero.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office finally gets a US broadcast this week, courtesy of PBS, with Jones perhaps being able to draw in viewers thanks to his internationally recognised roles in Captain America, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

More like this

That could potentially help boost the case of those affected by the scandal, who are still fighting for adequate compensation for both their psychological trauma and monetary loss.

Read on for more information on Alan Bates, including his most recent comments on this developing situation.

Who is Alan Bates and what happened to him?

Toby Jones as Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs the Post Office on the phone in his office
Toby Jones as Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs The Post Office. ITV

68-year-old Alan Bates is a former subpostmaster and campaigner, who took over a shop with a post office counter in 1998.

He first became aware of issues with the Horizon computer system, used for account keeping in post offices, by the end of 2000, when a shortage of £6,000 appeared on his books.

He managed to rectify this by noticing multiple duplicated transactions in the system, but in 2003 his contract with the Post Office was terminated, when it claimed £1,200 was unaccounted for.

Bates and his partner Suzanne Sercombe kept their shop but lost the Post Office counter, and their investment of around £60,000.

After his Post Office contract was terminated, Bates set up a website to highlight his concerns with Horizon, and found other subpostmasters and mistresses who had found similar issues, some of whom had been prosecuted for unaccounted losses.

In 2018, Bates and five other lead claimants took the Post Office to the High Court in a Group Litigation Order. The judge ruled in 2019 that Horizon contained "bugs, errors and defects", leading to the Post Office agreeing to settle with all 555 claimants.

In total, the Post Office identified 700 convictions in cases where issues with Horizon might have featured, with more than 80 of these having now been overturned.

A public inquiry into what happened was established in 2023. Bates is now retired, but when receiving a Pride of Britain Award earlier this year, he said he will continue to speak out for those impacted by the scandal.

He was recommended for an OBE this year, but he wrote back saying it was inappropriate to accept it in light of the fact that Paula Vennells, the former CEO of the Post Office, retained her CBE for services to the Post Office and to charity.

On 9th January 2024 Vennells announced she would be handing back her CBE with immediate effect.

Bates made headlines in February, when he suggested to a parliamentary committee that the Post Office should be sold to Amazon for £1, describing the organisation as a "dead duck".

Who plays Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs The Post Office?

Alan Bates and Toby Jones stood together on a red capet
Alan Bates and Toby Jones. ITV/ITV Studios

Alan Bates is the central character in Mr Bates vs The Post Office, and he is played by acclaimed actor Toby Jones.

Jones has had a long and storied career, playing Arnim Zola in the MCU and having other major roles in films including The Hunger Games, Frost/Nixon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, My Week with Marilyn, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Dad's Army and Empire of Light.

He also voiced house elf Dobby in the Harry Potter films, and has starred in TV series including Detectorists and The Long Shadow.

Jones met Bates on a number of occasions, and previously explained his decision making when it came to how he depicted him.

He said: "I’m not playing Alan Bates. I’m playing [writer] Gwyneth Hughes's version of Alan Bates.

"I had said to Alan, 'I’m not going to imitate you, but I need to be you enough to differentiate you, to show where you’re from and to root you in a specific context.'

"This was because Alan isn’t metropolitan like me, or from the south. He’s originally from Liverpool and has been living in Wales for some time. So, I talked to him about his roots, his work, the main events of his life, his routines.

"Secretly, I was trying to work out what drove him on, but he’s remarkably adept at obfuscating, at not giving any clues as to how he has come to do what he’s done.

"It’s a genuine humility that he has and there is something mysterious about that in this day and age."

Mr Bates vs the Post Office is available to stream in full on ITVX. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 10 issues for only £10 – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.