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Friday, 25 November 2016

Meet the British Bank Manager

The proper status symbols

I don’t live in the past, but I used to. Before I emigrated to the country of my mother’s birth, I had no idea that there were proper things and things that were not. Not only that, but there were items that a proper English gentleman would not be seen dead carrying… too pretentious.

The Brief Case

Brief Case
Let us begin with the brief case. This is a brief case, leather, two straps which were never done up, and a brass clasp, the key for which was long since lost. A brief case was the appropriate status symbol for either a solicitor or maybe a banker. I asked my uncle Norman why (the Bank Manager) why he didn’t have an attaché case, “Oh quite inappropriate for my station, I am not carrying diplomatic dispatches.” You see, a brief case is for carrying briefs, thus the name. A brief is what a solicitor prepares to brief a barrister who may be representing you in the higher courts.
Toy James Bond Case
So when James Bond was given a case by Q, it really was an attaché case, should be hard with two clasps, both of which were lockable – and the more expensive ones with a combination lock. Now this toy manufacturer got it all wrong, only one clasp and Bond would only have carried his Beretta 9mm. 
The Attaché Case

This is a proper attaché case, note the cool features, a place for stationery, spare pens, envelopes and so on. I wasn’t a bank manager or a solicitor, but always wanted one of these things.

The Furled Umbrella

John Steed
Uncle Norman used to spend quite a bit of time making sure his umbrella, or brolly (he never called it that) was properly furled. It was so carefully done, each pleat was evenly spaced, it was a work of art. Even when it rained, I never saw him deploy it. An article entitled “An Umbrella Guide for the Distinguished Gentleman” in the Gentleman’s Gazette explained this, “Of course in London in up until the 1930’s all gentlemen were expected to carry a furled umbrella in inclement weather, but we’re not expected to ever use one as you had the funds to hail a cab, an odd situation but there it is!”  Now aficionados of British television of the 60’s will remember the Avengers with the fictional character, John Steed. The epitome of the English gentleman, he had all the right accoutrements.

The Bowler Hat

John Steed wore a bowler, of course. Other famous characters who stylishly used a bowler hat were Laurel and Hardy (although they would have used the American name for the hat – a Derby), Charlie Chaplin, and who can forget John Cleese! The hat dates back to 1849 and was designed especially for game keepers on horseback, sort of a fore-runner for the riding helmet, I guess. As to hats, I was instructed to wear a Trilby when wearing civilian clothes as a serving Royal Air Force Officer. The reason, so that you could return a salute by doffing your hat! I still have one!

The Pin Striped Three Piece Suit

Pin Stripe or Chalk Stripe

The final part of this picture is the suit. A City Gent would only wear a pin striped suit. There were some choices so you could wear this “uniform” to show some individuality. For example, if you wished, you could wear a three piece suit – and you never buttoned the jacket, so that the waistcoat (vest in USA) was showing. A proper gent would also have a watch chain on the left side of his waistcoat. Now you have to be careful that your tailor doesn’t sell you a chalk stripe rather than a pin stripe. Consult the Gentlemen’s Gazette again, and you’ll see the difference. Of course, navy blue was probably the most popular, and never, never, never with brown shoes!

So let’s complete the image:

City Gent
The Complete Bank Manager

Notice the error in this stock cartoon? Yes, he’s deployed his umbrella instead of waving his permanently furled umbrella to hail a taxi. But it’s not bad, he’s holding what resembles a brief case, has the Bowler hat etc. Gone are the days of the British Bank manager, I’m afraid. I guess it is progress, but he had a special relationship with his customers. He had absolute authority, and could authorize (authorise in British spelling) an overdraft or loan based on trust, not credit scores and collateral. It was to him personally you wrote an apologetic letter for the unintended overdraft. He would bounce your cheques only reluctantly, especially after you had spoken to him! Remember, back in the day, it was a court martial offense to bounce a check because it was considered dishonest!

The Proper way to hail a cab
Don’t we all miss the kind of service like that?

1 comment:

Tony said...

Bank managers like that are long gone unfortunately.