The writer behind Mr Bates vs The Post Office has reflected on the enormous response to the ITV drama, after previously being warned that it "probably wouldn't do that well".


The factual drama explores the long-gestating treatment of subpostmasters by the Post Office, who wrongly accused hundreds of fraud and theft due to accounting errors caused by a faulty IT system.

The broadcast of the series has catapulted the frequently overlooked issue to the very centre of national conversation, dominating newspaper front pages and parliamentary discussion alike.

Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes said of the impact to Deadline: "I'm always saying to people that the best true stories are the ones that are the most unbelievable. Everything about this has been unbelievable, including this week.

"It is a mad, runaway, juggernaut thing that has happened."

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The stellar result is hoped to speed up the course of justice for the affected subpostmasters – some of whom have died in the two decades since this scandal began – but its success seemingly wasn't expected in such a competitive television landscape.

Rather, Hughes said the team thought it would be an "uphill battle" to entice viewers to the dramatisation, particularly with the second season of BBC One's action-thriller The Tourist premiering opposite.

"The length, breadth and complexity of the story can be off-putting," she continued. "Before transmission, our boss was trying to comfort us saying it probably wouldn’t do that well and asking us not to get upset when we get flattened by The Tourist.

"And it's just built and built and built. The politics of the moment is frustrating everyone and, to our surprise, I think that is what we have tapped into."

Producer Patrick Spence added: "Our stated intent in making this show was simply that the subpostmasters felt heard, that it might help in some way with the healing process.

"And yet, look at what can be achieved when an audience connects with a drama and decides action needs to be taken. The whole country is angry now."

John Hollingworth as James Hartley and Toby Jones as Alan Bates
John Hollingworth as James Hartley and Toby Jones as Alan Bates ITV Studios

The interview accompanies recent comments by ITV's Head of Drama, Polly Hill, who told Deadline that it was increasingly difficult to get shows like Mr Bates vs The Post Office commissioned, due to their relative lack of international appeal.

This, therefore, lessens the potential for cost-saving co-production deals with US networks and streaming services as well as lucrative syndication deals around the world.

But the impact of Mr Bates vs The Post Office provides a powerful counterpoint.

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"It's now become harder to fund these British stories," she explained. "We must be able to keep making them, because Mr Bates vs The Post Office shows that drama can help make a difference, and importantly that the audience wants to hear them.

"None of us could possibly have imagined that it would become the national conversation, but how wonderful that it has. The subpostmasters and mistresses deserve to be heard and we hope this ITV drama helps bring about real change."

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


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