Bankers who were cut from different cloth
Gordon Brown’s pledge to roll back the years and return us to the time of integrity banking has had many older hacks panning for gold in the dark recesses of their memory.
The big question is – was there ever a time when a banker’s word was as good as his handshake?
Personally, I don’t think the Prime Minister is old enough to know.
Captain Mainwaring, of Dad’s Army – “the jumped up bank clerk” as his rival Captain Square, of the Eastgate Platoon, called him – is probably what springs to mind when it comes to young readers born after about 1960.
In fact managers in the old days were by no means figures of fun.
Banking remained a respectable profession as late as the 1970s when each small town would have several reasonably high profile bank managers who were certainly on a social par with the parson.
My fellow hack Dale le Vack (dig the rhyming slang), whose father Jerry was the landlord of the Red Lion in Claverdon during that era, recalls two bank managers from Warwickshire branches of Barclays, who were regular customers in the lounge bar during happy hour.
There was Douglas Godfrey, the manager in Henley-in-Arden, who was enormously popular. He would stand at the counter in his Harris Tweed jacket, cavalry twills and brown brogues puffing his pipe and listening modestly to the banter. Many small businessmen in south Warwickshire owed their start to him.
Then there was Eric Garner, manager at the larger operation in Stratford-upon-Avon, who le Vack regarded in awe because he just happened to be the father of his first girlfriend, and was an imposing 6ft 2in tall.
Both men had had “good wars” and were the pillars of the community. Goodness knows what they would have made of hedge funds, junk bonds, dodgy mortgages and so-called derivative instruments.
They might also have choked on their pint of Flower’s bitter had they known their best customers would one day have to go through a telephone help-desk exchange in Mumbai to speak to someone just down the road.
Dale recalls two recent incidents that illustrate just how much things have changed. He was sitting with a bank’s “retail manager” doing a PR release on sponsorship and mentioned he might want to contact her to check the story.
“Oh, you’d better have my mobile then – you can’t normally get hold of me at work,” she said grinning.
Two or three years earlier he happened to be in a bar in Singapore much frequented by rogue trader Nick Leeson.
In walked a chap about ‘30ish’ wearing an earring who just happened to be a senior figure in a well known European bank.
“Two beers,” he ordered, generously handing a bottle to le Vack. He then bit off the top and swigged it down.
Gordon – I think the genie may be out of the bottle too.