Working Lives

Tales of a travelling auditor (1965-2013)

Location: Norwich

Starting out as a junior bank clerk at Westminster Bank in Cheshunt, Peter describes his varied career as a bank auditor in Europe, Africa and the Middle East before returning to the UK and taking up a position with the Audit Commission inspecting the work of local authorities and the NHS. Then after a few years as an auditor for a film company, he moved to Norfolk ending his career with Norse.

The Junior Bank Clerk

I started work in August 1965 at Westminster Bank in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire on a salary of about £360 a year. I was the office junior making the teas and coffees, running errands, and doing the post and filing. We had accounting machines but as a double check, there were hand-written ledgers to record every cheque and deposit. There were no calculators and overdraft interest had to be calculated manually. After about six months working on the ledgers, you were let loose to go on the counter and serve the customers.

I didn’t spend long on the counter just the odd day during the week and Saturday mornings. It was hectic because there were no cash machines and there were lots of little shops coming in for charge. There were also night-safe deposit boxes where money was left overnight which had to be counted first thing next morning.

Then, in 1967 or ’68, the bank decided to start computerisation. The accounting machines were replaced with ones which punched details of all transactions onto ‘paper tape’ which was collected every day and taken to the main computer centre in Enfield. Mostly it worked well, but one morning, Head Office was on the phone, ‘All the data you put in yesterday is wrong!’ Everything that you punched on the machine – whatever you put in – came out as a number nine! We had to get the engineers down to sort it out which took several weeks – and then, of course, we had to redo all our work.

Every night before you went home everything had to balance to the penny. Once we were there till nearly ten o’clock – we had a difference of about two and sixpence – so twelve and a half pence. Eventually the manager decided that his overtime bill far exceeded this difference so he took a postal order out to make it balance.

As I said, we didn’t have things like cash machines – ATM machines. Westminster Bank introduced a cash card similar in size to a credit card with holes punched in it and, when you put it into a machine outside the branch, you could get £10. You put it in, you got your money, you went away and then the branch had to debit your account and post the card back to you.

I got selected to work at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Olympia and that was an amazing experience. It was absolutely hectic with lots of stalls selling things and giving away free samples. The first week we had no electricity– the electricians went on strike because they wanted more money to set up all the stands – so we had gas-fired burners and hand-operated adding machines. At the end of every day, the stallholders came to pay their money over and everyone just took the money, counted it, put it in a bag and threw it into the safe ready for the next day when everything had to be counted again and the accounts reconciled.

I was then transferred to Cheapside branch in London. My job title was ‘accountant’ but it wasn’t as good as it sounds – I was mainly responsible for writing letters to customers about things like Standing Orders and after about eighteen months, I thought this isn’t much fun. So, I picked up an evening paper and saw a job at an American bank, applied for it and was successful.

Moving up in the American Bank

My new job was with the Chemical Bank which has now disappeared as it was taken over by Chase Manhattan and then merged with other banks. The London office only had about a hundred staff and on my first day they took me round and introduced me to everybody – not that I would remember their names but they might remember mine! There was a canteen on the premises with free food – you could have a really good three-course meal every day. I worked in the Import/Export Department, interesting work. I knew nothing about it but I soon learnt and picked it up.

I’d been there about eighteen months when I was told, ‘You’ve got an interview tomorrow with the Audit Department’. I looked at my boss and thought, ‘Why? What?’ A couple of hours later, I was a Junior Auditor in a department responsible for everything outside of North America – so the area was London, Europe and out to the Far East.

Travelling the World for the Bank

After my first week looking at audit reports, working papers and files, I was told, ‘On Sunday, you’re going to Brussels’. I’d never flown before! So, off to Heathrow and to Brussels for two weeks. 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 –current accounts, savings accounts loans or foreign exchange.

We had a few laughs. In Paris, we were given the Conference Room to work in and when one of my colleagues left the office, he locked the door because we had important papers there. Then about fifteen minutes later he says, ‘I think the key to the Conference Room is in my jacket which is hanging on the chair in the locked room. So, ‘What shall we do?’ ‘I know, we won’t admit this, we’ll check the branch’s duplicate key policy’. Every office should have a record of all the keys throughout the building, 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 them! Fortunately, it was a partition wall so we ended up getting a builder to take one of the partitions out of the wall so we could get back into the office – at which point, [the culprit] put his hand in his pocket and found that he had the key all along.

We had another incident. We had ‘A Certificate of Deposit’ – basically, a piece of paper confirming a deposit, in this case five million pounds for a fixed period of two or three years. No names are mentioned anywhere so whoever has this certificate is entitled to the money. We got a call from our securities department, ‘We’ve just done a check and we can’t find this certificate’. Being good auditors, we sat there for hours thinking, ‘What can you do with this certificate, if you had it?’ Well you could 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. So, we waited impatiently for six, seven months, I think it was, until the maturity date of this thing came up. Fortunately, no one came forward so the person who actually owned it got their money and the interest, and was none the wiser!

Because we had all sorts of valuable documents, the Bank commissioned a review of the strong room. It was an old building in Moorgate and Chubb, or whoever it was, examined it– and said, ‘The door to the safe: really good – the only thing is, if you got a spoon and chipped away the concrete either side of it, you’ll get into the strong-room easily!’ So, they had to spend a lot of money installing a sort of ‘inner safe’.

As I say, I did a lot of travelling and in 1975 I visited Tokyo. And, that was an eye-opener. We did a lot of foreign exchange work and we said to one of the dealers, ‘What profit do you think you’ve made this month?’ and he 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!

We also went to Beirut and Liberia to audit local banks we had taken over. When we got to Liberia, there were problems with our visas and we had to report to the police within forty-eight hours. The manager of the bank called one of the secretaries in and had words and we were rushed straight into the office of the Chief of Police – the secretary was his girlfriend. So, we got our visas extended.

However, he was not so helpful with the audit. After a long chat, we agreed that we would do a review of all the systems and the controls but we would not look at the books. Maybe he was as naive as he appeared, but 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!

While we were there, we saw bribes or money being given to staff and we came across begging letters such as ‘My husband’s died. I want to bury him. Can you lend me ten US dollars?’ One afternoon there was a terrible commotion, one of the bank staff hadn’t been home for three months and his wife had come into the town to get some money from him. The Bank Manager went out and gave her one US dollar and she went away happy – which started us thinking; 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.

We had a car with a driver as 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.

One of the managers lived in a compound surrounded by an eight-foot wall with a ditch dug on the outside. But 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. Another manager would hide his hi-fi unit when he went out. He’d lock one speaker in one cabinet, the other in another and the amplifier somewhere else so nothing was left on show. It was a very, very corrupt place.

When we finished, we presented a report on all the systems and the controls to the manager but as soon as we got to London, we wrote another report about all the accounts. 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.

The different rules and regulations in foreign countries were a challenge to auditors. Once I was sent out to Switzerland with another chap to look at something we’d never seen before – ‘fiduciary deposits’. If you had some money you wanted to invest, you didn’t actually put it into the bank but bank acted as a go-between between your company and another individual. So, if I wanted to lend some money to you, I would do it via the bank who got commission but it did not appear on the balance sheet. And I was sent to audit those and, as I say, I didn’t know the first thing about it. I had to gradually build up a picture of what was going on by asking things like ‘What records have you got? Who does what? and the rest of it.

We also had to work through the money laundering regulations, for example in Jersey – a lot of people have accounts in Jersey to avoid tax setting up trusts with residents of Sark and so on as trustees so these people get paid just for allowing 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. 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.

New Challenges and new computers for the Hong Kong Banking Group

After nine years travelling around, I felt I needed a change. So, I joined what was the Hong Kong Banking Group –known now for owning HSBC. I had responsibility for North America which was mainly New York, the Middle East and some parts of the UK.

They were beginning to computerise branches outside of the main centres so I was seconded for two years to what was the British Bank of the Middle East. I was based in Dubai where I was responsible for establishing a computer audit department covering the whole of the Middle East –Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon. 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 and to save more money, the bank decided to use one of its own customers to get the machines into the computer room. So, one day this huge crane turned up to lift the machines through the windows onto the fourth floor. Unfortunately, one of them didn’t quite make it and it smashed onto the pavement. That caused a lot of problems because it wasn’t insured and because they’d used the customer, they couldn’t really claim on his insurance so we had a load of spare parts for an IBM 34 computer!

Then in the February, my team, mainly Sri Lankans and British went up to Beirut. By then, the centre of Beirut was not safe so we stayed up in the mountains. The first morning when we got up – we were snowed in. The Sri Lankans had never seen snow before! Our office in Beirut was the subject of the largest bank robbery in history. It was located on the Green Line between East and West Beirut and was taken over by militants who fired mortar shells at the safe-deposit boxes and emptied them all. We also lost all our accounting records. In those days they were supposed to send a copy of the accounts out of the country each week and for some reason someone had forgotten to do it. So, if you’ve 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 has got no records of what they had.

Life as an ex-pat in Dubai

Dubai wasn’t developed like it is now. I used to drive to work – it took about twenty minutes and to park under a palm tree to keep the car in the shade. But when 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.

The bank had a policy – there were international staff and local staff and as I was seconded from London, I was considered local. The international staff did their banking exams in London and provided they passed; they had a job for twenty-five years. 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. These staff … I won’t say these people did any work –were deemed to be ‘managers’ and every two years or so they would be moved somewhere else around the world – it was mainly the Middle East and Far East. If they were in Hong Kong, they’d sit at a desk and they’d have twenty, thirty locals sitting behind them so it was, ‘Can you do this?’ ‘Yes, of course’ and they’d snap their fingers and someone would come up 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 and their accommodation was provided.

Because I was seconded, I had accommodation provided – first a bungalow on Jumeirah Beach and then a lovely two-bedroomed flat with two swimming pools, air-conditioning and someone to do the shopping, cooking and housework – the only thing I had to pay for was my telephone bill – everything else was taken care of – so gas, electric; all taken care of. It was the only time in my life I had my socks ironed.

One of our offices was based in Saudi Arabia where they don’t employ women so all the staff were men – they did the work, typing – everything. Everyone lived in a compound working odd hours –eight to half-past one and then four till six o’clock which was horrible. 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!

Back to London and a new direction

In 1988 after my two years, I returned to London. There were no vacancies in audit so I was given the grand title of a ‘project co-ordinator’ working on the installation of a payment system. If people around the world wanted to make a payment to someone in the UK, they would send a telex to London which was then printed out and a a cheque produced so the money could be paid over. There were about sixty young ladies in the department doing this, I sat down with the manager to examine the system and said, ‘What if we do this?’ The new idea was to capture the information electronically, extract it onto a payment screen and then send the money electronically instead. If we used the bank’s automated credit system it cost us 6p – sending a cheque cost a lot, lot more and it took a lot longer.

So, we went through all this and came up with a formal proposal. The IT manager in London backed it. Then the IT manager and the technical services manager came over from Hong Kong Head Office and I got hauled in to present my proposal. So, I explained it all and gave some rough ideas of the cost of developing it and savings we’d make. They listened and asked a few questions and said, ‘We’ll let you know later on’.

Anyway, in an hour I got a phone call, ‘By ten o’clock tomorrow morning can you give us a rough timetable when this system can be implemented and the cost?’ At which point, I scratched my head because we were talking about 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.

Well, I had four computer programmers working for me to develop the new system. It was very good – it captured the messages electronically and put it on the screens. We worked with the Users so we understood exactly what was needed. We developed and tested the system and, to be honest, it was ready early but we didn’t let on about that – we gave them a date and we stuck to that! It was implemented on time – one of the few, I suppose, I am not sure it was in budget but it certainly was on time.

The bank then made a decision that they would not develop any further programmes in-house so the London IT department was really just implementing systems and that did not appeal to me. There were no vacancies in Audit so I left.

I spent a short time with Australia and New Zealand Bank where I was responsible for monitoring the development of new systems at the time of the ‘Big Bang’ in London. It was totally new to me and I didn’t particularly enjoy it and as they were then downsizing the department, I got out

A new challenge with the Audit Commission

I then got a job with the Audit Commission which was responsible for the audit of Local Government and the National Health Service. 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 in East London. They had decided to introduce a new system to control housing maintenance and repairs. Five years before I’d joined, they’d bought this computer system and all the equipment but they hadn’t installed it. They’d stored everything in a school in the shower room and when they eventually retrieved the computers, they found that they didn’t work – which was a bit of a surprise!

There was a lot of Union opposition to computers. One place had staff working in Portakabins and the staff were quite happy but the Union kicked up a fuss and said, ‘You cannot install a visual display unit 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.

As I said, we also had responsibility for the Health Service which was several years behind Local Authorities in their computerisation. But structures were always being changed – in those days, they had seven regional Health Authorities, then Districts, and then the Hospitals. Initially payroll was done at the Region so you just had one payroll system for the whole of South East England. But then, when they were split up, every hospital bought their own payroll system so the cost went sky-high.

We did a review of PayrolI at Barts in London and when they extracted a list of staff, 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 been listed on the payroll and then he’d returned a few years later at a higher level, he would be added again -it was a crazy place.

Going back to the Local Authorities, they also kept changing the way things were done depending on who was ruling the Council. In Tower Hamlets, – I think they had Liberal control –they decided to de-centralise everything and set up neighbourhood offices – so they had seven neighbourhood offices. The idea being 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 –but each office wanted it different … When council tax was introduced, they bought a package and had to change it for every neighbourhood office. So, every time, 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.

But things go about turn – when I first joined the Commission, there was a computer centre in Enfield which did work for, I think, about five London boroughs. It was a little consortium they had set up. But gradually they all went back to their own Authorities which all set up their own computing departments. Now, they’re all signing facilities management agreements so one body does the work!

There were concerns about fraud. We set up a thing called the London Fraud Initiative to tackle housing benefit fraud. Most of the London Boroughs joined and they provided us with lots of data – staff details, the housing benefit records and we then matched them for all boroughs together. It proved very, very worthwhile. You’d see the same names appear drawing money from different councils for different properties. Eventually that was set up as a separate body and they were doing checks every year and I think it went National in the end.

We then were given laptop computers – this was a ‘new thing’. They were provided by the head office in Bristol with all the programs loaded on it. For security reasons there was a package on them preventing you loading any additional programs so you couldn’t load a virus onto the main 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 … 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 also did work for the London Fire Brigade. They had a command and control system with two huge Marconi computers – and these were the really big things that fill the room – probably less powerful than an iPad today! And there had been lots of problems with these – there was a disagreement between the Fire Brigade and Marconi about maintenance and so on which resulted in a court case that lasted six months. While this was going on, the IT managers spent four days each week in court and in the end, I think, they reached some agreement but then the Fire Brigade suddenly realised, ‘We don’t really need the IT managers’ so they were made redundant.

Firemen used to be paid weekly but they wanted to change to monthly so as an interim step they had fortnightly pay – so they were running weekly, fortnightly and monthly pay. When I was reviewing their payroll system, I said, ‘Why do you still 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 you got their pay. So that meant, 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 and had to be actioned manually.

A Move into the Film World

After nine enjoyable years with the Audit Commission, in 1998, I 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’. Then they said, ‘Well, what about you?’ So, I went along for this interview and the following day I got 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.

They had made a lot of people redundant but the best staff moved on 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 – I’d only been there two months and then got a seventeen per cent pay rise. Those were the days …

This film company, United International Pictures which was owned by Paramount, Universal and MGM was responsible for the distribution of films outside North America. 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 for two weeks a year– for 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. I was happy – I didn’t want to travel – so I just did about three trips while I was there.

We had a forty-seater, state-of-the-art cinema in the building so when new films came out, we could preview them for the Press. We had a deal whereby other film companies would lend us their films so staff got to see their films as well.

The office was in Hammersmith. I was living in 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. I might be home by about half past seven if I left promptly at half past five – you stood on the trains, stood on the Tube …

The company also had cinemas in Europe. So, when the Euro was introduced, they had to change all the computer systems. They said, ‘What is the best way of doing the swap on Day One of the Euro? 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.

We had a management information system and for every cinema we would get a report of how many people watched a film on a particular day. And in one or two countries we also employed undercover people to go in, sit in the back of the cinema and count the audience because we knew the cinemas were fiddling their returns as our company got a percentage of the seat sales. One thing I did learn about 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 of about a three thousand pounds because it made a billion dollars profit worldwide.

But I got fed up with the travelling to Hammersmith – the transport system seemed to be getting worse and worse and we had a daughter who was ten at the time and we thought let’s move away. So, we came to Norfolk.

Arriving in 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 said, ‘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!’ Anyway, I think I was too old for that place.

I ended up joining Norfolk Constabulary – for three years I was Information Security Officer which was a mix of audit and a slightly wider brief monitoring email and Internet usage.

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. It was a total career change – I was an Administrator in the restaurant. It was supposed to be a temporary job –for two weeks to cover for sickness. When I started, I was told, ‘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 my training! My job was dealing with orders for teas, coffees, meals, keeping the accounts, purchasing, the time sheets for staff, and invoicing – that was the biggest part, invoicing. In those days staff would get tea and coffee and biscuits at meetings, and their department would be sent an invoice which were all raised manually – probably about a hundred and twenty or so a week.

Then, to reduce paper waste, the County Council introduced a system called, ‘I-Proc’ which is an internal purchasing system and said, ‘You’ve got to use that’. We said, ‘It ain’t going to work’. You’d get an order for ten teas for a meeting next Thursday’, say – and we’d type all the details in and do 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 their original order wouldn’t get changed so it meant a lot of work going backwards and forward. It was an absolute nightmare of a system and I think if you spoke to any Council staff, they were pleased to see the back of it.

They then decided to use credit cards which was a great way forward because it meant that we only charged for what was supplied. We also did the odd external function –for things like the Record Office, the Battle of Britain Parade and the Chairman’s Ball every year although over the years the spend on all these were considerably scaled down.

There was a staff restaurant and a little shop but over time, things got cut back a lot. I got to the stage where I didn’t have enough work to do so I was asked to work on the Helpdesk. Norse ran a Helpdesk for emergency repairs for care homes, for some NHS buildings, for some schools in Lincolnshire as well as other places including the Eastern Daily Press. They then decided to move the Helpdesk to Fifers Lane and they have a 24/7 Helpdesk there now. By the end of August 2013, I got to the stage when I’d had enough so I decided to retire.

Looking back over my career

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.

Changes in the world of Banking

The Chemical Bank, when I joined them, had a free, non-contributory pension scheme although 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. No one could understand why he opted out but … as I say, we had free meals – and a free quality newspaper each day – Financial Times. Then in the Seventies there were pay restrictions and they were trying ways to get round it. In America there was a share scheme where you could buy shares in the company and then they offered it to people in Europe – but with a twist – 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 had an external as well as an internal phone and he used to contact the main switchboard to see how long it took them to answer 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’. Nowadays 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 – The Westminister Bank has job advert in the newspaper showing staff with long hair ‘Why should I have mine cut?’ You were also 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, anything seems to go.

I think about 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. 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.

There were more females than men at the Westminster Bank branch although in the overseas banks, they were mainly men. But you didn’t have any female managers in those days.

Peter Herring (b. 1948) talking to WISEArchive on 18th June 2015 in East Dereham.

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