The True Story Behind ITV’s Explosive Post Office Drama

By Olivia Emily

6 months ago

Everybody's talking about ITV's new drama


New year, new TV to binge – and boy is 2024 treating us well so far. We’ve got Vigil, The Tourist and Fool Me Once already, but there’s one ITV drama stealing the spotlight: Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Collecting 3.9 million viewers across the UK when it debuted on New Year’s Day, it overshadowed Jamie Dornan in The Tourist, which gathered 2.2 million viewers on the same day. Here’s why everyone’s talking about the four-part ITV drama – plus, how to watch it for yourself.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office

Mr Bates vs The Post Office

© ITV

The Real Story

It may have buckled significantly under economic loss in recent years, but The Post Office is a beacon of Britishness, helping Royal Mail to shift billions of letters every year from our signature red letter boxes to our doormats. Back in 1999, the brand rolled out a new computer system called Horizon – and financial losses began to appear very quickly. Rather than realise this was a computer error, sub-postmasters – the people in charge of our Post Offices, since 99 percent are franchised – were held responsible for the losses and tasked with resolving any discrepancies. Better still, each sub-postmaster was told they were the only one experiencing issues.

Between 2000 and 2015, hundreds of innocent subpostmasters were wrongly accused of theft, fraud, and false accounting due to the defective IT system. More than 700 people were prosecuted, some were imprisoned, and many lives were irreparably damaged by the scandal. While the recent landmark Court of Appeal decision to overturn these convictions has finally exonerated and cleared the names of hundreds of wrongly accused postmasters, some tragically died before they could find justice.

Amongst prosecution, sub-postmaster Alan Bates refused to back down, and he – along with Jo Hamilton, Noel Thomas and Lee Castleton – is the subject of ITV’s new dramatisation, Mr Bates vs The Post Office. In 2009, they decided enough was enough and formed a group to fight the cause, the ‘Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance’.

‘Over the years a lot of words have been written about how lives have been wrecked by an out of control government organisation, however they have never come close to expressing the true horrors that have been inflicted on people,’ says Alan Bates. ‘I think this drama is the first time anything has come close to getting across the suffering many of the victims have had to cope with.’

‘These were ordinary British people, living ordinary British lives, until suddenly they weren’t,’ says series writer Gwyneth Hughes. ‘Suddenly they were dubbed thieves and villains, trapped in a nightmare of false accusation and public humiliation. Innocent people, pillars of their communities, and the worst of it is that each of them was told they were the only one having problems with the Horizon computer system. They endured many years of miserable isolation before they began to find each other; before on Remembrance Sunday 2009 a few survivors limped to a village hall in the heart of England, and a campaign was born.

‘The man who made that happen was Alan Bates,’ says Hughes. ‘An unassuming bloke who ran an unassuming post office in the seaside resort of Llandudno. Likes a beer. Doesn’t like cauliflower. Uncomfortable with being asked about his “feelings”. Bone dry sense of humour, and a twinkle in his eye. Mr Bates didn’t ask to spend 25 years of his life in a war against halfwits, expensive lawyers and the British Government. But here he still is, extraordinary, indomitable, a true British hero. I’ve been so proud to write his story.’

Mr Bates vs The Post Office

© ITV

What Does The Series Cover?

Naturally, there isn’t space to cover everything, with hundreds of lives affected over decades. But, if you’re wondering what to expect when you tune in, the action begins right at the start of the Horizon roll-out and ends in court.

‘Every storyteller has to make choices, and anchoring our narrative with Alan Bates was an easy one,’ says series writer Hughes. ‘But how to choose our supporting cast, among the thousands of lives ruined, over a quarter of a century… As we started work, the country was in lockdown, so we got on the phone. Lockdown ended, I got on the road. Drank a lot of tea and made new friends. These were painful choices; in the end we had time to tell eight stories. But every bruised and battered subpostmaster has a jawdropping story to tell. Every one of them deserves to be heard.’

Who Stars?

  • Toby Jones as Alan Bates
  • Monica Dolan as Jo Hamilton
  • Julie Hesmondhalgh as Suzanne Sercombe
  • Alex Jennings as James Arbuthnot
  • Ian Hart as Bob Rutherford
  • Lia Williams as Paula Vennells
  • Will Mellor as Lee Castleton
  • Clare Calbraith as Gina Griffiths
  • Shaun Dooley as Michael Rudkin
  • Amit Shah as Jas Singh
  • Lesley Nicol as Pam Stubbs
  • Adam James as Patrick Green QC
  • Katherine Kelly as Angela van Den Bogerd
  • Nadhim Zahawi as himself
Mr Bates vs The Post Office

© ITV

Release Schedule

All four episodes of Mr Bates vs The Post Office are airing nightly at 9pm on ITV1 from 1 January 2024. Then, ITV will also air an hour long documentary entitled Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The Real Story on 4 January, featuring intimate interviews with the real people the series stars (including Mr Bates himself), archive footage, and specially shot materials.

  • Episode 1: 9pm, 1 January 2024
  • Episode 2: 9pm, 2 January 2024
  • Episode 3: 9pm, 3 January 2024
  • Episode 4: 9pm, 4 January 2024
  • Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The Real Story: 10.45pm, 4 January 2024.

Where Is It Streaming?

All four episodes of Mr Bates vs The Post Office are available to stream now on ITVX. Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The Real Story will be available to stream after it has aired on 4 January.