Clive Peacock (James Bolam) has been a postman for thirty five years. He loves his job and is shattered to be forced into early retirement by the heartless personnel manager Peter Robson (Robert Daws). So on his final day he decides to take all the post he’s collected and, rather than drop it off at the sorting office, sets off around the country to deliver each letter by hand. But stealing the Royal Mail is a criminal offence and he soon finds himself pursued by DS Lawrence Pitman (Jim Carter) as well as a pack of hungry journalists, led by Sarah Seymour (Rebecca Front).
The Missing Postman is, at heart, a simple story. It features one man (Clive) who appears to take a stand against the new, faceless technological systems that will allegedly make all our lives easier. Peter Robson is keen to tell Clive all about OCR. “Optical character recognition. A sorting machine that actually reads the addresses. I mean can you believe that? Doing the work of eight people?” This is clearly meant to be a bad thing – the machine lacks the human touch of Clive and, worse, it’s maintained by a surly computer expert who spends most of his time with his feet up, reading the paper. Just to hammer the point home, this “progress” is flawed anyway, as OCR doesn’t like letters with paperclips or stamps affixed the wrong way round, etc.
There doesn’t seem to be any place for Clive in this technological new world. He’s the last remaining postie to ride a bike and Robson is adamant that bikes are old hat – they just don’t fit into the new, upmarket Royal Mail. It’s undeniably implausible that they couldn’t have just reassigned Clive to be a walking postman (he’s told that they’ve got all the walkers they need) but you have to accept this, otherwise there’d be no story.
Clive’s friend Ralph (Stephen Moore) suggests he comes and works with him at the local burger bar. They’d have to work in the back of course – only young people are allowed to serve out front – and this gives us another fairly broad dollop of satire. The kitchens are manned by old people who complain about their fungal infections whilst impossibly young managers boss them around.
The unsubtle nature of these early scenes (and the jaunty music which is clearly designed to be quirky and charming) does mean that the opening fifteen minutes or so do feel rather forced. The humour and drama needs to come from the characters, rather than the viewers being bludgeoned by the script, but things then settle down and the first-rate cast can begin to enjoy themselves.
James Bolam is The Missing Postman‘s trump card. It’s not the easiest role to play, since Clive is a rather diffident and undemonstrative character, but Bolam is gradually able to winkle out some genuine moments of pathos as his odyssey around Britain continues. Alison Steadman, as Clive’s wife Christine, also gives a very decent performance, managing to rise above the cliche of the woman waiting tearfully at home for news.
It seems rather strange that Clive only makes a cursory attempt to contact Christine. He does call her again later, but by then she’s decided to move on with her own life. She’ll have him back, if and when he returns, but she won’t spend her time pining for him. At this point in the story Bolam cuts a very folorn figure, as we see Clive wrapped in a sleeping blanket and stuck a phone box somewhere in the the Scottish countryside, miles from anywhere.
Jim Carter as DS Lawrence Pitman and Gwyneth Strong as WPC McMahon make an amusing double act. Carter spends his time with a permanent long suffering, hangdog expression on his face whilst Strong has a teasing, playful nature which obviously makes her superior officer feel somewhat uncomfortable.
One of The Missing Postman‘s strengths is that it features a series of character vignettes, as Clive moves from place to place delivering his letters. Roger Lloyd-Pack (as Ken Thompson) is a good example. Clive stops off for a few minutes to repair his bike and falls into conversation with Ken. Ken asks Clive who he’d like to play him in a film, Clive suggests Dustin Hoffman(!) but Ken has other ideas. He tells Clive that Ronnie Corbett or Michael Fish would be perfect casting. Bolam’s expression is priceless!
Considering his job, you’d assume that Clive would be an experienced bike rider, but he does seem to spend a great deal of time falling off it, gradually becoming more and more battered. This leads to a moment where he exchanges his broken glasses for a new pair that belonged to a man who’s recently died. True, he won’t need them anymore but it does feel a little off that he’d take them from the man’s still warm body.
A meeting with Linda Taylor (Barbara Dickson) offers Clive a chance to stop and reflect. Her husband was a Scottish trawlerman who was lost at sea two years ago. Clive and Linda are drawn together and he quickly makes himself at home in her guest house. Romance blossoms (pity poor Christine) although Clive remains unrepentant. He tells Linda the story of Christine’s miscarriage, which he offers as the justification for his unfaithfulness. Bolam’s never better than during this monologue and Dickson, although she has little to do except react, also commands the screen.
The conclusion is interesting. Clive returns home to find himself accosted by a barrage of reporters – his travels were widely reported and he’s become something of a celebrity. But he finds it impossible to articulate the reasons for his flight, denying that it was any strike against the system, and then seems more than a little hurt when the press quickly lose interest in him. They’re much more intrigued with Christine’s skills as an interior designer, which suggests that although Clive’s trip might have been a somewhat selfish one, it’s allowed her the space to express herself and begin a new and more fulfilling career
Transmitted in two parts (72 minutes for episode one, 80 minutes for episode two) The Missing Postman provides the viewer with an entertaining travelogue around the British Isles as well as some decently observed character comedy/drama. It may sometimes overdose on its own charm and quirkiness, but the cast always ensure that it’s worth watching.
The Missing Postman is released by Simply Media on the 28th of March 2016. RRP £19.99.