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Memories
070
 

Recollections of my Career (1962 - 1990)

 

by John Winterbottom

I joined the Birmingham Municipal Bank as a Junior Clerk  in 1962 at the age of 16, at an annual salary of £276, and after a week's induction course, was initially sent to work at Sutton Coldfield branch, which was then managed by Charles Harper with Ted Stewart as his First Cashier. David Briden was another of the cashiers. I was required to go on day release to continue study for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) as I only had GCE English at the time, but then got GCE Geography and RSA Arithmetic which then took me off the unqualified pay scale. I think there were about four of us that all went on the same day release courses at Matthew Boulton College and its annexe on Broad Street behind the old Bingley Hall, where Brindley Place now is. We had one day a week - usually Wednesdays - and then one evening class. The week’s induction course was held in a room on the top floor at Head Office known as the ‘School Room’. There were six or eight of us on the course, including Mike Bennett and Mike Tarver. The course included instruction on the method of calculating interest when manually posting deposits and withdrawals to customers’ accounts. The method involved the use of monthly cards that showed the amount of interest for various values of deposits and withdrawals for the number of months remaining in the financial year, and I think that all of us on the course found the concept complex until it clicked as to how it worked.

 

My initial interview for the Bank was with J W Raftery, Deputy General Manager.  I know he was not impressed with my maths skills at the time, but he did offer me a job on condition that I continued to obtain more GCEs by day release. The General Manager in 1962 was H J Sutherland.

 

As a Junior Clerk I worked at a few different branches plus Head Office including spells at Nechells (Manager: Stan Stringer); Head Office Departments Safe Deposit and Mortgages (Superintendent: Stanley Guy); Witton (Manager: Eric Whitehead); Kingstanding (Manager: W A Camwell); and Erdington. Working in these various locations, which included small branches with manual posting systems and two of the Bank's busiest branches (Erdington and Kingstanding),  with machine posting systems, provided valuable experience of the Bank’s methods. It also introduced me to some of the memorable characters that worked for the Bank at that time; these included the somewhat eccentric Eric Hannan who was the Safe Deposit Custodian. I have the one abiding memory of Eric Hannan in Safe Deposit -  he sat at the counter with a cigarette lighter burning the frayed edges of his suit cuffs off! However, I got on with him very well, and also with Mrs Squires, his assistant at the time. Eric Hannan was a buddy of the Kingstanding Manager, W A Camwell (known to all as 'Cam') as they were both keen transport enthusiasts. As a junior clerk at Kingstanding I was required to answer the telephone - on many occasions the caller would be a transport enthusiast requiring to talk to 'Cam'. I was at Kingstanding in 1965, on the day of Winston Churchill's funeral, when 'Cam' had a radio loudly playing the funeral service in the Bank for all the staff and customers to hear! Other staff at Kingstanding at that time were Ray Lovell First Cashier (later replaced by Ted Stewart); Mrs ('Smack') MacDonald; Diane Johnson; Donald Coton; Val Halfacre; and Margaret Riley.

 

As a young clerk with no experience of working elsewhere, I was intrigued and astonished at the many real characters that were employed by the Bank. A few were scary characters to a young man, but the majority were helpful, encouraging, and enjoyable to work with. In addition to those I have already mentioned, I recall the names of Frank Jones and Ken Robottom (both Branch Inspectors); the Head Office telephone switchboard operators (Mrs Bracegirdle - a formidable character - and the charming Daphne Sutton), Joe Powell (in charge of the Head Office Stationery Department), and a Mr Royce who was a doorman/porter at Head Office - he always had time to ask how I was getting on. The ladies of the Head Office canteen staff were always very friendly towards the Bank's youngsters, and the cook used to see that I got my favourite lunch when I came into Head Office on the Wednesdays that I attended the nearby Matthew Boulton College.

 

In the early 1960s, I think that the Bank had four Branch Inspectors, and that Frank Jones and Ken Robottom covered the branches on the north side of the city. Both of these were characters in their own different ways, although both of them were notable for being short of stature. Ken Robottom had a gruff manner of speaking but was always nattily dressed including a bow tie. He drove to branches in a brand new Morris Minor with a personal registration – WKR1, his full name being Walter Kennard Robottom. Frank Jones was also renowned for his car, but for a completely different reason, and was better known to me as he was the Inspector for Kingstanding and Witton branches. He was a kindly guy, bald head, a real gentleman, but even with glasses he had poor eyesight; he was always approachable and easy to talk to. On one occasion, after close of business at Witton branch, he asked me if I wanted a lift part way home.  I gladly accepted his kind offer, and when we got to his car, I was somewhat taken aback to see it was an enormous stately old Armstrong Siddley, with a huge long front bonnet, leather seats and walnut interior fittings.  When he sat in the driver’s seat, as he was so short, he could hardly see over the dashboard, and had to peer through the steering wheel, which was level with his face!  To make matters worse, he lent his back against the driver’s door, so that he could look at me and continue chatting while driving! The journey was a bit disconcerting to say the least!  Sometime later, maybe that same week, he offered me a lift again, but this time it was a very foggy afternoon - in those days when fog could be really bad.  We got to Erdington on the Outer Circle  route OK, but once on the Birmingham Road and into the Wylde Green area of Sutton - after crossing the Chester Road, the fog got a lot worse, and visibility must have been down to 10 feet at best.  There seemed to be little traffic and no buses, but Mr Jones asked me to walk in front of his car to guide him the rest of the way! So I walked in the middle of the road for about 20 minutes, with him following behind at slow speed! Several road junctions were tricky as cars were trying to join the Birmingham Road.   When we got into Sutton, he then turned off to wherever he lived, and I had to walk the rest of the way back home, about two miles as there were no buses running at all.  I think I only met him in a branch again once, as I assume he retired before I was promoted to cashier. I remember him with kindly thoughts.

 

One of the most embarrassing memories I had was when I was junior clerk at Erdington branch. The Manager used to sit at one of the sloping ledger desks which were positioned behind the enquiry counter.  A middle aged gentleman appeared at the counter with a passbook, and one of the cashiers asked me to see what he wanted.  So I walked to the enquiry counter (where the Manager  sat behind me facing the customer) and asked the gentleman how  I could help. He said to me that he needed to speak to the Manager, so I turned around and said  "Mr A, this gentleman would like to see you", to which he replied in a loud voice: "Well ask him what the f**k he wants!!!"  I was horrified and must have gone fifty shades of red, I turned back to the customer - who had a stunned expression on his face - and asked what was the nature of the enquiry.  I don't recall what he said, but I turned back to Mr A and repeated what the customer had said,  to which he replied with a very audible groan  "Oh I suppose I had better see him then"  - I made a hasty exit!!

The other amusing thing that went on at Erdington in the same period, was that the Manager (in common with many Managers of his age who had joined the Bank in the 1920s) always brought some vegetables to boil which his wife gave him daily for lunch, with something to heat in the little electric ovens the branches had.  There would be a couple of large potatoes and carrots and usually an orange.  Alan Woodbridge was at the branch at that time and he was a real joker. He and I became dead shots with an elastic band  - used as a catapult - the ammunition being an unfolded paper clip. He and I would be on the middle lunch break with the Manager to follow us, alone on last break, and he would expect us to start cooking his vegetables, so they were ready by the time he went on his lunch break. During our lunch break,  Alan would get the potatoes out and throw them in the air as target practice (like clay pigeon shooting!!) and we would take it in turns to fire at them, usually with success.  We very often also did this with the orange. The Manager would often comment later on the strange markings on the orange, and why the potatoes had strange shapes after being cooked - as it was possible to shoot almost right through a potato!  Though he never knew the reason!


At that time the cash drawers had one side with partitions for the various denominations of notes, and then a section with four wooden (later plastic insert) bowls for the coins.  One lunchtime one of the younger female cashiers left her keys in the drawer lock when she went to lunch (which was a major sin!) so while she was at lunch, we opened the drawer and filled each bowl with water and then carefully shut the drawer. When she came out and opened the drawer she went ballistic and was very angry - so with blushing face I confessed, but she never made that mistake again!  I did clean the coins and bowls for her afterwards of course!

 

I think I worked at Erdington branch for about 8 months. In addition to Alan Woodbridge, I remember that the cashiers included  Ray Gregory, whose brother, Stan Gregory was also on the staff, but Ray left the Bank in the 1960s to become a teacher. Later, I worked with Ray's daughter at Perry Beeches branch. In due course a new Manager was appointed at Erdington: Ralph Rowe.


The one thing I remember about Erdington Branch, that I never saw at any other branch was the clock.  There was a clock on top of the branch building, which was controlled by another clock located in the branch.  This clock was on the staff side of the Banking Hall and was in a large tall wooden cabinet about 3-foot tall, operated by a pendulum (like a small Grandfather clock) which was controlled electrically by some form of electromagnet.  If I remember rightly there was some sort of lever that could change the minutes of the clock forward (but not back) and when it came to changing the clock by an hour in March and October, you had to either stop the clock for an hour, or operate the minute advance 60 times. At some time, the synchronisation of the clock on the roof went wrong, and it was impossible to repair or change it (or not cost justified) and the roof top clock stopped working.

 

I was at Erdington branch when the Manager gave me the exciting (and with some apprehension on my part!) news that I was to attend a Cashiers' Course, which involved playing customers and cashiers at Newtown Row Branch, where Mr Thompson and another Branch Inspector gave us good and kindly training.  Newtown Row branch didn't open every day then, so we were able to use the branch premises, cash, dummy cash books, passbooks etc. After the Cashiers' Course, I spent some time at Short Heath branch before having two spells working as a relief cashier interrupted by a period at Witton where the Managers were successively Stan Gregory, Norman Worwood, and Ray Lovell. A fellow cashier at Witton was Terry Hinz - some years later (in the Autumn 1971 edition of the Bank’s staff magazine), Terry and I began a series of joint articles on the subject of music, principally our opinions on recently issued records. Terry covered progressive popular music and jazz, whilst I wrote about classical recordings. At this time, Terry was a key member of the Bank's successful football team, taking part in the two winning finals of the North West TSB Cup Competition, and the branch manager (Ray Lovell) was the team's manager. Although I was not interested in football, but a keen photographer, I was invited to be the 'official' photographer at the 1973 Final - some of my photographs subsequently appearing in the staff magazine.

 

I well remember that the Manager of Short Heath Branch in the 1970s (Len Evans), where I went for my first few weeks as cashier (and again regularly on relief), was more interested in keeping his books and reports for the Masons than ever doing any bank work - and this caused me a lot of embarrassment with him ignoring customer queues at lunchtime when he was supposed to be on the counter too!   Later, when I was a Relief Branch Manager and I was sent to Short Heath Branch, John Gregg was the Manager, and I was told by the Area Manager (Ralph Rowe)  to be sure to balance all the ledgers because Mr Gregg could not be relied upon to do so

 

I still have some of the letters that I received at various stages of my career, showing the grades and amounts of annual salary that applied at the relevant dates:

 

June 1966  (General  Division Clerical Grade 1)    £745

November 1967  (Clerical Grade Administrative/Professional 1)   £880

January  1970  (AP3)   £1,115

November 1970  ( AP3)   £1,362

November 1971   (Relief Branch Manager:  AP3)    £1,653

 

This was the year that I completed the examinations of the Savings Banks Institute, having won the  Sir Thomas Jaffrey Subject Prize for highest marks in the Savings Bank Law and Practice examination the previous year. As a reward for obtaining the prize, I attended a Savings Bank Institute Annual General meeting in Chester with other BMB prize winners (Miss M S Phipps and Tony Byrne) plus a Branch Inspector (Horace Corles) .The actual meetings and dinners were held in the Grosvenor Hotel Chester, though we stayed in a cheaper Hotel for 2 or 3 nights nearby.  Train fare and hotel was paid for by the Bank. I also remember attending a Savings' Banks Vocational School at Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury, the other BMB attendee being Andrew Nicol.


November 1974  (First Assistant: Group Branch (Yardley)  AP4)   £2,694

 

The Manager at Yardley was Norman Wilcox, who was in charge of both the branch and Group Number 3 - eight branches on the east side of the city. It was while I was there that the branch was converted from being a 'machine' branch to being computerised with the Olivetti counter terminals. What fun that was!

 

The system of Group branches was a recent innovation so Norman Wilcox had only been recently appointed as a Group Branch Manager, and as his First Assistant I was required to deputise for him in his absence. As far as I can recall, his main responsibility was ensuring the staffing at branches in the group was adequate, making arrangements to cover for sickness and holidays, and managing the holiday rotas.  There was a metal board on the wall of his office about 3ft square, with vertical rows of horizontal slots that took cards. One card was headed with the branch name, then below, the names of staff and their position.  So the manager's name was followed by those of the first cashier and downwards. The staff name cards were then moved about on the board, so you always knew where staff were. There was also a slot for those off sick or on holiday. It was Norman's job to arrange cover for sickness and holidays by arranging cover staff from other branches in the group (or rarely from another nearest group).  I do not recall any other particular duties as he still oversaw the branch's day to day running, and it was before the day of dreaded Area meetings with Area Managers, who had no branch at all.


I do not recall that the Group Manager had any other specific responsibilities apart from staff organisation.  He did occasionally see customers and do interviews, but mostly that was my job at the enquiry counter.   It was not often a customer was allowed into his office! When Norman was away, it was down to me to do the group branch staffing in his place.  Not always a pleasant task phoning the manager of another branch to tell them to send a cashier on relief to another branch, this often met with objections and dismay! There was always some friction too when granting holiday leave when it left a branch and the area short of staff. 


I remember arriving at Yardley branch early one morning alone, letting myself in about 8:15am, going into the Manager's office sitting down and opening the post. Suddenly a few minutes later there was a very loud banging at the front doors. I rushed to the door, looked through the spy hole only to see four police officers! I opened the door and was immediately swept into the banking hall, lifted off my feet by two large laughing policemen - I had forgotten to unset the alarm!  Fortunately they realised my mistake (from my shocked and white face!) and thought it very funny. After they left, I sat in the office shaking till the remaining staff arrived!


November 1975  (Relief Branch Manager:  AP5 - mostly worked at Stechford branch)     £3,213

April 1976    Branch Manager (Perry Beeches)  £4,074    (Birmingham Municipal TSB)

April 1978    Branch Manager Grade 2  £6,666 - I was then still at Perry Beeches. The Bank then became part of TSB of Birmingham & The Midlands in 1979, and after Perry Beeches closed and the business transferred (and amalgamated with Perry Common branch) to new premises at Hawthorne Road, I was transferred to Caldmore Branch in Walsall. My staff at Perry Beeches included David Beards, Frances Pritchett, Tony Richens, Elaine Gregory, and Peter Brown.


During my time with the BMB (1962 to 1979), I must have worked at almost every branch, mainly thanks to my spells as a relief cashier. The only branch I can recall that I never worked at in Birmingham was Longbridge.

 

I was the Manager at Caldmore branch when the character of the Bank began to change - in many ways, not for the better. The pursuit of profit became the Bank's prime motive around the time of the Stock Market flotation in 1986, and this was pursued in a very aggressive manner by the senior staff on the sales side of the business. Some of the Bank's Area Managers were little more than bullies and the situation got worse when Alan Harris was appointed as General Manager for the Birmingham Region. Worst of all was when Area Managers made Branch Managers go through printed lists of the branch current account customers just before the charging period, so as to add random charges to anyone who we felt deserved it!!

 

I well recall going to a Manager's Meeting for the Area that included  Aldridge, Walsall, and North Birmingham branches, in which Alan Harris shouted and rampaged like a maniac until, banging his fist on the table (as he sat next to the Area Manager) he smashed his pen to pieces. 

 

One particular source of friction between Area Managers and Branch Managers was the sale of Payment Protection Insurance (the infamous PPI so often in the news in recent years). Area Managers required Branch Managers to sell PPI as an extra 'benefit' on at least 90% of Personal Loans granted, even though Branch Managers knew that PPI was not appropriate in many cases. All the Banks have paid for this misguided policy (literally paid £billions) over the last few years.

 

I left Caldmore branch in 1988 and worked at Aston Newtown branch with Dick Naylor until October 1990 when I took advantage of the Bank's redundancy scheme. I then worked very enjoyably at a local hospital before taking early retirement in 2008.

 

I hope that my recollections of my working career paint a small picture of my experiences of what it was like working at the BMB and later at TSB.  I loved being a cashier on the counter, and I enjoyed helping customers and conducting interviews etc - it gave me such pleasure to be able to help people, answer enquiries, and sort out problems - and knowing that they would go away feeling they had received a good service.

 

 

August 2015

 

 
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