Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Banking: The Way We Were (1964)

Financial Intercourse began
in Nineteen Seventy Nine,

Between the end of Callaghan
and the Flying Lizards’ Line:
I want money, that’s what I want...
What was life like before we entered Mrs Thatcher’s brave new world? Did they have money? And if they did, did most people keep it under the bed?

Well in 1964, bank managers were slightly stuffy people working for low wages in what were often family businesses, some of whom, according to the TV advertising of the day, lurked in people's wardrobes offering financial advice to the family. O tempora! O mores! Rooting in the attic the other day I found a copy of the Twentieth Century for Spring 1964, featuring an interview with the chief cashier of a high street bank on the subject of his career in Banking and its temptations. Read, mark and learn from this delightful vignette of Banking, and the kind of people who did it, 45 years ago, before Fred the Shred and his chums got their grimy hands on our cash:
Today, on £1,240 a year, plus a London allowance, I have reached, at the age of 57, a moderately comfortable level. I rose to be number two man in a five-man branch, and took my present post as chief cashier in a busy commercial branch when I discovered that I was not going to become manager where I was. I have succeeded in making a home, and paying off the house. We have no crying need for any major item of domestic equipment. We were able to buy a washing machine before the war, and five years ago I was able to afford a refrigerator, We have no television, and no desire for one.

I allow my wife £8 a week for housekeeping and £2 a week for herself. My lunches average 5 shillings (25p) a day, and I spend 10s (50p) a week on tobacco, We do not live to a budget - there are no boxes on the mantelpiece. But we do put 5s, a week by for Christmas presents. Our only extravagance is a theatre once every two months, when we have dinner in town. We always have sherry in the house, and a bottle of whisky for medicinal purposes. We do not deny ourselves, But I feel this is a point we should have reached ten years ago. It is only recently that I have been able to gather any savings, and only recently that I have been able to ride out the surprise bill, say, £30 for repairing the chimney, that comes along. Ten years ago we would never have been able to go into a shop and buy there and then something that took our fancy, in the way that we bought a nest of coffee tables last year for £20, and a gas fire to replace a coal grate. As it is, a large part of my salary is set aside for routine bills. I have two life assurances that I took out early in life. They come to £49 a year. My gas bill is £25, my electricity £10, and my coke £12 a year. I have a new suit every year. In the bank you must maintain a certain amount of tidiness. They still say that bank men are the tidiest of office workers, and I know that I have never gone to the office in a scruffy suit. Nowadays we spend £80 on our annual holiday (we never go abroad) and I take a week each year with my mother in Scotland that costs me £25 ...

The way things have turned out has not embittered me, I am just not of an envious nature. I look on that not as a virtue but as just a kind of kink in me. If I had been a bit more envious, a bit more covetous, I would have been more ambitious in life and taken chances with my career; been the kind of man who makes up his mind exactly where he is going, and plans out step by step how to get there - as my son-in-law has. But I do not believe that money is conducive to happiness. That doesn't mean I believe that one should be contented with one's lot in life. But surely happiness to a large extent devolves upon oneself, and on one's immediate friends and relatives, on one's wife and family.

Of course I would have been happier with more money - I would have been able to run a car, to take more expensive holidays, for example - but the lack of money has never tempted me to gamble or be dishonest. I believe a person who would be tempted to embezzlement would be tempted not because of his circumstances but because of his character and failings. I have never gambled, but I spend 5s (25p) a week on the pools, I don't daydream about getting a large win. If I did win a big sum it would make no difference to my way of living at all. I would invest it. It would simply enable me to live a little more comfortably than now - and of course, a man with £50,000 in his pocket can afford to risk expressing his opinions a little more forcibly to his employers.

...A young chap who joins the bank nowadays and finds the work boring after a year or two is not afraid of giving it up. He hasn't the loyalty, the fantastic loyalty,that the older bank officials have. A loyalty bred by their personal upbringing, by living through the depression, by handling a trustworthy job. A loyalty that for so many bank men now reaching their sixties has gone unrewarded.

8 comments:

Jonathan said...

thanks for an interesting post. shows the complete change in culture in finance.

this line made me smile 'and my coke £12 a year.' - i read in City Boy (the recent bestseller) that fuel costs have gone through the roof for bankers these days.

Kathryn said...

Oh my - this so recalls my father's world. He took early retirement from banking in 1971 to care for my invalid mother - that catalogue of modest pleasures was really evocative of his approach to life.
I was a very late child; reading this brings home to me how hugel different my life is from my parents'. Unimaginable really...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Like you, I was really moved by this man's life story; There's so much here evocative of a whole way of life that has passed away. Pretty much everyone round where we lived when I was small was made by the war and living through the depression. Every pleasure was enjoyed as a bonus. Of course everything was changing; but this man's profound family values, honesty and self-respect make a rather painful contrast to the wide-boy antics we are all supposed to aspire to and admire these days.

Matt Kelland said...

That could have been my grandfather. My dad was from a slightly later era, joining the bank in the mid-50s. He left and took early retirement in the mid-80s when he realised that despite being an experienced manager who knew his customers personally, he no longer had the authority to make decisions about their creditworthiness and had been replaced by the soulless "computer says no" and fast-track graduates who were prepared to take big risks with other people's money despite having no experience. However, most of his attitudes were the same as in this blog: he was a man of prudence and modest means, for whom family and security was more important than status and possessions.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks for echoes of this man's world, Matt. I sometimes wonder how I would ever explain to my father (1914-1990), wre he to return, what half the adverts in the tube are about! As the CIA used to say, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, but it'll be interesting if the pendulum ever swings back the other way, towards a more corporately aware, simply, local society. Perhaps it'll never happen, but it's an interesting notion.

Joan of Quark said...

I'm just not responding that warmly to this - possibly it's the guy talking about how much he "allows" his wife per week, which reminds me that a single woman in that era would have trouble getting a mortgage, even if she could afford the payments in a world where it was still legal openly to pay women less for the same work.

The main problem, though: I don't know if he was specifically told to stick to finances in this interview, but it still seems that everything revolves around money for him. All his excursions and little treats are costed, and he seems to conflate having ambition for higher salary with ambition and drive in general e.g. this bit: If I had been a bit more envious, a bit more covetous, I would have been more ambitious in life and taken chances with my career..."

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

JQ many thanks for your interesting & perceptive reading. I've checked the issue and you're right! The theme of the whole issue was money, and he was told to stick to finance, and especially to explain how someone who handled £300,000 a year kept himself honest on a modest.

There's a bit near the end where he says “I look on [not being envious] not as a virtue but as a kind of kink in me.” I'm also interested, on those figures, that he spent 5s a week on football pools — Not to be puritan, but he was only getting £21 a week, so 5s is a far bigger proportion than 25p makes it sound. Looking at the header I see he was also a Union official; and this probably informs his last sentence.

Matt Kelland said...

5s out of £21 a week was about 1% of his income. That's about the equivalent of someone today spending £5 a week on the National Lottery, which isn't really that unusual, or excessive, is it?

But it's interesting to think of bankers as unionised - I've spent almost my entire life in jobs where unions don't really exist. They feel like a structure from a bygone age.

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