Kingstanding Branch, and a charismatic manager
by David Parkes
Kingstanding branch in the early 1960s was the Bank's busiest office - at least, according to the Manager, William Arthur Camwell (known as 'Cam') anyway - although Acocks Green and Erdington had similar levels of transactions. 'Cam' would usually telephone Head Office soon after the last customer had departed on a Saturday morning to inform Norman Ling of the number of transactions dealt with, and give him the names of any cashiers who had succeeded in dealing with more than 100 customers in two chaotic hours. As he spoke to Norman Ling, with a mug of tea to hand (poured "fresh off the leaves" as he required), the staff would be attempting to balance their cash books as quickly as possible, so that their weekend could begin.
I was sent to Kingstanding as a junior clerk in 1962. The other staff members working for 'Cam' at this time were 'Spotty' John Smith (Relief Branch Manager); Edna Devereux (later Ireson) and Kath Clews (later Vernon) - Senior Cashiers; and Chris Bolton (Junior Cashier). Thus, Kingstanding was a '6-Branch' ie, staffed by six officers. My spell at Kingstanding continued until 1964, and the staff at Kingstanding changed very little during this three-year period. Ray Lovell was the Relief Branch Manager for a while, and Nellie McDonald and David Bickley were cashiers. It was at Kingstanding that I was 'promoted' to the position of cashier - though I don't remember any increase in salary. There was practically no training for this move; it was mostly a case of learning by observation. Shortly after this, the Bank did start cashier training courses at Newtown Row branch - utilising the days when this part-time branch was closed. I went on the second of these to be held; the tutors were Bernard Hayward and Ken Robottom.
Promotions seemed to follow the Manager completing some form of report sent out by Head Office. These simple reports were a far cry from the complex system of appraisals that were to be introduced much later in my career with the Bank. The report had about six simple questions, which covered subjects such as punctuality, handwriting, appearance, numeracy, suitability for promotion, etc. During each of the 2-hour Saturday morning and late night opening periods, it was normal for all four cashiers to have permanent queues. Often, in those days when cash was the almost universal method of settling transactions, these queues would extend outside the door, and customers would continue to come into the branch after closing time unless the door was manned by a member of staff. Cam would frequently 'help' a cashier by picking out any customer who was waiting in the queue to make a deposit. Cam would count the cash being deposited, enter the transaction in the customer's passbook, and place the cash plus deposit slip on the cashier's flap (the bottom-hinged door that gave access to a space below the counter). Frequently, there would be a line of such deposits, some of them consisting of a precarious pile of coins, where a Home Safe was the source of the deposit.
Living at Pheasey Estate, Great Barr, I sometimes walked to work, but often cycled - leaving my bike during the day in the 'office', the screened off area providing a small degree of privacy for customers opening new accounts etc, at one end of the counter. Later, as a proud owner of an Austin A35 van, I was able to commute by 'car' - parking in the dead end of an unfinished dual carriageway from Kingstanding to Perry Barr, on the opposite side of Kingstanding Road to the branch. Few staff had cars in those days (or, if they did, considered it too extravagant to use it to get to work) but Cam always had a recently purchased Riley 1.5 or Wolsley 1500, which he parked on the branch forecourt. Chris Bolton (who had a powerful motorbike) and I welcomed any opportunity to drive Cam's splendid car. In the days before the BMB became a clearing bank, his car was often utilised to make the considerable journey to deposit cheques and draw cash from Barclays Bank in Perry Barr. On one occasion, cash needed to be drawn from Barclays, and for security reasons the journey to Perry Barr required two officers to go and collect it. Chris and I were despatched to Perry Barr in Cam's Riley. Unfortunately, we had a collision with another car; fortunately, it was Chris who was driving - although the accident was not his fault. It was with some trepidation that we returned to the branch to report to Cam. As we entered, Cam and John Smith were bent over the latter's cash book with very serious expressions - they were investigating a major cash difference. At the sight of their demeanour, we both dissolved into giggles - but luckily this went unobserved. Chris recovered sufficiently to give Cam the bad news. He was unperturbed, merely remarking (because he knew all the motor vehicle registration marks by heart) that the other car was registered in Middlesex!
Cam was a transport enthusiast, an acknowledged national authority on trams and railways, and was the Midland Secretary of the Stephenson Locomotive Society. The latter position involved him in organising trips for fellow enthusiasts, and when a trip was imminent the branch's phone rang repeatedly with callers wanting to make a booking. As the branch junior, who was expected to answer the phone (with a polite "Good Morning, Municipal Bank, Kingstanding" in contrast to Cam's abrupt "Kingstanding" to indicate that we were too busy for any niceties), all these calls were a bind when there was a huge volume of transactions to be posted. But the big advantage of Cam's transport pursuits was that we inevitably finished work at 3:30pm Monday to Thursday. Cam would often be driving to some distant part of the country to give a presentation to fellow enthusiasts, or to witness some transport event. This meant that whatever the state of the work, cash differences excepted, the staff would depart the Bank's busiest branch within half-an-hour of the doors closing. And, fortunately, we seemed to have very few cash differences.
After his daily drive from Handsworth Wood, Cam invariably arrived at the branch each morning - clutching a wad of mail - between 9am and 9:05am, a time slot that justified the entry of 9am against his signature on the Time Sheet. All the other staff, who had usually arrived some time before 9 o'clock, then entered the same time - which seemed to be some form of protest at having to 'sign-in'. On leaving the branch, Cam invariably slammed the front door, turned the key, and gave the closed doors a minimal check to ensure it was securely fastened. This debonair approach was in stark contrast to the habits of the majority of managers who tested and re-tested the doors' security before departing for home. It was rumoured that one individual manager actually took a short run across the pavement outside the branch to throw his weight against the doors in what must have been the ultimate security test to alleviate a feeling of insecurity.
Cam's other interests included music - he had at one time played the saxophone in a dance band - and cricket, he acted as scorer for the Bank's team. He was also an enthusiastic and talented photographer - both still photographs and cine film. Many of his still photographs, particularly of steam trains and the Birmingham tram system were used to illustrate books; Cam was also a prolific author on the same subjects. Cam's unique contribution in recording the history of transport was recognised by a Class 47 locomotive (number 47222) being temporarily named after him. Cam unveiled the nameplate himself, on his 85th birthday: October 19th 1991. Cam's attire for work was consistently traditional bank manager: black jacket and pin-stripe trousers; the trousers were always too short, and the laces of his polished black shoes were always untied. He wore a ring that was presented to him by the Royal Indian Air Force as an acknowledgement of his service in the sub-Continent. Even in wartime India, Squadron Leader Camwell's transport expertise was put to full use when he provided advice to the railway authorities.
A bachelor, he utilised the branch's cleaner to do his grocery shopping at the nearby Kingstanding Circle. The cleaner's only efforts, for which she was actually employed, were to flood the customer's side of the counter by wielding her mop and bucket. Consequently, the appearance and cleanliness of the branch suffered considerably, which added somewhat to the drab appearance of the office, which had not been decorated for many years.
Unlike Acocks Green and Erdington, Kingstanding at this time was a 'Hand Branch', still using ledgers whose transactions were posted by pen and ink. Actually, it was in this period that the Bank made the decision to allow the use of ball point pens - a fairly new invention that was still unreliable and frequently messy. But 'Cam' continued to use pen and ink, even when 'extracting' the repayment transactions posted to the ledger. This task involved him working along the ledger desks with an open pot of ink, a steel-nibbed pen, and a square of green blotting paper which was rolled up to use as a guide if a straight line needed to be drawn. Cam's unique style was also evident when he used the branch's battered old typewriter: an extremely fast two-fingered hammering of the keys producing some terribly uneven levels of typescript.
Kingstanding remained a 'Hand Branch' long after the level of transactions justified a machine posting system, because of the physical restraints of the office - the branch was just too small to accommodate the machines. The consequence of a large number of accounts and a small branch was that the number of ledger desks was insufficient to enable the ledgers to be laid out neatly side-by-side, so that the cashiers could easily access them. To refer to an individual account, one or two ledgers needed to be moved because they were piled on top of each other. Kingstanding eventually became a 'Machine Branch'. An extension was built along the side of the branch to create a machine room - but not without incident: the scaffolding collapsed during the construction work, and a bricklayer suffered a broken leg. Amazingly, the plight of the injured workman was the source of great amusement to his co-workers. But, subsequent to the extension being completed, the branch was at last redecorated.
I seem to recall that Kingstanding's elevation to Machine Branch status occurred at the same time that Aston branch was transferred in the opposite direction: from 'Machine' to 'Hand'. So, possibly, Aston's machines were moved to Kingstanding. Like other inner city branches, Aston's initial high level of business had declined as Birmingham's population moved towards the outer suburbs. I was required to assist with the ledger system transition at Aston branch, which involved me travelling by bus from Kingstanding after the close of business one afternoon. Unfortunately, I got confused between the locations of Aston and the nearby Aston Cross branch, resulting in me arriving rather late and getting some black looks from the large number of other seconded staff who had arrived on time.
The introduction of machines did not result in major economies - the branch's staffing numbers were increased by one, as two juniors were employed as machine operators. These were Margaret Riley and Val Halfacre - known to Cam (who had a nickname for everyone) as 'Chick R' and 'Chick H'; the machine room he dubbed as 'The Chickery'.
Working at Kingstanding with such a charismatic manager as Mr Camwell was an exceptionally rewarding and educational experience for a young man, not long out of Grammar School. The branch's customers were also the source of many lessons learnt. One of these latter lessons related to the general lack of assets that had been accumulated in the early 1960s by a typical resident of the vast Kingstanding council estate. It was not unusual for a recently-widowed lady in her 50s to attend at the branch to seek assistance in dealing with her late husband's estate - the comparatively young husband having been a semi-skilled or skilled manual worker who had succumbed to some industrial disease or to lung cancer. Often, the deceased's estate consisted only of a small balance with the Bank and some small life insurance policies. Some years later (probably about 1978), I was required to vote on the possibility of the TSB Trust Company selling insurance related products to the Bank's customers. After a particularly disastrous presentation by the Trust Company to the Bank's Management Committee and senior officers in the Head Office boardroom, I was the only Bank representative to vote in favour of allowing the Trust Company sales representatives access to the branch network, having remembered the lesson of the need for the Bank's customers to accumulate provisions against future needs.
Some years later, TSB Trust Company was allowed in.