Working Boy

As a seventeen year-old office boy working for Steel Brothers and Company Ltd, one of my tasks was to take the bank pass books around to their relevant banks. Steel Brothers were a prosperous commodity trading company operating in the Far East.  Their staff and agents would deposit money in the different (almost always) British banks in the foreign country and then telegraph the documents to the head office on Lombard Street.  These were entered into passport style booklets and on some days these could number more than a dozen entries for the companies operating and trading profits.

I loved this part of my work, walking about the City and entering the most prestigious banks in the world.  Into the glass, copper stonework of some vast yet seemingly empty buildings.  As a youth, I became well enough known to earn nods from each bank’s head cashier always seated at the first on the left and dressed in a morning suit with striped trousers. He was there for the wealthy customers – not office workers.

At the end counters on the left, manned by junior cahiers, I was able to hand over the relevant pass book/s and exchange a word or two, sometimes being shown a larger, white five pound note worth more than his month’s salary.  This was in wartime London (1941/2) and would last until he went into the Royal Air Force a year later.

Afterwards, he wondered about the simplicity and effectiveness of this bank transfer system of which he had been a moving part and felt awe and admiration for those who had built it up.  He thought that in a simple way that the Royal Navy and the City of London banking system must be the foundation stones of the British Empire.

It was only in 2008 – 67 years later – that his admiration for the City of London’s financial power and ingenuity turned to contempt.  It was the final banking crisis among many years and many crisis that had finally rotted it to become little more than an out of control casino, aided and abetted by compliant and corrupt politicians.