Writer of ITV Horizon drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office 'blown away' by reaction

  • 'It's just mad': Gwyneth Hughes on reaction to Mr Bates vs the Post Office

The woman who wrote Mr Bates vs the Post Office says she has been "blown away" by the reaction to the ITV drama.

The four-part series tells the story of the Horizon IT scandal, in which 2,700 sub-postmasters and mistresses were wrongly accused of stealing money following a fault in the Post Office's computer system.

Writer Gwyneth Hughes said she had low expectations after being told not to worry if "nobody watches".

Instead it has become one of the most talked-about productions of the year, dominating the news agenda for days and prompting a political debate which led Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to announce a new law to exonerate the victims.

Ms Hughes, who lives in Sutton-in-Craven in North Yorkshire, said: "If I had written this as a fictional story, nobody would believe it. Nobody would believe the things that happened to the sub-postmasters and nobody would believe the things that have happened this week.

"It's just mad and amazing and touching and I'm blown away by it really.

"My boss said 'don't worry if nobody watches' because they can always watch on catch up. When he saw the viewing figures... he thought it was a mistake."

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The first episode of the drama, which aired during the first week of 2024, attracted 3.6 million viewers on ITV1, and the series has had almost 11 million viewers overall.

It tells the story of Alan Bates, a former sub-postmaster, who challenged the Post Office over the false allegations and brought others affected by the scandal together after they were each told they were they only ones reporting problems with Horizon.

Ms Hughes told ITV News: "I was astonished by the unbelievability of their stories. it's just preposterous that a much trusted institution would behave in this way.

"The thing that struck me most about all of their stories was their terrible isolation.

"That loneliness is unbearable to think about, heartbreaking to think about it.

"Not only did they think they were the only one, they were told that. They were told a lie. How could this be possible in this country?"

She said that she felt "a huge sense of responsibility" when creating the drama, adding: "I wanted to tell their stories as truthfully as possible.

"I wanted each and every one of them to see themselves when they watched the telly, to see their stories depicted correctly. And I'm pleased to say they're all thrilled with it."

After the public outcry that followed the airing of the drama, former Post Office Chief Executive Paula Vennells announced she would be giving back a CBE she was awarded in 2019.

And on Wednesday the Prime Minister announced in Parliament a new law to ensure those falsely accused were "swiftly exonerated and compensated."

Ms Hughes said: "I'm just a dramatist, I make programmes that are supposed to make you laugh and cry. This one, we've actually been able to do some good with and that's a very unusual and lovely feeling."

"I don't believe it really, I think it's all a bit of a dream. It's not my writing that did it, it's just an opportunity that presented itself to put these people's stories on screen.

"But it's their story not mine."

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