ITV’s most-watched drama Mr Bates vs Post Office lost channel more than £1m

ITV has revealed that the broadcaster made a loss of £1m on Mr Bates vs The Post Office – despite the fact that it was the most-watched TV programme of the year so far in the UK.

The four-part drama series detailed the lives of hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters and postmistresses who were wrongly prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting due to a defective IT system.

The show went on to spark outrage after its release in January and put the 1999 Horizon scandal back under the spotlight. Shortly after this, British prime minister Rishi Sunak announced new legislation that would exonerate those who were wrongfully convicted and provide them with compensation.

“Mr Bates has made a loss of something like £1m and we can’t continually do this,” said Kevin Lygo, the managing director of media and entertainment of ITV, at the Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) spring conference.

“Of course, some things are very profitable on the channel, and some things aren’t. But it’s a challenge to be able to fund some of the things that aren’t, obviously, of international appeal”.

“We’re hoping this may be, because it caused such a furore here that maybe sales will pick up, but there’s no evidence of it yet,” he added.

To date, Mr Bates vs The Post Office has been watched by 13.5 million people.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office (ITV PLC)
Mr Bates vs The Post Office (ITV PLC)

Even though the show has been bought by 12 foreign broadcasters, Lygo has revealed it wasn’t enough to break even since the show didn’t appeal enough to foreign viewers.

“If you’re in Lithuania, four hours on the British Post Office? Not really, thank you very much. So you can see the challenges here,” he said.

Mr Bates vs the Post Office, with Toby Jones playing the eponymous Alan Bates, shows how the accusations ripped people’s lives apart. At least four people died by suicide after being wrongly accused of stealing thousands of pounds, and many lost their jobs and homes. Around 60 others died while waiting for compensation.

Bates started his mission in 2003, after being blamed for mysterious accounting shortfalls at his own Post Office. After losing his job, he set up a website where whistleblowers could share their stories and began hosting get-togethers for fellow victims at a village hall.

Alan Bates in the spotlight once again as he arrives at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on Tuesday (AFP via Getty Images)
Alan Bates in the spotlight once again as he arrives at the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on Tuesday (AFP via Getty Images)

Over the years, more and more people trickled in through the doors. In 2018, Bates and five others took the Post Office to the High Court in a group litigation order covering 555 claimants.

The judge ruled computer errors were to blame, and in December 2019, the Post Office agreed to pay £57.75m in compensation for false prosecutions based on faulty evidence from the Horizon system. After legal costs, Bates’s group were left with only £12m between them – about £20,000 for each claimant.

However, in January, Bates accused the fund of being “tied up in bureaucracy”.

“It’s gone on for far too long. People are suffering, they’re dying, we’re losing numbers along the way,” he said.