Glitch: a play about Pam Stubbs and the Post Office Scandal

(l-r) Janet Skinner, Seema Misra, Tracy Felstead and Pam Stubbs

I had the pleasure of giving Pam Stubbs a lift to Reading University yesterday where she was guest of honour at a VIP reception before a performance of Glitch, a play about Pam’s experience at the hands of the Post Office.

It was a wonderful surprise to see Janet Skinner, Seema and Davinder Misra, Tracy Felstead, Jo Hamilton and Kay Linnell had also been invited. Tracy and Janet’s stories are woven into the play as stand-alone monologues.

Glitch was commissioned by Reading University Law School, written by Zannah Kearns and staged by the Rabble theatre group at the Minghella Theatre on the University’s Whiteknights campus. Glitch starts in Pam’s portacabin, the temporary Barkham Post Office Pam was given in 2009 whilst her main premises were being refurbished.

Something went horribly wrong when the Horizon terminal extracted from Pam’s counter was installed in the portacabin. Power failures and crashes were common. Over a period of weeks in late 2009 to early 2010, Pam’s counter developed discrepancies which rose to £28,000. The Post Office refused to investigate – they simply demanded Pam make the discrepancies good. When Pam told them she wouldn’t without the Post Office explaining where she had made any mistakes, they suspended her and shut down her office.

This happened whilst the Post Office’s prosecution spree was at its height. Pam was saved by a Post Office “auditor” who visited the Barkham site, witnessed a Horizon misbalance and reported it. Pam had also kept hundreds of till receipts, and run a manual ledger of her transactions alongside those she inputted into Horizon. Whilst Pam’s diligence may have stopped the idiots within the Post Office investigation and legal teams trying to prosecute her, it didn’t stop the whispering campaign when her Post Office was shut down, nor the collapse of her livelihood.

(l-r) Elizabeth Elvin, Pam Stubbs, Zannah Kearns

Pam found Alan Bates and the Justice for Subpostmasters’ Alliance via an old print edition of Computer Weekly, which was brought to her attention by a supporter in the village. Once Pam had joined the JFSA, Pam’s clear evidence of Horizon errors, natural calm and good character made her an obvious choice as a witness in Bates v Post Office. It is this experience which forms the bulk of the play, which runs at 70 minutes.

I observed Pam as she sat with her son Martyn. Glitch starts with some broad comic interaction to establish Pam’s character and working environment. Pam had a smile on her face as it began and watched attentively throughout. The actors were compelling.

Pam is not one for great emotion – she seems to be able to rationalise most things – but I could see by the end it was affecting her. Immediately after the performance she told me the play was “Very good. They got the essence of it all. It pretty much says everything. It brings it all to the fore but… it doesn’t change anything.” Pam admitted to feeling more “upset” at the end than anything else, whilst going out of her way to praise the production. Martyn declared himself “impressed”.

After the performance there was a Q&A in which the production team admitted the presence of so many people affected by the story sitting in the audience was “completely terrifying”.

(l-r) Toby Davies (Rabble co-founder), Sabina Netherclift (Kay Linnell, among others), Fayex Bakhsh (Alan Bates, among others), Liz Elvin (Pam Stubbs), Pam Stubbs, Laura Penneycard (Tracy Felstead and Janet Skinner, among others), Hannah Kearns (playwright), Gemma Colclough (co-director), Prof Elizabeth Conaghan (Reading University School of Law)

Liz Elvin, who played Pam, admitted the emotional toll on the cast was “exhausting”, going so far as to say than when they come off stage “one or the other of us will be crying”. Nonetheless, she described it as “probably one of the best experiences I’ve had”.

Elvin was sitting next to Pam as she said this. She part-addressed Pam and part-addressed the audience as she said: “I met Pam on the first day and I just, well, I haven’t fallen in love with you, but I’ve… (laughing)… I kind of have, and I just, it’s been the most wonderful experience. I’m not trying to be her, I’m not trying to look like you or be you, but trying to understand what she went through, and how thinking strong she was.”

Tracy Felstead was knocked sideways by hearing her story narrated back to her, even though she had an idea of what was coming. Theatre can sometimes be more emotionally visceral than television or film. I cannot imagine what it’s like to see someone being you and telling the worst of your experiences back to you, as you watch quietly in the darkness. She told the cast their work was “really powerful.”

Zannah Kearns, the playwright, was asked if the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, affected her script. Kearns said “it actually helped us focus more on Pam. I had a bit more about Sir Alan Bates, for example, and I felt I could reduce his part because everyone knows him so well, which was just helpful because we were aiming to make a play of an hour and I’ve still got a few more minutes to trim out!”

The play’s commissioning was down to Professor Liz Conaghan at Reading University’s law school. Conaghan is passionate about her students understanding the impact of the law as they learn about it. The play is likely to be staged again by Reading University students later this year. Last night Conaghan told the audience her motivation was: “getting emotion into learning… it’s just about human flourishing, getting students together in a room and just seeing them develop and be part of something bigger than themselves”

Toby Davies, co-founder of the Rabble theatre company said putting together the play was: “an honour that I’ve never had before, to be doing a show where the protagonists are alive and well… it’s absolutely terrifying. But thank you so much again for coming, it means a huge amount to us.”

Right at the end, a cast member asked the Subpostmasters in the room – “Do you think we did you justice?”
Janet Skinner replied: “We’re still fighting for justice.”

UPDATE: I caught up with Pam this afternoon, just before publishing this piece. Once more she praised the cast and crew saying the play was “absolutely brilliant” and “more than I ever thought it would be… just wonderful”. Pam told me she and Martyn talked for ages after they got home and she “couldn’t get to sleep” as she “just couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Glitch is being performed until 6 July at the Minghella Theatre. Tickets seem pretty scarce, but returns might be available. Click here for more information.

The first play about the Post Office scandal was called False Accounts. More on that here.

I first met Pam nine years ago. This is the BBC Inside Out piece we made which was broadcast in January 2015. You can read more about Pam Stubbs’ story in my book, The Great Post Office Scandal, which you can buy here.

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3 responses to “Glitch: a play about Pam Stubbs and the Post Office Scandal”

  1. Thank you for posting the Inside Out link. I hadn’t seen it before and it makes the behaviour of the Post Office apparatchiks even more disgraceful given what we know now.
    I rewatched the Paula Venal Horizon Inquiry sessions yesterday and the sheer brass neck of the woman is truly shocking. My reason for returning to those PV sessions was to compare what she said then in her ‘defence’ with the evidence given by those whose testimonies followed hers. The duplicity of the lot of them is glaringly obvious as is the ar*e-covering. The mantra ‘I Do Not Recall’ should be tattooed on their foreheads. I don’t know how any of them sleep at night.

    1. Apologies, this was meant for the Inside Out comment thread but they ran after each other on my iPad. Soz!

  2. All four ladies are looking absolutely wonderful – a credit to themselves and all those who have helped drag the Post Office and the NFSP kicking and screaming towards justice! Not that long ago we all just looked knackered, but in my defence, I always did!

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