Drama is a powerful tool. It has the power to make us laugh, cry, hide behind the sofa in terror, and get angry. Yet, now and then, it can also bring about a monumental societal and political tidal wave.


When Mr Bates vs The Post Office started airing on ITV1 and ITVX on 1st January 2024, few could have imagined the impact that four-part drama would have on the country in such an important election year where news space would be at a premium, but such is the power of compelling storytelling.

The British Post Office scandal saw over 900 subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted due to faulty software where the Fujitsu-owned Horizon system showed incorrect shortfalls which had to be covered. Many subpostmasters were left in financial ruin and handed a criminal conviction. Some took their own lives. Others are yet to come forward.

The ITV drama saw Toby Jones portray tenacious Alan Bates who took on the Post Office, starring opposite Julie Hesmondhalgh as his loyal wife Suzanne. Elsewhere, Monica Dolan took the role of Jo Hamilton, another subpostmaster who was forced into taking accountability for the shortfall, and Will Mellor played Lee Castleton, a subpostmaster who put all his faith in the law to trust it would save him, and learned it wouldn't.

Katherine Kelly, meanwhile, portrayed the role of Angela van den Bogerd (one of the top bods in the Post Office who handled complaints made about the Horizon system), while Lia Williams embodied Paula Vennells, the former CEO of the Post Office. It was written by Gwyneth Hughes (Vanity Fair, Tom Jones, Three Girls).

More like this
WILL MELLOR as Lee and AMY NUTTALL as Lisa. Will is pointing his figure while Amy has her arms crossed
Will Mellor as Lee and Amy Nuttall as Lisa. ITV

As soon as the drama launched, the scandal hit the news cycle, with many viewers discovering this dreadful injustice for the first time, and others rediscovering it. It prompted unprecedented public outcry and an even more unexpected response from the government, who were quick to quash the scandal (with this being an election year, after all).

It was an easy decision, therefore, to award the Radio Times TV 100 top spot to the team behind Mr Bates vs The Post Office for the impact they have had as a collective, on society, politics and most importantly, the lives of all the subpostmasters affected by the Horizon scandal.

The response simply wasn't something the Mr Bates team expected and to this day are still stunned by.

"It's surreal and thrilling," executive producer Patrick Spence told RadioTimes.com. "We only set out to allow the subpostmasters to feel heard, that was our stated intent. We didn't realise that the show would have this effect. The most important thing is they feel heard now – they really feel heard now. For us, that's the greatest reward, but this is lovely, too!"

Writer Gwyneth Hughes added: "We had no idea when we started work it was going to be such a big deal. We knew it was a great story but it was something that had been bumbling along for 20 years that nobody had really got a grip of. It was very complicated and very difficult to write, and we thought it would 'find an audience' (which is TV speak for 'nobody is going to watch it').

"People tuned in and found this extraordinary thing had been happening under our noses in this country [where] we're so proud of our fairness, decency, and rules of cricket. It was a real surprise."

Polly Hill, the ITV commissioner behind the drama, added: "I did think it would get a lot of interest from the press and I hoped of course that it would find an audience as it was a brilliant telling of the story, but we could never have imagined the attention we got – although I'm not surprised the drama made the nation angry because it's a story that shocked and angered everyone who came on board.

"We are all really proud of what our drama has helped achieve. It shouldn't have taken a drama to make the government take action, but we are proud that our drama has done so much good."

Read more:

Spence attributes the success of the campaign to the power of drama, emphasising the impact it can have on the public who were true activators of change. But ultimately without the drama, the road to repayment would still be long and drawn out.

"I'm very proud of the team who all excelled in their various ways," Spence explains. "I'm also very proud of the role that drama has played. A lot of people said, 'Isn't it awful that it took a drama to get people to pay attention?' And my attitude is now, 'Isn't that brilliant, that drama can have that effect?'

"And let's hope it happens again. I hope it further renews everyone's enthusiasm for investing in drama as a cultural form because it's shown what it can achieve.

Amit Shah as Jas, Krupa Pattani as Sam, Lesley Nicol as Pam, Ifan Huw Dafydd as Noel, Julie Hesmondhalgh as Suzanne, Toby Jones as Alan Bates, Monica Dolan as Jo, Asif Khan as Mohammad, Will Mellor as Lee and Shaun Dooley as Rudkin in Mr Bates vs The Post Office standing in front of a red background
The cast of ITV's Mr Bates vs The Post Office. ITV Studios/ITV

"I don't think this TV programme changed the law. I think the people of Great Britain changed the law. But I do think seeing drama's role in getting that message out and getting people to listen has been amazing to witness. It's every producer's dream."

A move that really wouldn't have happened without public outcry came when Rishi Sunak announced a new law on 10th January meaning those convicted in the Horizon IT scandal would have their charges overturned and would be given an upfront payment, or the chance to appeal for a greater fee.

"On the night that Rishi changed the law, I was sitting in front of the telly with my wife, watching all four channels featuring this story in so many different ways almost all night long," Spence continues. "I got a text from Lee Castleton, saying thank you for what we've done. That's what it was all about, allowing them to feel that the whole country has understood the way they'd been suffering."

Monica Dolan added: "It is amazing. I suppose the thing I'm wary of is that the law was changed for people with a criminal conviction for them to have their convictions overturned and for them to be repaid. There are many, many more people who didn't have criminal convictions.

"It's great the government made a grand gesture like that. Alan Bates himself hasn't been compensated yet. And there will have been many people who [balanced their accounts] to a point they couldn't put money in any more and then sold their businesses at a loss. Somebody needs to pay all these people back, too."

When the law changed, Bates, like Dolan, was cautiously accepting of it, reiterating there was still work to do to ensure everyone was compensated.

They have a right to be wary: the following month, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch entered into a row with Henry Staunton (Post Office chair) after he alleged he was told to delay payouts to the subpostmasters so the Tories could "limp into the election". Badenoch strongly denied Staunton's claims, calling them "completely false", but the fact remains the same: many subpostmasters are still waiting for the money that's rightfully theirs.

Hughes's message to the government? "Just get on with it and make sure the subpostmasters get paid their due. It's not compensation, money was taken from them and they want their money back. It's not simple; it's very complicated, but it's not impossible. They're not getting any younger. People are dying without vindication, without their money, and that's just beyond sad, isn't it?"

Her sentiment is very much echoed by Hill, who commented: "I hope the postmasters get proper compensation and that it happens quickly. This injustice has been going on too long."

Spence added: "It's the best and worst of Britain, all in one story. I think we all feel incredibly proud to be British – all we did was make a TV drama and it made people angry, what the people of the country did was rise up and demand of the Prime Minister that he take action.

"Watching what has happened since and watching several politicians try and claim how they cared all along and how much they'd been fighting for them all along when they hadn't... There was a four-year gap from the end of our show to transmission in which any of those politicians could've done something. Only James Arbuthnot [Conservative], Kevan Jones [Labour] and a couple of others had actually been doing anything at all – they're the only ones that deserve praise.

"Watching the squabbling within the Post Office and all the inaction which has left subpostmasters unpaid, without justice and without compensation or financial redress is really shameful, isn't it? Things like this [TV 100] are everyone's chance to keep this story front and centre and keep reminding everyone that it's not over yet, as Alan kept on saying and does say in the drama. Until they all have received financial redress, we have to keep shouting."

Mr Bates vs The Post Office is streaming on ITVX now. 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.