Next Memory

Shortly after joining the BMB in 1962 and having spent a couple of weeks at Sutton Coldfield Branch, and then 6 months at Nechells Branch as a junior clerk, I was posted to Head Office Safe Deposit department (I presume they thought it was better that I was hidden away somewhere)  under Eric Hannan, the Superintendent at the time.  I really enjoyed working there with the rather eccentric but likeable Eric and his assistant Mrs Squires. My duties were mainly to unlock the entry gates for customers to gain access, and then to accompany them to their safe together with the Bank master key, the customer with their own key.  Each safe could only be opened with the two keys, so my job was to insert my key and rotate it in the lock, the customer then inserted their key and opened the safe. I would then leave them to continue whatever they wanted to do.  The customer would then close their safe door, turn and remove their key.   It was possible for the customer to turn their key before the safe door was closed, and thus could not then shut the door without the Bank master key being used to withdraw the bolt again.         

One morning, I opened the gate to a guy still dressed in his working gear - clearly labelled City of Birmingham Street Cleaning. He was looking a bit rough and ready, and a bit nervous. He signed the entry agreement slip - as he had a safe, and I took him to his safe, opened it and left him to conduct whatever he needed to do.  In the process he chatted to me in a friendly manner and as I walked back I told him if he needed any help not to hesitate to ask.   About 15 minutes later he came out looking a bit flustered and called to me for help. He explained that he had turned the key before shutting the safe door, and thus could not close it. I told him not to worry and I went with my key, turned it in the lock, and he was then able to shut the door.  As we walked back out of the safe deposit room, he put his hand on my shoulder, turned to me and expressed how grateful he was, and in the process pressed a half crown coin into my hand!  I was so taken aback - never having been given a tip before and even less expecting such - my face must have dropped in surprise and embarrassment, and he looked at me and said "Oh! Isn't it enough?" and pressed a second half crown into my hand!  That really shook me and in a shaking voice I thanked him and explained I was only doing my job and tips could not be accepted, he took the one half crown back and insisted I kept the other.  I then took him to the exit, unlocked the gate and he shook my hand as he walked out and up the stairs to the exit.  I think my face was red for the next two hours!  I told Eric and Mrs Squires and they smiled at my embarrassment.

After my time working in Safe Deposit, I was then told to report to Stanley Guy,  Superintendent of House Purchase Department on the ground floor.  It was a very different atmosphere to Safe Deposit - and whilst I was only there for menial tasks - I got on quite well with Mr Guy,  though he was very severe and conversation between staff was frowned on unless work related!  I remember Eric Bignell was in the office staff and advised me on what was needed.  I enjoyed the time I spent working in Head Office in the early 1960s when I was still green behind the ears  - and subsequent visits - and will always remember the kindness of the then Commissionaire Mr Royce, and of the cooks in the Staff Canteen - and the daily lunches and chats I enjoyed in the company of other staff members.

Later on I was posted to Erdington Branch as junior clerk, which was always busy and an imposing building at Erdington Six Ways traffic island on the Outer Circle bus route and main road into Birmingham city centre.  I think there were about 8 or 9 staff, which seemed a bit daunting after working in smaller branches.  I well remember Alan Woodbridge as one of the cashiers and Ray Gregory was first cashier. The staff there were great fun to work with.
From Erdington Branch I then went to Kingstanding Branch - another busy 'machine branch'  especially on Friday nights and Saturday mornings.  The Manager was W A Camwell, or "Cam" as he was affectionately known - and for his eccentricities.  I remember the cashiers -  Mrs MacDonald - 'Smack' as Cam would call her,  Donald Coton, Diane Johnson, and I think  that Ray Lovell was first cashier, though Ted Stewart with his endless cigarettes had been there too, leaving the tell tale scorch marks on the counter!! The machinists were the well liked Val Halfacre and Margaret Riley.

Shortly after I went on a Cashiers' course led by the excellent team of Messrs Wilner and Thompson - using Newtown Row branch for practical experience as it only opened 3 days each week. My first experience of being a nervous newly appointed cashier was on relief at Short Heath Branch in the Erdington area.  I will always remember my first day - Monday morning, with kindly help and support from the other two cashiers I felt I was doing fairly well and enjoying meeting and serving customers new to me.  When the lunch break arrived the two other cashiers went to lunch, leaving me alone on the counter - with the Manager, Len Evans. In those days in smaller branches the Manager was expected to work the counter too if needed.  However he was well known for being more interested in doing the books and paper work for the local Masonic Lodge than any Bank work!  I was on the counter alone, at lunchtime with an ever growing queue of customers and doing my best to serve then as quickly as I could.  Eventually the Manager looked up, saw I had a queue of about eight customers and went to his counter position and gave a loud wolf whistle at the queue, and then shouted "Next!"   The lady at the end of the queue looked at him and shouted back "I am not coming to you, you horrible man!"   To which he replied "Well suit yourself!" and sat back down at his desk!  I am not sure how many shades of red I went,  but continued my best to serve the queue, and then when I got to the lady in question, she was very kind and  thanked me with a big smile, and glared at the Manager as she went out!  Eventually he did go back to the counter and reluctantly served a few customers until the other two cashiers returned from lunch break.   I think one always eventually got used to the various eccentricities of customers and staff when visiting many different branches on relief!                                                                               

I was a cashier at Witton Branch and a younger male regular customer handed me his passbook and withdrawal slip for 20.  He was then telling me about his new girl friend and that he was meeting her later and going for a meal. I enquired if he wanted the 20 in singles to which he replied 'well sadly no, she's married!'

In the late 1990s I was posted to Aston Newtown TSB Branch to assist Dick Naylor and staff, just before I was made redundant. The then Newtown Shopping Centre was notorious for vandalism and crime, and not a pleasant area in which to work.  It was a 'concrete jungle' of high rise council apartments, cheap shops and bars, with a very mixed customer base. One staff member was mugged while waiting for a bus to go home. The whole complex was demolished some years ago.  I used to arrive at the Branch most mornings at about 8.30am, and walking through the shopping arcade it was not unusual to see several local 'down and outs' sat on benches drinking white cider for breakfast!   Not an encouraging start to the day.   One of these down and outs was well known - I think called Mick - and it was very common to hear him - and others - singing raucous songs from about midday, as a result of their morning libations. This one day we had heard the usual singing and shouting from the gang around midday, then about 1:30pm and much to the horror of both customers and staff - Mick walked into the Bank, looked around at the customers and cashiers, calmly walked into the far corner near Dick Naylor's office door, and promptly relieved himself on the floor in the corner, obviously mistaking the bank for the Gents Toilets!   Not a word was said by customers or staff, Mick turned around and looked at everyone, grunted something and shuffled out.  Guess who was the muggings who had to clean up afterwards?   Soon afterwards I was given my redundancy cheque and promise of a pension after age 60.  Good way to go out you think?


More Recollections of my Career (1962 - 1990)


by John Winterbottom