Purpose designs ‘Remarkable Lives’ stamps for Royal Mail

The Remarkable Lives set, available from 25 March, commemorates individuals whose centenaries of birth fall in 2014 and who have all made a major contribution to British society.

As well as designing the stamps Purpose was also responsible for the design of the presentation pack, the first day cover and filler card, and two ‘cancellation’ stamps.

Those portrayed in the set are from the fields of broadcasting, sport, theatre, economics, film, history, poetry, science, public service and graphic design. They are:

- Roy Plomley – broadcaster and writer
- Barbara Ward – economist and broadcaster
- Joe Mercer – football player and manager
- Kenneth Moore – stage and screen actor
- Dylan Thomas – poet and writer
- Sir Alec Guinness – stage and screen actor
- Noorunissa Inayat Khan – Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent in occupied France
- Max Perutz – molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate
- Joan Littlewood – theatre director and writer
- Abram Games – graphic designer


The main challenge was to tell a story about the individuals’ lives within such a small environment. The solution was to source original portrait photographs that would tell a narrative about their subject through the backdrop, clothing or pose, whether it is Max Perutz in his lab, or Abram Games posing with his posters at his design studio. The journey sent the designers to archives, estates and families who rewarded them with generosity and enthusiasm. They then experimented with different processes to create a homogenous set with the visual quality of silver bromide photography.  

The pack and first day cover insert are designed to resemble an Edwardian display cabinet and curated to showcase a rich collection of objects from the Briton’s lives. These include books, posters, awards and other memorabilia.  A green felt background, archive pins for numbering and navigating the ‘objects’, and brass label holders for the headlines evoke the feeling of an historical collection on display.  The pack encourages collectors to explore the subjects’ lives with a sense of discovery. 

The ‘cancellation stamps’ feature two quotes – the first is ‘Liberté’, thought to be the last word of the British spy Noorunissa Inayat Khan, who operated in France during WWII. She was captured and tortured by the Gestapo and eventually shot by firing squad, still refusing to betray her comrades. The second stamp quotes ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, from a poem of the same name by Dylan Thomas that urges us to make every moment count.

This is the fifth project for which Royal Mail has commissioned Purpose. Previous projects include the Crown Jewels stamps (2011), Britons of Distinction stamps (2012), an Armistice Day First Day Cover (2008) and Halley’s Comet commemorative pack (2010).


‘The Remarkable Lives issue presented the opportunity to delve into the worlds of some of Britain’s most fascinating historical figures. The key challenge lay in how we could celebrate a wealth of achievements and accolades, spanning many years, in a limited space. By showing the Britons immersed within their environments, doing what it was that made them such prominent figures, helped tell their remarkable stories.

'It’s been a pleasure to work with Royal Mail on this prestigious project and being lucky enough to produce the whole suite of products around the stamps allowed us to curate and display the rich array of memorabilia that we’d un-earthed through researching the Britons.’