Britain scrambles to keep queen's head on stamps

19th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The British government said Sunday it was closing a loophole that could see Queen Elizabeth II's head chopped off stamps if the Royal Mail national postal service is sold to a foreign firm.

The monarch's head, facing left, has appeared on British adhesive postage stamps since their invention with the 1840 "Penny Black", featuring queen Victoria.

However legislation before parliament paving the way for Royal Mail to be privatised does not explicitly spell out that the queen's head should remain on the iconic stamps.

The bill gives Queen Elizabeth a veto over any use of her image but does not insist that, as per tradition, her head is shown.

Postal services minister Ed Davey said he was sure a solution would be found to close the loophole before the law is passed, and was "extremely confident" the queen's image would remain.

"Any company would be absolutely stark staring mad to decide not to have the queen's head on its stamps," he said.

"Off with her head!" The Mail on Sunday newspaper said on its front page, warning about the loophole.

British stamps are among the "many monuments to the breathtaking age when these cramped islands dominated the world," the weekly tabloid said.

"MPs and ministers are rightly worried that the disappearance of the Queen from the stamps would be correctly understood by the public as a powerful symbol of national decline."

In a bid to secure its future as Britons increasingly use email instead of sending letters, the cash-strapped government wants to sell off Royal Mail to give it an injection of private sector capital.

German and Dutch firms are thought to be among the front-runners to buy the service, The Mail on Sunday reported.

The British stamps are the only ones in the world that do not carry the country's name -- just the portrait of the sovereign.

The current standard stamps, drawn up in 1967 by Alan Machin, are considered a design classic and a defining icon of Britain recognised around the world.

© 2010 AFP

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