For 50 years Royal Mail’s Special Stamp programme has celebrated the best of the UK. The latest set of stamps, British Humanitarians, honour six of Britain’s greatest humanitarians and their achievements.
Three women and three men who challenged the causes of inequality, deprivation and ignorance, repairing shattered bodies and minds, and rescuing vulnerable people, feature in the stamps.
Among them we are proud to include Sir Nicholas Winton, who helped to organise the rescue of 669 predominantly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War.
Royal Mail’s Stamp Design Team worked directly with the Winton family to select the image to be used on the stamp. Both parties were keen to feature an image which clearly conveyed Winton’s emotion, strength and courage. The chosen image was taken in 2014 in Prague when Sir Nicholas received the Order of the White Lion.
The process of creating stamps usually takes between two and three years. However, as we also keep a watching brief on events of national importance, we can on occasion issue stamp sets at short notice to mark the major contribution of people to the UK, such as sporting events like Andy Murray winning Wimbledon in 2013.
The business receives hundreds of requests for subjects every year to appear on the Special Stamps.
Of these requests, and the hundreds of others found from research, we apply our selection criteria and produce a shortlist of about 50 subjects for detailed research. Our criteria for subject selection are based around commemorating anniversaries, significant national events, and themes which help to convey the contribution of the UK to the world.
The subjects taken forward for research include a very broad range of disciplines but, eventually, will conclude with around a dozen subjects in a calendar year.
Briefs are produced for each subject and the design process begins.
Expert Royal Mail design staff commission the cream of creative talent – designers, photographers, illustrators – and guide them in how to develop visuals within the unique format of the stamp. The design process includes input from the independent Stamp Advisory Committee which advises on the most appropriate designs to follow.
Once the final designs are complete, they are sent to the Postal Services Minister who recommends approval to Her Majesty The Queen. Every stamp must have Royal Approval before it can be issued.
British stamps are the only stamps in the world that do not carry the name of the country of origin, because Royal Mail invented the postage stamp. The monarch’s head is sufficient to denote that they are British.
When Jewish News launched a campaign to recognise Sir Nicholas on a stamp, readers responded in their thousands. It was a timely reminder that despite the rapid advance of technological communication, people still value the importance of post. I hope that the stamp that we have created in his honour will be used to send thousands of cards and letters in the coming months. Or, possibly, even be kept as a reminder of a life well lived, and hundreds of lives saved.