Preservation of the Bank's Assets
by David Parkes
(with recollections by Keith Boden; Tony Green; and Norman Worwood)
In the Bank's early days, in common with other organisations in that era, a careful record was maintained of Fixed Assets to protect them against theft etc. This included Furniture, Fixtures, and Fittings, which had a numbered tag attached to them. This tag corresponded to an entry in a Register maintained by the Head Office Accounts Department. The system was abandoned as the value of such assets became negligible with the passage of time, but would be reinstated in the 1970s for high-value computer equipment.
The due care given to the protection of the Bank's assets particularly applied to cash. Not only was the daily balancing of a cashier's cash holding important so as to verify that all his or her transactions had been recorded correctly, but the exercise also certified the amount of cash-in-hand, in particular of course, that none had gone missing. A large shortage of cash (£1 would have been a large amount in the early history of the bank, £5 up to the 1970s) would have initiated a major exercise to trace the error and attempt to recover it. One or more Branch Inspectors would attend a branch, and then visit those customers where their transaction was thought to be the likely source of the error. If the cash shortage had occurred during the Bank's late night opening, the efforts to make recovery might last until about 10pm. While these recovery attempts were being made, all the staff of the branch would probably be required to stay at the branch. A cashier who regularly had differences was therefore not a popular colleague.
The importance, and early attention to detail regarding the protection and utilisation of assets obviously also applied to minor items such as light bulbs. Keith Boden recalls that when he was at Handsworth branch in the early 1970s, he was required to replace a failed light bulb in the vestibule of the branch's side door entrance. He had great difficulty in removing the bulb, which had become almost welded into the holder. On eventually managing to twist it out, Keith found a date had been hand-written on the metal part of the light bulb - the date was in the 1940s!
But Handsworth branch was not so careful with some other items. Keith also recalls that when the branch's alarm system was being installed (also in the early 1970s); the kick-boards at the foot of the counter were removed to lay the wiring for the foot-operated alarm switches. Behind the kick-boards were loads of old deposit and withdrawal slips; King George VI Playing Field Appeal donation slips; old coins; old keys; other bits and pieces; and an Acme police whistle. Up until security screens were installed on branch counters, the Acme police whistle was the cashiers' main form of defence against bank raiders, and each till's desk had such a whistle hanging from a small hook.
But it was not only the Bank's staff that could be conscientious about protecting assets. Keith Boden recalls that when he was at Selly Oak branch an elderly gentleman returned a book-style Home Safe that had not been used, and was no longer required. The customer had carefully kept the Home Safe in its original box. Inside the box was another hand-written date (November 22nd 1953), which Keith assumed was the date of the Home Safe's issue.
Selly Oak branch was also the location for another 'Memory' related to the protection of assets - but in this case, the assets did not belong to the Bank. Tony Green recalls that Horace Williams was the Manager at a time when the branch's stock of National Savings Certificates had to be returned to Head Office when a particular issue had been withdrawn. The Certificates were placed in a small case and the branch junior was instructed to take them into Head Office. The junior duly arrived at Head Office, only to find that on opening the case, he had brought the wrong one. The case's contents indicated that he had picked up the Manager's personal case, as it contained the ingredients for cooking his lunch on the branch's stove! Phoning the branch for instructions, Horace Williams told the junior in no uncertain terms what his opinion was regarding the youth's future with the Bank, and that he was to bring his lunch back forthwith!
In 1977, the Bank's Chairman (Councillor Dennis Martineau) was instrumental in protecting the Bank's major Fixed Asset: its Head Office building in Broad Street. But in this case (as Norman Worwood recalls), the protection involved restoring the building to its former damaged state! 1977 was the year when Head Office's exterior was sand-blasted and cleaned to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and her visit to Birmingham. A number of small holes on the Broad Street frontage had been caused by shrapnel 'strikes' during the wartime bombing of Birmingham, and in their wisdom the firm carrying out the cleaning decided that these should be filled in. On noticing this desecration of the Bank's wartime battle scars, the Chairman immediately ordered that they be restored to their former glory. The constructors thought it was barmy, but they duly chiselled out their unauthorised repairs, leaving a somewhat polished version of the erstwhile jagged holes. History was not to be changed on a whim!
Another major Fixed Asset was in danger of being destroyed when I was the junior at Kingstanding branch. One of the junior's first tasks of the day was to put the kettle on (or "The Rattler" as the Manager - Mr W A Camwell - called it). Few branches had electric kettles in the 1960s; heating the water was accomplished by placing the kettle on the gas stove. I duly lit the gas, and then discarded the match in the mess room's waste paper basket, then left the room. The predictable outcome then occurred, and only the quick actions of John Smith in extinguishing the fire prevented the possibility of Kingstanding being burned to the ground. Actually, Kingstanding branch was much too small for its level of business, so its destruction by fire could have been an advantage, as it could then have been replaced by a larger office!
My bad luck with kettles continued at my next branch: Duddeston. This was in the summer of 1964, and Duddeston had recently been relocated into a new, modern, shop unit. Not only did the branch have carpets, but it also had an electric kettle. On an occasion when just the Manager (John Ager) and I were staffing the branch, I put the kettle on in the mess room, and returned to the Banking Hall to continue listening to the Test Match (England were playing Australia that year) on John's radio. It was some time later when he entered the mess room to find it full of steam, but not too late to save the branch's most valuable asset: the electric kettle. John Ager was not too impressed; shortly afterwards, I was moved to Small Heath branch.
The Manager at Small Heath was Geoff Edwards. During one winter in the late 1960s, Geoff took a day's holiday leave that coincided with a particularly cold spell of weather. Although I had not then been appointed as a Relief Branch Manager, I was left in charge during the Manager's short absence, which also coincided with the demise of the central heating system's gas boiler. Small Heath was one of the Bank's largest offices, having a huge Banking Hall that we attempted (completely unsuccessfully) to heat with a single electric convector heater. On the day prior to Geoff's day off the Gas Board engineer had still not attended the branch to fix the boiler. The staff left the branch at the end of the day, knowing that we would return to a freezing cold office the next morning. After everyone else had departed for their warm homes, I let myself back into the branch and plugged-in the convector heater in the hope of generating a little warmth for the staff next day. Needless to say, the branch was still freezing the next morning, but it had survived the fire risk. Shortly afterwards, I was moved to Head Office branch.