My Career with the Bank
by Gilbert Sherborne
I joined the Birmingham Municipal Bank in 1949, just after my sixteenth birthday. My initial interview was conducted by the Bank's Assistant General Manager, Fred Parsonage. He tested my arithmetic ability by getting me to add up a list of figures (Pounds, Shillings, and Pence, in those days) produced by an adding-machine from which he had removed the total. On giving him my answer, he insisted that I recheck my arithmetic, which I did - getting the same answer. It was the right answer, but he stated that the Bank insisted that all figures had to be checked twice!
On my first day of work, I reported to the same Mr Parsonage at his office on the first floor of the Bank's Head Office in Broad Street. Together with John Lafford, also starting his Bank career that day, we sat on a bench in the palatial corridor outside his office door until summoned within. Mr Parsonage then told me I was to report to Horse Fair branch. I had no idea where this branch was located, but the Head Office Commissionaire, Patrick McQuaid, gave me directions to Horse Fair, which was within walking distance.
The Manager of Horse Fair branch was Frank Hearne, and John Ager was the cashier. I was told that it was my job to answer the telephone, although I had no experience of phones as few were installed domestically just after the Second World War. John tormented me by pressing the alarm button under the counter to simulate the sound of an incoming call, and then telling me I was too slow when no-one replied to my greeting. That evening, I went to the Doctor's who sent me home to bed as my leg was swollen from a horsefly bite - I had two days off work.
During the next two years I went on relief as a Junior Clerk to a number of branches and various Head Office Departments, including the Banking Hall, the Stationery Department, and Safe Deposit where I opened the grille doors that controlled access to renters to this basement strongroom area where Miss Percy and Mr Martin opened the individual safes. I also worked in the Head Office House Purchase Department where, as a 16-year-old, I knew nothing about mortgages. It was my job to respond to the bell rung by depositors who had called at the Department to apply for a mortgage, and ask them some basic questions. The first prospective mortgagor I saw was my uncle who refused to give me any other details except the address of the property he wanted to buy. Arthur Taylor was in charge of the House Purchase Department and the staff included Stanley Guy (who later took charge of the Department, and in 1964 became the Bank's General Manager) and Ernie Williams; they gradually enlightened me with all I needed to know about mortgages in the three months or so that I worked with them. I then had another spell in Head Office's Banking Hall with periods in Clearing Department, where Mr Woodcock was in charge and the staff included Miss Powell who produced a large amount of cigarette smoke.
From September 1951 to September 1953 I was away from the Bank as I did my National Service in the Army - first at Aldershot and then twenty months in Egypt. Returning to the Bank, I was again on branch relief work until, in July 1954, I was sent permanently to Newtown Row branch where the Manager was Ken Whittaker. Newtown Row was only open three days a week (Monday to Wednesday) so I was still on relief from Thursday to Saturday. Thursday's were usually spent at Aston Cross branch where J C W Brown was the Manager, my job was to relieve Tommy Mallett who went to Pheasey sub-branch which was only open for limited hours on Mondays and Thursdays.
During my time working on relief (1949 to 1957), I encountered many varied and different colleagues - some pleasant, a few very unpleasant, and some weird. On one occasion at Sparkhill branch, another junior clerk asked the Manager (Jim Holmes) for permission to leave the branch to purchase some cakes. Mr Holmes agreed, but was surprised to see the junior leave with his bike. Half-an-hour later the junior reappeared and Mr Holmes asked him where he had been - the reply was that "I only get my cakes from near Heybarnes". You can imagine Jim Holmes' reply: "You've had your lunch break, so you'll have to eat the cakes when you go home". On another occasion I was sent to Ladywood branch where there was a Manageress in charge. She never spoke to me, just communicating via a female cashier. I gathered that she didn't like men, but it was amazing that this applied to young boys.
When I came out of the Army I arranged to get married, just a month before my twenty-first birthday. This didn't find favour with the General Manager and I was called into Head Office for an interview with him. At the same time, in Head Office Banking Hall, a number of older spinsters suggested that I was too young to get married. I was annoyed by this and informed them that the Army had given me a rifle and sent me to Egypt when they were expecting trouble and had considered me old enough to fight if necessary. Eventually, I lost patience and said that "if I'm too young, then they must consider themselves too old". This brought me to the attention of the Banking Hall Superintendent (Mr Raftery) who tried to keep me on relief at branches.
I continued on branch relief work until, in 1957, I was sent to Stirchley branch, where I stayed for three years. Then it was back to Head Office Banking Hall with occasional relief work, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week or a fortnight. I then went to Weoley Castle branch where Frank Hood was the Manager. At this time I felt that I needed a change of career and applied for an interview with Lombard North Central. Although I had not told Frank Hood of my plans, but just asked him if I could leave the branch at 3:15pm, he was obviously aware that I needed something different. That afternoon, I was called into Head Office to see Mr Guy who offered me the position of Relief Branch Manager.
I did four years as a Relief Branch Manager, taking charge at many branches when the permanent manager was absent on holiday or sick leave. On one occasion in 1968, I was informed that Rubery branch was relocating from the existing position in temporary premises. Together with Barry Coleman, I was required to arrange the transfer of all documents etc and organise the official opening by the Bank's Chairman (Councillor Denis Martineau), his wife, local Councillors, the Bank's senior staff, and the earliest Rubery depositor. We had to provide sherry and snacks for these official guests in the branch after the opening ceremony, plus we had to arrange some floral decorations. As Barry and I had no idea about the flowers, I arranged for my wife, Beryl, to buy the flowers and decorate the branch.
In 1969 I was promoted to the position of Branch Manager and appointed to my first branch at Aston Newtown. This branch was located in a modern office within a small shopping centre. The branch had only been opened the previous year when the business of Wheeler Street branch was transferred after its closing due to a slum clearance scheme. The staff included Tony Babbington as a cashier and an older woman who was employed as a junior clerk; she had joined the Bank from another Corporation Department and the previous Manager (Bill Porritt) warned me that she was not reliable. On my first day there, this woman asked me if I had milk and sugar in my tea and coffee - I informed her of my preferences, but she still asked me the same question every day afterwards. One Thursday, prior to Easter, Tony was going on a fishing break, and I was going to Portmadoc - in accordance with standard practice we had made arrangements to hand over our keys to another keyholder. Tony locked the strongroom and took his keys to Aston Cross branch to leave them with a member of staff there. As I was waiting for Dan Crowley to come from Aston branch to take my keys, this lady asked "why the fridge was closed?" - she was talking about the strongroom where she had put all her weekend shopping. I phoned Aston Cross, only to be informed that the girl who had Tony's keys had gone shopping in Birmingham city centre. Nothing could be done until Tuesday morning, when most of her purchased food was found to be inedible!
A few months later, this same lady asked me if she could go to see her solicitor in Birmingham. I pointed out that her lunch time was only half-an-hour, but I was prepared to stretch this time a bit. She left the branch at 12pm and at 2pm I notified Head Office that she had not returned as I had visions of her in hospital somewhere. At 2:45pm she walked into the branch and explained that her solicitor had been in court. Fuming, I took her into the backroom and lifted the telephone receiver and asked her if she knew what it was. Subsequently, she was interviewed by Head Office and apparently given certain options - she chose to resign.
My next branch was West Heath. This branch had opened on a part-time basis in 1966, the staff also working another part-time branch at Bartley Green. In 1970, both branches were made full-time offices and I was made Manager at West Heath, taking over from Maurice Eley. Barry Coleman was my cashier, and as the branch was not very busy, being located away from the main shopping area, we had time to perfect our cribbage skills.
In 1971 I was moved to Selly Park branch, and I quite enjoyed my stay there until the Police called at my home to report that someone had notified the station about a suspected explosion in the branch. I immediately drove down to Selly Park between 11pm and 11:30pm. I cautiously entered the branch, checked the boiler and all around. There was no sign of any problem, so I drove towards home along the Pershore Road, and spotted a policeman outside the nearby Stirchley branch. I was able to inform the officer that the Manager of Stirchley was at a dinner dance, probably at Kings Norton Golf Club. 1971 was the year that the currency was decimalised, and the 1970s generally were a time of change and disruption with computerisation of the Bank's accounting system and general unrest with widespread strikes and high inflation.
Next year, I was moved to Springfield where Albert Williams and Joyce Powell were my cashiers. The branch was always busy and had quite a turnover of relief staff. We had the 'Winter of Discontent' and the 'Three Day Week' resulting in commercial users of electricity being restricted to power on three days in a week. We managed on other days with candles on the counter. There was a young man who was adamant that lights in the machine room were forbidden, although there was no natural light in that area - it did not seem obvious to him that the girls operating the posting machines needed to have electric light.
At home one evening, I received a phone call from the Police informing me that a window had been broken and that I must attend at the branch. Being suspicious after previous incidents, I asked the officer where he was phoning from. He calmly replied "I'm sitting at your desk" and then accurately described everything he could see there. I contacted the Bank's engineer, Alf Maggs, and arranged to meet him at the branch. In the meantime, Mr Maggs arranged for someone to come and board up the window. I got home again at 3 o'clock in the morning.
During my time at Springfield, a new member of staff arrived - he was a Kenyan Asian who had worked in Africa at a branch that rarely had more than a dozen customers a day. He was not used to our high level of transactions and soon left the Bank. But during his time at Springfield problems arose when the female members of staff were upset by his method of using the toilet. The Bank's Welfare Officer, Dolly Gardner, came to the branch to sort out the situation.
I next went to Longbridge branch, which was a very handy journey from home. Thankfully, there were no problems at Longdridge with customers, staff, or any other distractions.
In 1974, I went to Cotteridge. In contrast with the short stints in charge at my previous five branches, I was to be at Cotteridge for twelve years. For many years, this was to be the most enjoyable period in my bank career. Barry Coleman was again my assistant, and Heather Precious was my Grade 5. The Bank became the Birmingham Municipal TSB in 1976, and then part of the TSB of Birmingham and the Midlands in 1979. During this period everything went swimmingly with major changes to procedures including the ability to make loans, but only small alterations to managership methods, but things began to change from 1983 when the former BMB became a component of the Birmingham Region of TSB of England & Wales, as part of the transition towards the stock market flotation in 1986.
In this period, much of the Region's senior staff were brought in from wider parts of the TSB structure, and business targets for branches were markedly increased. Veiled threats regarding the achievement of targets made for a less than happy atmosphere. This unpleasant environment was experienced not just at Cotteridge, but at branches generally.
In 1986, I was called to attend at the Area Office at Walsall. I was informed by the Area Manager that I was being transferred to Rotton Park branch, which the 'grapevine' had marked for closure within the next five years. I understood that, over a two day period, 34 out of the 35 Managers in our Area had been similarly told they were being moved. I was not surprised at my move as I had been at Cotteridge for twelve years.
Rotton Park was a branch that had a mixed customer base - probably 70% West Indian, Indian, Pakistanis and other foreign nationalities. Tony Greenwood was the Assistant Manager, and the staff included three West Indians (of which, Leslie and Dawn were excellent) and two English. With one exception, all the staff were very willing workers. A previous Assistant Manager at the branch had been exceptionally generous with the Personal Loans he had granted, in order to meet or exceed lending targets. Many of these loans were poor decisions and I had to spend considerable time and effort in trying to recover them.
One day, we had a holdup raid a few minutes before closing time. Two girl cashiers had notes, suggesting that the raiders had guns, pushed over the counter by two coloured men. I was not in the open banking area but heard shouting including "not the f*****g coins, the notes". When I reached the counter, two of the staff were on the floor and the two raiders were running out. I went to follow them out, to see how they would get away, but Tony Greenwood had locked the office door in case they actually had guns. When the Police and our own Inspection staff arrived to check everything we could only watch. A few weeks later, a detective came into my office and put a coloured headpiece on my desk. He asked if I had seen it before, and would I call the staff in one by one without giving the reason. Only Dawn said that was what one of the raiders was wearing. Apparently, the robbers had been caught in another raid and Dawn's recognition confirmed the Police's suspicions that they had caught our thieves.
Early in 1988, I was called into Regional Office and informed that Rotton Park branch was to be closed in May. At this time the Bank was conducting an exercise called the Network Redesign Project - a euphemism for a project to reduce the number of Branch Managers that involved some nefarious tactics to encourage voluntary redundancy that including bullying. I was informed that there were no branches for me in Birmingham but they were able to offer me Abergele branch. I replied that I didn't want to be divorced and said that my wife wouldn't go to live there. Two or three weeks later I went again to Regional Office and was offered Pembroke branch. Needless to say, I told them that was unthinkable. Asked if I wanted to retire, aged 54 years, 8 months, I said it was not feasible bearing in mind that I would lose 21% of my pension. An offer was made to improve the pension I would receive, which I again rejected and I stated what I thought they should offer. After three hours, we agreed a sum between their offer and my suggestion. So, after almost 39 years after I joined the Bank, and after having worked at 50 BMB branches and 4 Head Office departments, I retired.
After thirty years of retirement, I feel that there have been 'Ups and Downs', though I don't have the worries associated with employment .... but occasionally I have nightmares thinking that I'm back at w**k!