I was born in Hackney which is part of East London and probably at the age of four, moved to Leyton and to school there. And then to a Secondary School – I failed my Eleven Plus – and for various reasons decided not to re-sit it at the age of thirteen – I was happy at the school I was in so stayed there and managed to get four GCEs. And then in 1965, leaving school I thought, ‘What do I do now to get a job?’ My father wanted me to join the Electricity Board – he worked for the London Electricity Board but I didn’t really fancy that so I wrote off to the five main banks and I had interviews at all five. Westminster Bank, they offered me a job irrespective of my GCE results. So, I decided to go with them. And the salary was about £360 a year.
So, I started work with them in the August 1965 and they posted me to a branch in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. It was next door but one to a police station and we had Tesco’s next door – Cheshunt was the home of Tesco’s. Being new, I was the office junior so it was: make the tea, make the coffee, run errands, do the post, the filing and in those days we didn’t have calculators, we had accounting machines – we had two accounting machines and two people would operate those and that actually produced people’s bank statements. And as a double-check we had hand-written ledgers so we had these rows of books so every time someone cashed a cheque or made a deposit you had to go to the relevant page and write it all in by hand, calculate their overdraft interest by hand as well – didn’t have a calculator so maths was good. After you’d spent six months or so doing the hand-written ledgers, you were then let loose to go on the counter and serve customers – the idea was that you knew the customer base because of the fact that you’d seen all the paperwork.
I didn’t spend long on the counter I was quite pleased. Although it was interesting meeting some of the customers – I did the odd day during the week and Saturday morning in those days. It was absolutely hectic because they’d no cash dispenser or anything like that – we had a number of little shops – they’d all come in for their change – we had night-safe deposit boxes so they’d leave their money in, overnight – so first job in the morning was to count it all.
And then, probably in 1967 or ’68, the bank decided to start computerisation. They took away the accounting machines that we had and replaced them with two more and they punched all the details to ‘paper tape’. The way it worked was that all the transactions for our particular branch were put on the punch tape and then about a quarter to four every evening, the messenger would turn up, collect the tape, he would then drive from Cheshunt to Enfield and there they had a machine which would actually transmit the information from this tape to the computer centre. It worked reasonably well. We had a problem one day – we got in in the morning and Head Office was on the phone, ‘All the data you put in yesterday is wrong!’ And it seemed that a fault had developed on the machine and everything that you punched on the machine – whatever you put in – came out as a number nine. So, we had to get the engineers down to sort out the machine which took several weeks but they got round the problem – and then, of course, we had to redo all our work.
We had to balance the work every night before we went home – and you had to balance to the nearest penny. I know one evening we were there till about nearly ten o’clock – we had a difference of, in those days, about two and sixpence – so twelve and a half ‘p’ and eventually the manager decided that his overtime bill far exceeded this difference so he took a postal order out of the work so it balanced.
And then, a bit later, decimalisation was coming in and because we had a rather large strong-room we were deemed to be storage for the new copper coins. So, one day, we were told, this container lorry had turned up, parked outside and there were about four of us in the office – four men, shall I say – we had the job of unloading all this copper from the container lorry and put it into the safe. For some reason the police decided to get involved and they parked a police car behind the container lorry and the policeman just sat in his car watching for about three hours whilst we struggled with all this money. No way was he going to help.
As I said, we didn’t have things like cash machines – ATM machines. They introduced a cash card and it was a small piece of card – a similar size to a credit card and it had holes punched in it and that, when you put it into a machine outside the branch, would give you ten pounds. And, the system was, you put it in, you got your money, you went away and the branch had to then debit your account and post the card back to you. It worked but, as I said, ten pounds then was a lot more than it is now.
We had one or two problems: as I said, we used to have this tape taken off at about a quarter to four every day and we had a time frame in which we had to set the alarm on the strong room. And because we finished work early one day we all packed up and went home. And I was standing at the bus stop waiting to get the bus home and these police cars arrived outside the branch and I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ It turned out that we’d forgotten to set the alarm! One of the managers had to travel all the way back from Colchester to Cheshunt to set it up. He was not very happy.
I then got selected – I don’t know quite why – to work at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Olympia and that was an amazing experience. The working hours were nine to nine, one day; we did nine to one the next day and then, one to nine, the third day. And, it was absolutely hectic. In those days you had lots of stalls selling things and giving free samples – so you got a free lunch! But the first week, we had no electricity – the electricians had decided they wanted more money to set all the stalls up – the stands up – so they went on strike – so we had these gas-fired burners and we had hand-operated machines to add things up with. At the end of the day, all the staff that were on the stand ended up at the counter because the stall-holders came to pay their money over. And everyone just took the money, counted it, put it in a bag and it was just sort of thrown in the safe ready for the next day. So, if you did the nine to nine shift, the following morning you did nine to one and as a cashier you would just spend the four hours counting the money from the night before and reconciling everything. It was very much hard work but it was enjoyable.
Whilst I was there, I got a letter saying that I had been transferred to Cheapside London near St Paul’s and I was there for about 18 months. Had a wonderful title of being an ‘accountant’ – it wasn’t as good as it sounds – I was mainly responsible for writing letters to customers, dealing with things like Standing Orders. I’d been on holiday for two weeks and came back and no-one had touched my work for the two weeks I’d been away and I thought, ‘This isn’t really much fun’. So, I picked up an evening paper on the way home on the train, read it, saw a job advert and applied for it and I actually ended up working for an American bank. That was in Moorgate and it was fantastic conditions – it was only about a hundred staff; my first day they took me round and introduced me to everybody – not that I would remember their names but they might remember mine; we had a canteen on the premises with free food – you could have a really good three-course meal every day – there was steak and halibut steaks and … it was really good. I was working in the Import/Export Department and this was dealing with the paperwork to do with, as I said, imports and exports. Interesting work – never knew anything about it before but I soon learnt and picked it up.
Memorable times travelling with the bank
I’d been there about eighteen months when I was told, ‘You’ve got an interview tomorrow’. And I looked at my boss and thought, ‘Why? What?’ And he said, ‘The Audit Department, you’ve been recommended to go there for interview’. So, I went along and I was asked questions about banking and did I know anything about auditing – and the answer was, ‘No’. And, they phoned me up in a couple of hours and said, ‘Right, you’ve got the job of Junior Auditor’. And, because it was an American bank, we were responsible for everything outside of North America – so the area was London, Europe, out to the Far East. So, I spent a week in the Department, looking at audit reports, working papers and files and was then told, ‘On Sunday, you’re going to Brussels’. I’d never flown before! So, off to Heathrow and off to Brussels for two weeks. And, we used to travel to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Milan – we’d go to most of those places three or four times a year for one or two weeks at a time. The work was great because it was so varied – you know, one week you’d be looking at current accounts, savings accounts or foreign exchange, loans – very, very varied work which I liked – the variety.
We had a few laughs whilst we were doing it all – in Paris, we were working away and we were given the Conference Room to work in and one of my colleagues left the office and we had one of these push buttons in the centre of the door-lock – so he locked the door because obviously we had papers there that were important – and about fifteen minutes later he says, ‘I think the key to the office door is in my jacket that’s hanging on the chair in the Conference Room’. So, ‘What shall we do?’ ‘I know, we won’t admit this. What we’ll do, we’ll check up the branch’s duplicate key policy’. Every office should have a record of all the keys throughout the office, for cabinets, etc and they should have duplicate keys. So, we presented ourselves to the Operations Manager and asked him for the duplicate keys. Of course, they didn’t have one! Fortunately, it was a partition wall so we ended up getting the builder in who took one of the partitions out of the wall so we could get in the office – at which point, [the culprit] put his hand in his pocket and then found that he had the key all along (Laughs) – we never admitted to that – we thought we’d better not.
It was Chemical Bank. It doesn’t survive today. It was formed in New York; it was taken over then by Chase Manhattan and Chase Manhattan has merged with other banks since so it has disappeared.
But we had strange little things … In those days the Bank of England imposed – or the Government imposed – an exchange control. If you wanted to go on holiday or anything, you could only take £30 out of the country at a time. I’d got my passport and every time we went away on a business trip we had to take money with us and we had to keep getting approval to take the money out. There were no questions asked, you just submitted the necessary paperwork.
We had another incident – we had an item that’s called, ‘A Certificate of Deposit’. Basically, it is just a piece of paper – someone would deposit – in this instance, it was five million pounds and you’d do it for a fixed period of, say, two or three years. No names are mentioned anywhere so whoever has got this certificate is entitled to the money. We got a call one day from our securities department, ‘We’ve just done a check on all our paperwork and we can’t find this certificate’. Being good auditors, we sat there for many an hour thinking, ‘What can you do with this certificate, if you had it?’ And, the best way, we thought, was we’d go to another bank and say, ‘We’ve got this certificate, will you lend us money against it?’ – and they would. The staff were pretty certain they’d thrown it away – it was in a brown envelope and they thought they’d thrown it away. So, we waited patiently for six, seven months, I think it was, until the maturity date of this thing came up and everyone was waiting eagerly to see if someone came in with this piece of paper for their money. Fortunately, they didn’t so the person who actually owned it got their money and the interest, and were none the wiser!
Because we had these sorts of documents which obviously were very valuable, they commissioned a review of the strong-room. It was an old building in Moorgate London and Chubb, or whoever it was who came in sent a report afterwards – they examined it all – and said, ‘The door to the safe: really good – the only thing is, if you got a spoon and chipped away the concrete by the side of it, you’ll get into the strong-room easily!’ So, with that, they spent a lot of money installing a sort of ‘inner safe’ within – well, it was a huge strong-room within the main strong-room … but that caused a few problems!
As I say, I did a lot of travelling and in 1975 I visited Tokyo for four weeks. And, that was an eye-opener – the Japanese were a fantastic race. We did a lot of foreign exchange work and we walking in one morning and said to one of the dealers, ‘What profit do you think you’ve made this month?’ and he suddenly got this abacus, whizzed around with a few numbers and within a minute he came back and said, ‘’X’ amount’. We had a computer in the office and two days later, the computer came up with the profit figure that was identical to this guy on his abacus! The staff … there’s an obvious special culture in Japan – they all wore uniforms; the young girls in the office, if you saw them on the stairs, they’d talk to you – if one of the managers was around they would not talk. Everything had to be perfect – so they’d come in every day and ask us what we would like for lunch and then they’d set it all out in the Conference Room. There was only one problem – they would start setting the table at eleven o’clock – the food arrived about half past eleven but by the time they’d finished sorting it all out, we got a call at half past twelve and we ended up with a cold lunch every day.
I went to Beirut – that was a nice place to visit – this was before the troubles. We stayed on the Riviera in a nice hotel; you had the sea; the blue sky; an hour’s drive you were in the snow, in the mountains. We’d taken over a bank out there and we had to check the books for our Head Office. There was only one major problem: all the paperwork was in Arabic and, of course, being British, we do not know Arabic. We had an Egyptian that joined us from New York and we had a crash course to learn numbers, all the numbers, so at least we could read bank statements and things and the figures. As I say, that was a nice place to visit.
A not so memorable place was Liberia. I know it’s hit the headlines recently but … We had a bank in Liberia which we got, mainly, because it was a bad debt – so we took over a stake in the bank. We had to get visas to visit so they were arranged through London. We arrived on the plane and we were given forty-eight hours in which to report to the police – they said that our visas weren’t correct. So, the next morning we phoned the office and said, ‘We’re here, we’d like to come in, we want to do an audit. ‘Arr! Slight problem there. We don’t mind you coming in but we don’t want you to look at any of the books.’
They didn’t quite understand what an audit was?
They did understand what an audit was! So, we said, ‘Okay’. They sent a car for us and the long and short of it was we went to the branch and saw the manager and had a long chat with him. And, yes, we agreed that we would do a review of all the systems and the controls but we would not look at the books. Well, whether he was as naive as he appeared, when you’re doing an audit you say, ‘Where do you record this?’ ‘Oh, it goes in this ledger’. ‘Oh, can I borrow that for a minute?’ So, we saw the books!
But, we had to get our visas sorted out so the manager called one of the secretaries in and had words, at which point, we got in a car with this secretary and went to see the Chief of Police. And we were rushed straight into his office and got tea and coffee and things – and it turned out that the secretary was the girlfriend of the Chief of Police.
It was very handy. So, we got our visas extended.
While we were in the office, we physically saw bribes or money being given to staff so that their work got actioned quicker than other people’s. You couldn’t say anything because they all did it – so I don’t really see the benefit of doing it!
We came across begging letters such as ‘My husband’s died. I want to bury him. Can you lend me ten dollars, ten US dollars?’ And that was a fortune to them … We were in the office one afternoon – there was a terrible commotion going on outside – we said, ‘What’s going on?’ And this crowd had congregated and they were chasing one of the bank staff down the road. And, when we got it sorted out, it turned out that he hadn’t been home for three months and his wife had come into the town to get some money from him and, of course, the crowd were on her side so that’s why they chased him. So, the Bank Manager went out and gave her one US dollar and she went away happy. And then we started thinking that we were staying in a hotel that was considerably more than a dollar a night; we were spending ten dollars or so for lunch; and twenty dollars in the evening for a meal and these people could survive on a dollar for three months. To wash their cars, they parked at the side of the road where there were puddles and used the water to wash their cars.
We were very fortunate, we had a driver so when you went out … it wasn’t safe to walk anywhere and every day lunchtime or evening we’d wave at the driver, he’d unlock the car doors; we’d get in the car; he’d drive us off to somewhere; he’d sit outside the restaurant until we’d finished; we’d wave at him; he’d unlock it; straight into the car and drive back to the hotel.
My colleagues went out the following year – I’m pleased to say, I didn’t go – and this time they were given a car without the driver. And you know the way, a young group of lads – you normally have a drink in the evening – they’d had a few drinks and they were driving back to the hotel and in Monrovia there is one set of traffic lights. They’d stopped at the traffic lights because it was red and the back door opens and a chap gets in – announces that he’s a policeman and they’re causing a traffic jam! This was about one o’clock in the morning and there were no cars in sight. When you’re sober, the thing is, you just give them a few dollars and everyone is happy but because they’d had a few drinks they didn’t realise that so he told them to drive to the police station. So, they drove to this police station and instantly sobered up when they saw the inside of it but one of the officials there explained. ‘Don’t do it again, etc and you can go’. So they walked back to the car and the policeman that had stopped them – he was in the back of the car with a girl he’d just picked up from the police station. All he kept saying to them was, ‘Me, your friend. We go now, have a drink somewhere?’ So, they went back into the police station to find out what was going on and it was: ‘Well we don’t have any police cars. You’ve got to take him back where you found him’. So, they went back to the car and just drove it a little way, gave him some money and everyone was happy … but, you had to be a bit careful.
One of the managers there … they had a compound with the houses and they had a ditch dug on the outside of the brick wall around it and they had something like an eight foot high wall. And you’d lock everything – all the doors, etc. And someone broke in overnight and took the watch off his wrist! He didn’t know or didn’t feel a thing. They had a security guard as well – who was useless.
And one of the others – if he went out for the day – he had a hi-fi unit – he’d lock the speaker in one cabinet, a speaker in another and the amplifier somewhere else because you don’t want anything left on show. It was a very, very corrupt place. And, we were pleased to leave. And, we did as we were told – we presented a report on all the systems and the controls to the manager. And as soon as we got to London we then wrote another report about all the accounts. And there were quite a few changes in the management structure of that office! As I say, it is a place I’ve no desire to go back to.
As I say, we had computers in those days – they introduced them in London and gradually other countries as well. We actually wrote some computer programmes to interrogate the information and double-check it. In those days, we had large, probably about 18 inches across, disks and we used to take these with us because we had our programmes on them. And we got stopped at, I think it was, Frankfurt Airport trying to get this disk in. ‘What is this?’ ‘It is a computer disk.’ ‘Is there anything on it?’ ‘Yes, there’s a computer programme’. ‘Any data?’ ‘No.’ With that, he prised the flap on this disk up, looked at it and said, ‘Oh I can’t see any data on it. That’s alright then.’ So we got through with it!
Introducing computers for Hong Kong Banking Group
As I say, I spent nine years travelling around with that company and I then felt I needed a change. So I joined what was the Hong Kong Banking Group – it is better known now for owning HSBC – Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank which owns Midland. I joined as a manager. I had responsibility for North America which was mainly New York, the Middle East and some parts of the UK. Within a month of being there, they sent me up to Edinburgh to do an audit of the branch. And, I came across some strange things – it then turned out that was the way Scottish buy and sell houses! (Laughs) Explain that one to me – it’s totally different.
Little problems there – because I was working for them, I wanted to draw some money out and I didn’t have a cheque guarantee card – you had to work or have a bank account for six months before they would give you one – they’d let me count all the cash in the safe and look at all their records – but they said ‘We’re not sure we can cash you a cheque’ but they did. Tried to get the rules changed after that.
They were beginning to computerise branches outside of the main centres – so, the Middle East. And I was seconded to what was the British Bank of the Middle East. I was seconded to them for two years. I was based in Dubai on Jumeirah Beach which is now very famous – it’s got the Palm Island now – in those days we just had some rather nice bungalows. I was responsible for setting up a computer audit department and we had responsibility for the whole of the Middle East – so we’re talking about Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Bahrain. That was quite an interesting time. It was a tax-free salary which was rather nice. I had a bank mortgage which was fixed about two per cent so I was paying, I think, about fifty-seven pounds a month for a flat in London and earning a tax-free salary out there – I had money in those days! As I said, they decided to computerise the offices and we had thirty-two offices in the UAE. The main computer centre was in Dubai on the fourth floor of the building. For economic reasons, they decided to buy the computers in Europe because buying them in the Middle East was more expensive. So they bought them in Europe. The salesman rubbed his hands with glee because I think they had something like thirty-two computers altogether. We then shipped them out to Dubai.
To save money, the bank decided to use one of its customers to get the machines into the computer room. So, one day this huge crane turned up to lift the machines into the fourth floor window and through it. Unfortunately, one of them didn’t quite make it and smashed onto the pavement. That caused a lot of problems because it turned out that it wasn’t insured and because they’d used the customer, they couldn’t really claim on him so we had a load of spare parts for an IBM 34 computer! (laughs)
And then in the February, we went up to Beirut. The team we had – there were about fifteen in the department – mainly Sri Lankans – we had one Indian – the rest were Sri Lankans and there were about four or five British. So we arrived … we had to stay in the mountains because it was unsafe to be in the centre of Beirut – the staff were really pleased to show us the bullet holes on the front of the hotel! Anyway, we woke up the next morning, ready to get a taxi to go to work and no way were we getting in: it had snowed. We all went for a walk around this little village and the Sri Lankans – they were in their thirties, forties – had never seen snow before – so, we had a few snowball fights!
The office we had in Beirut was subject to the largest bank robbery in history. It was located on the Green Line between East and West Beirut. And, whichever crowd had it, had it for six weeks and they fired mortar shells at the safe-deposit boxes. So they emptied all the safe-deposit boxes. We also lost all our accounting records. The rules in those days was, every week they were supposed to send a copy of the accounts out of the country and for some reason someone had forgotten to do it. So, if you’d got a passbook with British Bank of the Middle East you could walk in there today and claim your money because, as I say, the bank have got no record of what they had.
We had an office in Geneva which in the last few months hit the headlines as HSBC Geneva – to do with tax fraud! Although they had a lovely computer system and I did a review of this; they had no passwords to control it so anyone could sit down at the terminal and get access to all the information. So, being good auditors, ‘You need a password system’. So, they introduced one. I went back a few months later to check it and it didn’t really work – it didn’t matter what you typed in, you got into the system. It was just for show! (laughs) So, I went off and saw the manager of the office and said, ‘You introduced the system but it don’t work!’ ‘Course it does!’ So, he eventually dragged the programmer in that had written it and explained all what I’d done and everything and the programmer said, ‘Yeah, you’re right, it doesn’t work’ and there was the manager kicking him under the table, trying to keep him quiet and not saying any more.
In Switzerland in those days, they had – well, we deemed it as a ‘dress code’ – the clerks in the office would wear jeans and a T-shirt; slightly a level up it was jeans and a shirt; and then you got to slacks and a shirt and all the managers wore suits.
As I say, one of the managers, he spent a lot of time in Beirut and he spoke fluent Arabic. One afternoon we were told, ‘Keep out the way this afternoon’ – he had some very high officials from a Middle Eastern country coming over and we must not be seen. He would just switch from English to Arabic, instantly – an amazing guy. Actually, he escaped Beirut during the troubles in the 80s – he managed to get the bank’s records in the back of his car and drive out. But, as I say, he was fascinating.
We came across one strange thing there – they have numbered bank accounts in Switzerland – as they do in other countries but they don’t get mentioned. And, we were trying to look at account documentation to see if that the correct forms had been filled in. We were asking one of the secretaries something about one of these numbered bank accounts and she suddenly produced this little notebook and in there she had the names and addresses of every numbered account holder! When we told the manager, he went mad!
We installed the first cash machine – automated cash machine – I know they are common now in the UK – we installed the first one in Dubai. That was amazing because the Arabs, ‘What’s this?’ ‘We can get money’. They used to … well, they appeared on the front of newspapers and then they did television adverts about it.
Dubai, it wasn’t developed like it is now. I used to drive to work – took about twenty minutes. Try to park under a palm tree to keep the car in the shade a little bit. You’d leave the car keys with these Asians, they would wash your car for you and Hoover it all out and etcetera – so you’d leave your car key with them and they’d do all that for you. But you came out of work – we finished at two o’clock and you’d start the car up, open the windows, turn the air-conditioning on and stand there because you just couldn’t touch the gear stick or steering wheel – it was so hot.
All the offices and our homes had air conditioning. You bought a car with air conditioning as the summers were so hot. Most expatriates returned home in the summer months to escape the heat.
One of the things out there was speed cameras – they had eight mobile speed cameras in Dubai – probably got a lot more nowadays. One can only say they were crafty in the location! There’s a tunnel under the creek that connects Dubai and Deira and they would put a police car on top of the tunnel so as you were driving up the slope coming out, you had a camera pointing at you so it was quite easy to get caught. By the docks they would have a corrugated fence – the police car would be one side and they would just turn up a small space at the bottom and put the camera in there! It was good fun – if you got caught you just handed in your driving licence over and twenty-four hours later you went to the police station to collect it again. One of my colleagues, he set off to the local supermarket and he was driving on the dual-carriageway and he got caught by a speed camera so gave his licence over, went in the supermarket, got his shopping, came out and thought, ‘Right, I know where the speed camera is’ so was driving back on the other side of the dual-carriageway – got stopped again didn’t he – they’d put it on the other side of the road! He was not amused.
Did you live in little enclaves of ex-pats? Was it like that in those days or did you mix in with the locals?
You didn’t mix – as I say, this was on Jumeirah – there was houses, a number of bungalows, there was a swimming pool, tennis court. The bank had a policy – you had international staff and local staff. I was deemed ‘local’ as I was employed from London, seconded. But the international staff worked for twenty-five years and they did their banking exams in London, provided they passed, they had a job. They were then sent to Hong Kong for six months for further training and then they got their first posting overseas. That, generally, was in charge of what was called the ‘cables’ department, communications and cash. The staff … I won’t say these people did any work – they were deemed to be ‘managers’ and every two years or so they would be moved somewhere else around the world – it was mainly Middle East and Far East. They … if they were in Hong Kong, they’d sit at a desk and they’d have twenty, thirty Chinese sitting behind them so it was, ‘Can you do this?’ ‘Yes, of course’ and they’d snap their fingers and a Chinaman would come up and go and do the work. They had to do a little bit more in the other places … We had three in Hamburg – they’d been there six months – they couldn’t speak a word of German – what a wasted opportunity! But they had a tax-free salary, their accommodation was provided. Because I was seconded, I had accommodation … I moved from Jumeirah Beach into a flat. And I had a lovely two-bedroomed flat with two swimming pools. Air-conditioning, of course. The only thing I had to pay for was my telephone bill – everything else was taken care of – so gas, electric was all taken care of. When I was in the bungalow when we first went out we had a … I was going to say a ‘house boy’- he was a man in his forties, an Indian, who used to do the cooking, housework and shopping for us. So, he’d come in, generally, six o’clock in the morning, clear up the mess in the kitchen, cook breakfast for us and then we’d go off to work for eight o’clock. We finished work at two, come in; dinner would be on the table ready for you. And then in the afternoon, sometimes, we’d go out shopping with him, not very often – he’d normally do that himself because he could do it a lot cheaper than we could. He had Fridays off which was the weekend. So when I moved, I had him come in to look after my flat – he came in normally about one day a week – that was all – he’d come in. The thing is, it was the only time in my life I had my socks ironed!
And was that all paid for by the bank?
No, I had to pay that. I paid that, yes. It was fair enough.
Some families had Filipino housemaids … One of my colleagues, his wife had twins out there and they got a Filipino housemaid and the first time I went out there we were just talking casually and I said, ‘I like lemon meringue pie’ and this Filipino housemaid looked at me and thought, ‘What the hell’s that?’ And there was one woman who’d been there several years – like a ‘mother hen’ to all these – anyway, I came home from work the next day and I had a lemon meringue pie – she’d made one – very nice too!
I was seconded out there and came back to the UK and I was promised a job – they didn’t actually say what. Before I carry on with that – we had an office in Saudi Arabia and they don’t employ women in the main. So all the office is manned by men – they do the work, typing – everything. Women were not allowed to drive. They had a compound where the staff lived. And they worked odd hours – they did eight to half-past one and then four till six o’clock which was horrible. The staff, they managed to smuggle some bacon into the country via the diplomatic bag so they had a party one night and had this bacon but were too drunk to enjoy it. We went up to Qatar on a trip and some of my colleagues decided to smuggle some pork and some drink – or try to smuggle some pork and drink out there – but they got caught by customs – they x-ray all the suitcases so you either walk through or you got stopped. And they had this room completely stacked out with booze where they’d confiscated it all! Drink was cheap – I had a licence to buy alcohol in Dubai – a bottle of whisky was a pound. And I think from memory, I was allowed three hundred dirham a month. I never got anywhere near it – one or two of my colleagues did but they had personal problems! There again, providing you didn’t upset the applecart with the locals, everything was fine. One of my colleagues, he bought a new sports car – he bought a Mazda – a rotary engine sports car – so there was a bet in the office how long he’d have it for before he smashed it up. It lasted ten days! He’d been out drinking and was returning home. He missed the driveway and decided to drive down the path between two brick walls and the car was a lot wider than the path so they got him out, put him to bed. The police turned up in a couple of hours and they said they’d given him a drink because he was all shook up. He got found guilty for drunken driving – he got two week’s imprisonment. The bank refused to help him – I think he’d overstepped the limit – but one of the colleagues, he worked for one of the princes so he was sprung out so as soon as he came out, he left the country. He said the prisons were pretty grim and I can imagine that.
Back to London
Anyway, I then came back to London. I was promised a job but they didn’t tell me what. There was no vacancies in audit so I was given the grand title of a ‘project co-ordinator’ and they were installing a payment system in London. And, basically, people around the world – Hong Kong, Middle East – if they wanted to make a payment to someone in the UK they would send a telex or some sort of message to London and then they would print it out and write a cheque and pay the money over. Well, they decided to automate the process and there were about sixty young ladies in the department doing this each day. So they put the first phase of this in and it had taken ages to do and the co-ordinator that was doing it said, ‘I don’t want to do any more’. And for some reason I got the job. When I sat there and went through what the next phase of this project was ‑ we needed more staff – and, say, the system was so labour intensive. I sat down with the manager and said, ‘What if we do this?’ And the idea was to capture the information ‑ these messages came in by telex ‑ so capture that information electronically and then we can try and extract the information onto a payment screen and then send the money electronically – instead, if we used the likes of the bank’s automated credit system it cost us 6p – sending the cheque because it was something like a six-part carbonised paper, it cost us a lot, lot more and it took a lot longer. So, we went through all this and came up with a proposal. And the IT manager in London, he was happy with it, he backed it and the office manager did. We then had the IT manager, the technical services manager, come over from Hong Kong and I got hauled in to see him and do a presentation on my proposal. So I explained it all and gave some rough ideas of the cost of developing it and savings we’d do. And he listened and asked a few questions and said, ‘I’ll let you know later on’.
I walked out of the office only to be told that this technical services manager coming from Hong Kong had written the system that we were supposedly implementing and he had already implemented it in Hong Kong so I thought, ‘That’s my career over!’ – because I’d criticised it. (Laughs) Anyway, in an hour I got a phone call, ‘By ten o’clock tomorrow morning can you give me a rough timetable when this system can be implemented and the cost?’ At which point, I scratched my head because we were talking about my new computers, using a computer language that none of our staff knew and I thought, ‘Where do we start?’ Anyway, we sat down amongst ourselves and came up with some answers. And we recruited some staff. Well, I had four computer programmers working for me so we developed this system. It was very good – it captured the messages electronically and put it on the screens. One thing I did – I wanted my staff to know what they were doing so they all spent a week with Users so they spoke the same language then and also knew what they were trying to computerise. And then on a Friday, the workload on a Friday always dropped down for the User Department so on Friday afternoon a couple of them would come up and sit with the computer programmers and see what they’d been doing and looking at the screens and things – they came up with some good suggestions for further improvements. I am pleased to say, the system, we developed it, we tested it and, to be honest, it was ready early but we didn’t let on about that – we gave them a date and we’d stick to that! So, we just did some further testing but it was implemented on time – one of the few, I suppose. I am not sure it was in budget but it certainly was in time.
That would be round about 1988.
The system we put in, actually, was very similar to a system that Midland Bank used. They had literally thousands of transactions a day – sort of a hundred thousand a day – and we were dealing only with maybe a thousand or two thousand but it was an interesting one.
Then I didn’t know quite what was going to happen to me, career-wise. I was in the IT department and they made a decision that they would not develop any programmes in-house apart from this particular one. All the others were packages from mainly Hong Kong. They had a big computer department out there and if they said, ‘Right, we’re going to computerise an office’. ‘Right, what does it do?’ ‘It does current accounts, savings accounts, fixed deposits, loans’. ‘Right, we want that programme, that programme, that programme, that programme, that programme – button them all together and it worked. So, you could get an office up and running in about three months. It was very quick. And they decided to do the same in London. So they were really just implementing systems and that did not really appeal to me. There was no vacancies in Audit so I actually left.
I did spend a short time with Australia and New Zealand Bank but there I was responsible for monitoring the development of new systems. This was at the time of the ‘Big Bang’ in London when stockbrokers were taken over by the banks and we took over a stockbroker in Holborn. It was totally new to me; I had no idea about the systems they used. But I say, I didn’t particularly enjoy that very much and they were then downsizing the department so I got out.
The Audit Commission
For a change I joined the Audit Commission. The Audit Commission was responsible for the audit of Local Government and round about 1988, ’89 they had given or they got permission to audit the National Health Service – so they were expanding. As far as Local Government was concerned they could look at all the systems, the accounts and they had to sign off claims they made for housing benefit and grants from the Central Government and, obviously, the books. So, I was based in County Hall in London – the old County Hall – lovely building. My second day there I was sent to a London Borough – I won’t name the one for various reasons – but it was in East London. They had decided to introduce a new system to control housing maintenance and repairs. So, five years before I’d joined, they’d bought this computer system and all the equipment but they hadn’t implemented it. They’d stored the equipment in a school in the shower room and when they actually retrieved the computers they then found that they didn’t work (Laughs) – which was a bit of a surprise! But they didn’t really have much idea of what they were doing. There was a lot of Union opposition to computers. One office – one place I went to, they had a number of Portakabins and the staff were quite happy working in Portakabins but the Union kicked up a fuss and said, ‘You cannot install a visual display unit – screen – in the Portakabin. If you put one in, we want air-conditioning, we want all sorts of rules and regulations – new chairs and … I thought what difference will it make – if it is uncomfortable for the staff to work now, it is not going to be much more so in the future. Well, anyway, they had a lot of opposition.
That was one of the strange places – I had an appointment to see somebody one day and I arrived and the office was empty. And while I was sitting there for a good three quarters of an hour, I then looked at the wall and they had a chart of the days they were going to have off sick for the rest of the year and it was the day I turned up to see this guy was the day he was going sick. As I say, it was one of the poorer London boroughs that did not – well, I don’t think it has got a very good reputation now, either.
As I say, we had the Health Service. The Health Service, I would have said, were several years behind Local Authorities in their computerisation but they underwent so many different changes. In those days, they had seven regional Health Authorities, then Districts, and then the Hospitals. So payroll was done at the Region so you just had one payroll system for the whole of South East England. But, of course, when they all decided to split, every hospital bought their own payroll system so the cost went sky-high.
Were they all different?
Oh, yes. Too easy, I think! We did a review of PayrolI think it was, Barts in London and they extracted a list of staff and you’d see the same names turn up about five or six times and it would be a case of this particular doctor might have gone there as a student and set up and then he’d returned there a few years later higher up the level – and every time they were still showing on the payroll. It was a crazy place.
The Local Authorities, again – it depended on who was ruling the Council. Tower Hamlets, they decided to – I think they had Liberal control – and they decided to de-centralise everything – so they set up neighbourhood offices – so they had seven neighbourhood offices. The idea is that you don’t have far to travel to see people to sort out your council tax, housing benefit or whatever it is. Wonderful idea! But they then decided to have seven computer systems – so seven computers but each office wanted it different … We had council tax come in so they bought a package and had to change it for every neighbourhood office. So, when a change came in, they then had to spend two or three weeks to change it for every office. It was very, very expensive – they spent something like forty-five million pounds in one year, just on the computerisation.
But things go about turn – when I first joined in Enfield, North London, there was a computer centre and that did work for, I think, about five London boroughs. It was a little consortium they had set up. And gradually they all went back to their own Authorities – they all set up their own computing departments and did their own thing. And nowadays, they’re all signing facilities management agreements where someone is doing all the work for them. So, it seems to have gone about turn. I always thought it was a backward step.
We were a bit concerned about fraud. We used to get data about student loans and housing benefit – that was the ‘big one’ – so we set up a thing called the London Fraud Initiative. I think most of the London Boroughs were happy – there was only one that wasn’t. They all provided us with a lot of data – we got something like staff details, the housing benefit records and we then matched them for all the thirty boroughs together. And that proved very, very worthwhile. You’d see the same names appear and they were drawing money from different councils for different properties. And that actually set up a separate body and they were doing this every year and they gradually increased the coverage and I think it went National in the end.
Did you have a big team of people? I mean that must have been a fairly massive exercise.
It wasn’t that big, actually. Well, the team that actually collected the data and doing the analysis was small but once we got the print-outs and all the queries that went back to the respective Local Authority for them to investigate.
But we used to run little programmes – silly things like, ‘How many men were receiving maternity pay?’
And there were some!
Sort of: ‘Is their net pay higher than their gross pay?’, high levels of over-time, things like that. It produced a lot of work. We did one, as I say, in the Middle East we did one – that was people receiving credit interest on their current accounts – unfortunately my name appeared as one of them! I think we made a mistake.
We then had had laptop computers – this was a ‘new thing’ – we hadn’t had them previously – we had access to computer systems which were the desktops and things like that but we had never had laptops. And these were provided by the head office in Bristol and they were all set up with all the programmes loaded on it and for security reasons they had a package on there that prevented you loading any programmes on but it also meant that you couldn’t load a virus onto the computer which was obviously important. Until one day someone noticed they had a virus and it turned out that these computers that the head office set up … they had a tape with all the programmes and they just run it off to each one had a virus on it so every machine they released had a virus on it which didn’t go down well with our customers.
We did a bit of work for the London Fire Brigade. They had a command and control system and they had two huge Marconi computers – and these are the really big things that take the room up – probably got less power than an iPad today! And there had been lots of problems with these – there was a disagreement between the Fire Brigade and Marconi about maintaining it and so on. So they had a court case that lasted six months and the IT managers spent four days a week for six months in court whilst this was going on. In the end, I think, they reached some agreement and then they suddenly realised, ‘We don’t really need the IT managers’ so they were made redundant.
But there again, they had very strange rules, being in an uniformed environment – firemen used to be paid weekly and the payroll was run weekly for them and gradually they were trying to get people over to monthly pay so some … as an interim step they had fortnightly pay – so they were running weekly, fortnightly and monthly pay. And I had gone in to look at the payroll system so I said, ‘Why do you run weekly pay?’
‘Well, for new recruits and a few others’.
I said, ‘The new recruits, when they join up, you tell them the pay is monthly – end of story’. ‘You don’t need to do the weekly’. So, eventually that got through but there was a bit of resistance and I never understood why.
They also had a system whereby if someone was off for a day and you acted up to do their job, you got their pay.
You got acting-up pay?
Yes. And in a year they had something like a hundred and sixty-six thousand amendments to the payroll system. It was unbelievable really some of the things … and all this was paper-based that was sent to the head office to do. As I say, very paper intensive.
But, anyway, I spent nine years with the Audit Commission and I enjoyed it. We had things like ‘Year 2000’ issues coming up when they thought all the computers in the world were going to stop – I’m pleased to say they didn’t. We did a lot of work on the Year 2000 – did some for the National Audit Office – that was a Chancellor’s Department – they look after money for people in care, and things – they had this really ancient computer system that only one person knew (about) – anyway, it worked.
Film company auditor
I left there and actually joined a film company – totally different. They phoned me up one day and said, ‘Do you know any of your staff interested in a job?’ and I said, ‘Don’t think so’. They said, ‘Well, what about you?’ So, I went along for this interview and the guy – a bit strange – but I had this interview. The following day I get a phone call, ‘We’d like to offer you the job.’ Anyway, I said, ‘I’ll think about it’ and I turned it down. So they came back a few days later with even more money so, I think, in the end it was something like fifty-one thousand a year – which was quite nice.
That would be about 1998.
So, that was a pretty good salary?
Yes. It was like when I joined Hong Kong Bank – I joined there and because they were taken over or merged with the British Bank in the Middle East they made a lot of people redundant because they doubled up on staff. And then they realised that in those days the good staff were the ones that went and they were left with the not-so-good staff so they had to recruit rapidly. And they then realised that they were behind the times with salaries so I’d only been there two months and then got a seventeen per cent pay rise. (Laughs) Those were the days …
As I say, this film company, United International Pictures, was owned by Paramount, Universal and MGM and they were responsible for the distribution of all films outside of North America so it was worldwide. I’d never been involved in the film industry before so it was totally different. I was in the audit department – there were six of us plus the manager. The other five auditors loved travelling – one of the chaps, George, he would come into the office two weeks a year in the UK – his Mum’s birthday and Christmas – the rest of the time he was overseas – he’d spend about three months in Australia, a couple of months in Japan and three months in South America – loved it – all of them. I was happy – I didn’t want to travel – so I just did about three trips while I was there.
We had a cinema in the building – we had a forty-seater, state-of-the-art cinema – so when new films came out we could preview them to the Press. We had a deal whereby other film companies would lend us their films so staff got to see their films as well.
Were you still based in London?
This was at Hammersmith. I was living at Bishop’s Stortford at the time so I was leaving home about seven in the morning, getting a bus to the station, getting the 7.18 or 7.30 train to Liverpool Street and then the Tube through to Hammersmith. It was not a pleasant journey, particularly in the evenings, if I left promptly at half past five there was a chance I would get the half past six train back so I’d be home by about half past seven. You stood on the trains, stood on the Tube …
As I say, the boss was strange. Most of the time there was just him and me and he had a little office and I sat outside of it. And, he’d wander in, having driven in from Hertfordshire, moaning like mad about the traffic. His next door neighbour worked for us as well – they both had company cars that were fully expensed – so they were both driving to Hammersmith – they wouldn’t share it because, obviously, they got the petrol paid for. Then maybe at eleven o’clock he’d walk out with a suitcase and, ‘I’ll see you next week’. Well, obviously I knew from the secretary what was going on – he was going off overseas somewhere but he wouldn’t tell me where he was going, you know. Strange guy. He also kept every email he’d ever had – so he had about five, six years of emails. If you had a meeting at any time and someone queried something, ‘Back in such and such you said you wouldn’t do that’. I think he was covering his own backside a bit.
We had the Year 2000 and that was implemented okay. We also, because it was under their umbrella, we actually had some cinemas around Europe. So the Euro was introduced so they had to change all the computer systems to cater for this new-fangled currency. And, I know, I went to one meeting and we had a cinema chain there and Blockbuster Videos, as it was under the same umbrella and they said, ‘What is the best way of doing the swap on Day One of the Euro? We don’t want … the cashier in the cinema having two drawers: one with the old currency and one with the new.’ And, it ended up the cheapest option was a bucket. So we’d have a bucket on the floor and someone comes in with their Deutschmarks or French Francs, chuck it in the bucket and give them change in Euros and that’s what they did. So,(it was done) without changing any of the work on the tills, building work or anything. But, one thing it did bring out was price comparisons – because if you lived on the border of say France and Germany, why is it four Euros to go to the cinema in one country and maybe five in the other? So, they had lots and lots of discussions about pricing. I think that has all faded away now.
They had a management information system and for every film that we’d released, we had records of what we’d spent on promotions – so down to film premieres, the gifts and things, advertising and takings. So for every cinema we would get a report of how many people watched that film on a particular day. And certainly, in one or two countries we employed undercover people to go in, sit in the back of the cinema and count how many people were there because we knew the cinemas were fiddling their returns. Because when you sold them the films, you got a percentage of the seat sales. The thing I did learn with cinemas is that they make their money on the food and snacks – they don’t make money out of films. But we had some really good years – we released Shrek and we had a James Bond film in one year – and we got a bonus – about a three thousand pound bonus because it made a billion dollars profit worldwide – did really well.
But I got fed up with the travelling to Hammersmith – the transport system seemed to be getting worse and worse and we have a daughter and she was ten at the time and we thought let’s move away. And we came to Norfolk. I did a trip around all the employment agencies in Norwich – ‘Yes, no problems. All your skills – you will get a job easy’. That was far from the case – I was probably too experienced or in one case deemed too expensive. I went along to, I think it was, Virgin Money – they were advertising for staff and this woman says, ‘I’ve got your CV but you haven’t quoted a salary on it’. I said, ‘No, you didn’t quote a salary in your advert, either.’ She said, ‘Oh’. Anyway, I think I was too old for that place. But I ended up joining Norfolk Constabulary – for three years I was Information Security Officer which again was a mix of audit but it had a slightly wider brief. I know it sounds awful but I spent a lot of time monitoring email and Internet usage. And we had controls in … introducing things like stopping them loading cameras and USB sticks onto computers – all that can be controlled. Some people, like Traffic, needed a camera but some of the others didn’t.
To Norse in Norfolk
And at the end of three years, I joined Norse. When I joined it was Norfolk County Services and then became Norse which is an offshoot of the County Council. Totally different – I was an Administrator in the restaurant. It was a temporary job – I was going to go there for two weeks – and I started in November and the girl doing the job had been off sick for a while. And a young lady came in and said, ‘Right, here’s a book that tells you what has to be done. Here’s a computer screen. You do this, this, this. If you’ve got any problems read the book’.
That was your training?
That was my training! Gradually I realised … it was things like taking bookings for teas, coffees, meals, doing the accounts, obviously, for all the purchasing, the time sheets for staff, invoicing – that was the biggest part, invoicing. In those days, (sounds bad) if there was a meeting staff would get tea and coffee and biscuits, even and you’d have to invoice the department for it. The invoices were all raised manually and there’d be probably about a hundred and twenty or so of these a week apart from other functions they held. Then, gradually they thought, this isn’t such a good idea because there was a lot of paper waste. Then the County Council have a system called, ‘I-Proc’ which is an internal purchasing system and said, ‘You’ve got to use that’. And we said, ‘It ain’t going to work’. Because the way it works is – ‘We want ten teas for a meeting next Thursday’, say – so we’d type all the details in and you put the costing – well, as it turned out, on the day, they suddenly phone up, ‘Ah, two haven’t turned up. Can you reduce it …?’ or ‘Can we have some more drinks because we’ve got through all those and the meeting’s lasting longer’ but they’d never changed their original order so it meant a lot of work going backwards and forward. And we’d told them it wouldn’t work. And when we put up our prices went up, that threw it all out again because they would say, ‘We’ll give you 80p for a cup of tea’ and we’d charge them 82. As I say, that was an absolute nightmare of a system and I think if you spoke to any Council staff, they would be pleased to see the back of it. So they then decided to use credit cards which was a great way forward because it meant that we only charged for what was actually supplied. So, I had the only computer in our area of Norse that did credit card payments so every day I would charge up those that had food and drink. That worked well.
So did Norse just supply for the Council or for other operations as well?
They did the odd external function – certainly for things like the Record Office – they did things there but there would be the other odd one that they would do – they used to have a Chairman’s Ball every year – a summer party – Battle of Britain parade. The monies on all these had been considerably scaled down. Considerably. What they spent was horrific. The takings in the restaurant – because it was available to the staff – they had a little shop there as well. The shop did well and in fact, I presume it is still doing well. The restaurant was reducing staff a lot since I’ve been there. When I joined, it was really friendly. One of the chefs had been a former chef at a Norwich hotel – he used to come in every day and give me bacon roll with bacon, tomato, egg and – lovely. You’d have lunch there if you wanted, as well. But as times … things got cut back like they do everywhere and, as I say, there were lots of cuts.
I got to the stage I didn’t have enough work to do on a daily basis so I got asked to help out on the Helpdesk. Norse ran a Helpdesk for the care homes – they picked up some NHS contracts for those, as well – they also had got a contract for some schools in Lincolnshire. I know one morning I walked in, someone phoned up ten past eight, ‘We’ve got a leak. Floor’s flooded. Can you come and have look?’ ‘No’ ‘I’m a few miles away but I can get a man around to do it.’ They then got quite a few more new contracts. They got one from Eastern Daily Press as well. They eventually then decided to move the Helpdesk to Fifers Lane and they got a 24/7 Helpdesk there now – fully manned/’femaled’. But I spent so many hours downstairs and then I had to go upstairs to do my job as well. Then I got to the stage when I’d had enough so I decided to leave. At the end of August 2013.
Thinking back over the years
I heard from someone yesterday because one of the ladies who ran the shop, she retires next Friday and we’ve got a leaving do for her and in the last three months, three more staff have gone and they don’t know whether they will keep the contract for the catering. But unfortunately it is all down to one thing which is money.
As I say, it has been interesting. I’ve seen lots of places – some of which I wouldn’t like to go back to. In the back of my mind, I would like to go back to Dubai. We’ve got friends out there and I would like to see how it’s changed but I think I might find it horrific now. It was so nice and gentle – there were no traffic jams and now you’d got eight lane highways.
The jobs that you worked in, were they pensionable? Did they have pensions attached?
Yes, they were. The Chemical Bank, when I joined them, they had a free, non-contributory pension scheme and you could opt out and, in fact, one person did opt out and that caused all sorts of nightmares because they had never had that before. And we couldn’t understand why when he opted out but … as I say, we had free meals – at one place, they used to pay for us to have a newspaper of suitable quality each day – Financial Times – so we got money for that five days a week – I don’t know what happened to Saturday’s but … Then in the Seventies there was pay restrictions in the Seventies and they were trying ways to get round it and in America – they have a share scheme where you could buy shares in the company and then they realised they hadn’t offered it to people in Europe so they suddenly offered it to us. But they offered it with a twist, in that we could buy so many shares and they would sell them the same day so you got the cash. So it was a way of giving us a pay rise. Fortunately, the share price did go up so we didn’t lose any money on it. Otherwise, it would have been nasty.
Other things – the manager in the branch there, he had an external phone as well as the internal phones and he used to phone up the main switchboard to see how long it took them to answer the phone and things like that and what their attitude was. Try to keep people on their toes. But they were friendly – they were American – really friendly – if you were with them on their own, it was first name terms – otherwise it was ‘Sir’ or whatever. And that’s a change now – you don’t hear the word, ‘Sir’ or things like that in the office very often. And the dress code has changed as well – certainly with Westminster Bank, one of my friends joined them and he had long hair at the time and he got told he’d have to have it cut. He went in one day and said – there’s this advert in the newspaper showing staff with long hair that you’re trying to recruit and said, ‘Why should I have mine cut?’ But you were expected to have a suit and tie and you weren’t supposed to take your jacket off at the counter and all this sort of thing. Whereas nowadays, as I say, anything seems to go.
Just like the first photocopying machine we ever had – it was like a light-box – best description – and you had two boxes of photographic paper – and you had to take whatever it was that you wanted to copy – slide it between the two – put it between this light box and then you got a copy – a very rough copy – that was the first photocopier we had. We had a woman typist and she used carbon paper for copies of the letters and things like that because she did shorthand – I don’t think people do shorthand any more. So, lots and lots of changes.
Was the banking world fairly male dominated?
No, no. Certainly, as I said, the branch I was at, we had more females than men. You didn’t have any female managers in those days so it was split in that point of view. But certainly, number wise there were quite a few females. I know that’s changed nowadays, you do get more females. Certainly in the overseas banks, they were mainly men.
They wanted a manager of a branch in Paris and they’d done a search of their databases and come up with a suitable manager and they came up with Ted Frotheringham III (the third) and he got the job. The reason he got picked out was because he married a French lady and therefore they thought he knew French. So he got the job but what they didn’t twig was that he was divorced. However he got the job.
And again, in the late Seventies, you had the Red Brigade, terrorist brigade in Italy. They shot the manager of our branch through the knee one day so they then got all tight on security. We were all given a pass … we had to remember our National Insurance number. And the idea was if any of us ever got kidnapped – I don’t know why we would get kidnapped – but if we did we would have to say, ‘Quote this number’ and then they’d know they’d actually got us. Simple thing.
When we were in Japan, we wanted to go to the cinema one night and the Japanese don’t speak much English and I certainly don’t speak Japanese. The film that was on was A Bridge Too Far and we went down to the hotel reception and said, ‘We want to go and see this film’. They rang a taxi so we got in this taxi and were pointing at the details in English and a map which shows where the cinema is. And then the taxi driver gets his map out which is a Japanese map and he takes us off and we were driving round and round and round in circles for about a good half an hour – we never found the cinema. And in the end we stopped and got out and then we got a taxi back to the hotel. Then we asked someone to write it down in Japanese so the next night we got to see this film which was a strange experience really because you had the English talking with the Japanese subtitles, then the Germans talking with Japanese subtitles – but we saw it.
Again sometimes, there was some ‘bluff’, shall I say, to auditing. I was sent out to Switzerland with another chap to look at something we’d never seen before – it was called ‘fiduciary deposits’. Switzerland is an odd country in that at one stage, if you had some money you wanted to invest, you didn’t actually put it with the bank, you put it – the bank acted as a go-between and you’d lend it to some individual – it wouldn’t appear on their balance sheet, basically. So, if I wanted to lend some money to you, that I would do it via the bank and the bank got commission. And I was sent to audit those and, as I say, I didn’t know the first thing about it. And sort of asked, ‘What records have you got? Who does what? and the rest of it. And gradually build up a case of what was going on.
It was like the numbered bank accounts. We had numbered bank accounts in Beirut and people didn’t really think about it – we had some in Dubai – everyone thinks of Switzerland.
Were you still in banking when all the money laundering regulations were introduced?
Yes but again, there were a lot of names you saw and you’d think, ‘Yes, okay!?’ It was like in Jersey – a lot of people have accounts in Jersey because it avoids tax and they set up trusts with residents of Sark and things like that as trustees so these people get paid just for their names to appear on bits of paper. We had one case of a chap – he was returning from the Middle East and he wanted to buy a house in London and he set up a trust – or tried to set up a trust – or he did set it up in the end. We sort of said, ‘You can’t do that. It’s your money.’ We eventually got a letter to say that the money wasn’t his; it was lent to him by somebody else. So they got around the rules. They always do. If you’ve got the money, you can do it.
Peter Herring (b. 1948) interviewed in Dereham for WISEArchive on 18th June 2015.