Monday, 3 September 2012

My Career as a Banker – Day 1

A while ago I promised you, as a follow-up to my rock’n’roll years, a day-by-day account of my life in the banking industry, and I always try to keep promises.  As it lasted slightly more than thirty years, the word ‘day’ need not be taken too literally.

After the dissolution of the band, I crawled back to England, broke, destitute and saddled with physical and emotional baggage.  So I – we – went back to live with my parents in Bournemouth.  They were generous, accommodating, and decreasingly sympathetic.  But my attitude was very different from the last time I’d done this.  Then, in 1964 after university, I’d assumed the world owed me a living, but wasn’t quite prepared to work for it.  This time, I still assumed that, but I’d learned a bit about work.  Not least, that you needed to do it to get money.

I applied for dozens of jobs.  One I remember was a door-to-door seller of pyramid schemes; another was the fourth member of an outfit which designed and marketed wallcharts.  (I probably should have gone for that one.)  But eventually I secured a post with a small, rather odd banking organisation called Glyn Mills & Co.  They were about to merge with two other banks to form Williams and Glyn’s, and it’s a nostalgic reflection that, in those days, when companies merged they felt they needed to take on staff.  But I like to believe that Peter Richards, Glyn Mills’ one-man HR department, saw something more in me.

I turned up for work on my first day.  How I reached this capability – London accommodation, transport, clothing (a light blue three-piece with 15 inch flares on tick from Alexandré the tailor at £5 a month) – is another story.  The Glyn’s banking hall at 67 Lombard Street was imposingly, echoingly Victorian.  I was greeted by a scary liveried doorman, who consulted a list, smiled, and handed me over to a frighteningly beautiful lady who escorted me up in the lift, where I was welcomed by my first boss, Geoff Stickland.

Geoff showed me around the Foreign Exchange Department, introduced me to the girl (whose name I’m afraid I’ve forgotten – Sally? – though not her face) with whom I’d be working, and then asked me whether I liked Guinness.  Not really, I said.  Oh well, never mind, the bitter’s just about drinkable, he told me, and took me up two floors to show me where the bar was.

My first job was to operate a comptometer.  Given an amount of, say, dollars, and an exchange rate (assigned by the dealers, of whom more later), you keyed in these two numbers and the machine spewed out the answer, which you wrote down and passed on.  Here’s a picture of a comptometer, though I don’t think it was the one I operated; it looks a bit modern. 

The international payment (for such, after a while, I discovered it was), then moved on along two different routes.  One part went to ‘slips’, the other to the typists.  I was quite quickly promoted to slips, where you had to write out two bits of paper, a blue and a yellow, representing a debit and a credit, which then got disposed into something called the Waste.  Of course, I asked why it was called that – given that these were the entries that would eventually appear on people’s statements, it seemed a reasonable question.  Nobody knew, and I still don’t.
The form went through to the typists, who created an immaculately typed payment order, which would eventually get checked, by checkers, and then signed (by the top boss, Tiger Homes) and despatched.  There were TTs (telegraphic transfers, which went to the cable room), MTs (mail transfers) and AMTs.  No-one knew what the A stood for (‘Air’, it turned out). 

I got promoted to a checker a few weeks in, which drew me into a closer relationship with the hitherto remote typists.  Brenda, Val, Jo, Donna, Jeanette.  Brenda and Val were middle-aged and married.  Jo, Donna and Jeanette weren’t.

The whole system ran on alcohol.  In particular, the dealers, whose job it was to make sure there was enough money in the kitty to keep all those payments flowing, would decamp en masse to a cramped, black hovel off Change Alley called the Jampot, returning just in time to catch the New York opening and, hopefully, cover their positions.  Once, a guy called Mickey staggered back, accidentally got it the wrong way round, and discovered, just before London closed, that he’d stumbled into buying the world’s entire stock of sterling.  I never found out just how much money the bank made out of this, but he wasn’t around for long afterwards.  You can’t often get away with that one.

I’d better stop for now.  More to come, if you’re interested.


  1. People who know my numerical dyslexia well are pop-eyed if I mention that I worked as "a temp" in the calling and footing department of a very large accounting firm.
    C and F was in an ante-room off the typing pool;two of us took turns to read/enter the figures typed by the girls in the typing pool.
    Not sure whether to thank you for the memory!

  2. Oh, yesm I am interested. This was fascinating and a bit scary.