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Mr Bates vs the Post Office star Toby Jones' sacrifice to bring drama to TV screens

The series tells the shocking true story of one of Britain's greatest miscarriages of justice

Toby Jones as Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs the Post Office© ITV
Nicky Morris
TV and film writer
January 9, 2024
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ITV's new drama series, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, has brought the post office scandal back under the spotlight since its release on New Year's Day, sparking conversation in households across the nation, and even bringing about a petition to strip ex-Post Office chief executive Paula Vennells of her CBE. The four-part series tells the story of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history, and one person who ensured that the drama made it to the small screen was Toby Jones, who stars as campaigner and former subpostmaster Alan Bates. 

WATCH: Alan Bates reveals what he really thinks of ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office

The actor, who is known for his roles in various Hollywood films including Harry Potter, Captain America and The Hunger Games, took a reduced fee so producers could meet its estimated £8 million budget. According to The Times, other cast members also agreed to work for below market rates.

One of the show's producers, Patrick Spence, has warned that important short series like Mr Bates vs the Post Office are at risk of becoming "impossible" to make due to lack of investment. 

Toby Jones as Alan Bates in Mr Bates vs The Post Office© ITV STUDIOS
Toby Jones took a reduced fee so producers could meet the budget

"These kinds of four-part, very British, thoughtful dramas are massively at threat because distributors worry that it is less likely that they will recoup their investment than they would from an international thriller with lots of episodes," Spence told The Times. "There is a huge possibility that shows like Mr Bates will not be made in the future. Not because TV commissioners don’t want them, but because they can’t afford them. The financial pressures are too great."

Gwyneth Hughes, who penned the series, revealed that some storylines and characters had to be scrapped to meet the budget, explaining that factual dramas are often more expensive due to the extensive research involved. 

Monica Dolan as Jo in Mr Bates vs The Post Office

Monica Dolan as Jo in Mr Bates vs The Post Office

"It isn't like a normal fictional drama where you can just sit at your desk and make it all up," she said.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it tells the shocking true story of hundreds of subpostmasters who were wrongly accused of theft, fraud, and false accounting by the Post Office. 

In 1999, the Post Office introduced a new IT system, Horizon, which had glitches in its accounting software that caused discrepancies worth thousands of pounds. The workers were blamed for the money shortages, with some sent to prison and others left bankrupt. 

Alan Bates at home with is partner Suzanne Sercombe
The real Alan Bates at home with his partner Suzanne Sercombe

Speaking about the scandal on the Graham Norton Show with Waitrose, Toby said: "Some of them went to prison, some of them lost their minds and some of them committed suicide and this huge tragedy still goes on because they haven’t been paid compensation or anything.

"The really cynical thing was that people were told they were on their own and no one else was experiencing problems with the IT system."

Acknowledging the drama's potential to progress the fight for justice, Toby added: "I hope that this drama and the documentary that goes with it will also mobilise the general population again and make people feel like this has got to be sorted. Maybe even turning into an election issue."

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