Sunday, September 21, 2008

At the Sign of the Black Horse

[Lloyds Bank is to save HBOS from catastrophe by taking it over - for a quarter of the company's value last year]

The first time I met a bank manager was in the Park Hotel, Tynemouth, where I was working as a waiter in my school holidays. I've already reported here how we were serving a formal lunch to twenty local bank managers, and I watched as our Portuguese deputy headwaiter grandly presented a huge tray of lamb chops to the guest of honour, and in the process poured two pints of scalding hot gravy (which had been lying under the bed of chops) onto his trouser crotch. The banker leapt into the air, sending the entire table skywards. The waiter burst into tears and ran away, never to be seen again.

It was end of my first week of paid employment and I proudly went round to the little branch of Lloyds Bank in Allendale Place, Tynemouth to pay the wages into my new account, number 0021291. Lloyds has been part of my life ever since.

The manager, Raymond Lycett, was a pillar of the community and knew everyone by name. He was charming, concerned, discreet, and when I was 21 gave me my first overdraft to buy a Ford Cortina. He, or rather his bank, has owned most of every house I’ve ever lived in. When in 1985 I set up my production company in London, it never occurred to me to approach a corporate player for our banking. As a result, ten years later, the tiny branch in Allendale Place found itself processing millions of pounds worth of cheques every year from my 82 separate company accounts.

One day, after Mr Lycett retired, the regional head of Lloyds invited me to lunch in Newcastle. There he told me I had outgrown Tynemouth, as they had to employ several clerks just to check my signature on the thousands of cheques. Instead he was downscaling the branch and moving me to a bigger one in Newcastle. I politely told him that if he did so, I would immediately move my accounts to some London bank that didn’t have a black horse over the door. He relented, and the Tynemouth branch survived.

For the next few years, I rarely visited the North East, but once in the mid-90s, while filming an episode of Challenge Anneka in the region, I brought the crew down for a day out at the Coast. After a blustery stroll along the Long Sands, Anneka was desperate for a cup of tea. I said I knew just the place. It was 3.29pm when we walked into Lloyds. The young girl clerk behind the counter was closing up her till when I handed her a personal cheque. She looked at the signature and did a double take. “Is it really you?” she said, and then she saw Anneka Rice and her crew standing behind me. They locked the doors and got out the best mugs and some ginger biscuits from Walter Willsons. I always felt that the staff at Lloyds – all of whom I knew by name – were part of my business, and I know the feeling was mutual.

The image of the friendly high street bank manager living in your wardrobe at home has long gone, but I still, quite irrationally, think of Lloyds with affection and so far my loyalty has never been betrayed. As an investor, rather than as a customer, I’ve found Lloyds’ to be solid, dependable, and, frankly, rather predictable and dull. I’ve always kept a few shares not for their performance, but for their cash dividend, which has tended to give a better return than any deposit account. So imagine the shock last week when they announced the HBOS takeover. Even though they’ve reduced my dividend, I can’t help feeling a tinge of almost familial pride that, when the dust has settled and the City regains its confidence, there’s a chance the old dark horse may be awarded the prize for the best deal of the decade.

1 comment:

Hadriana's Treasures said...

I used to be in "Correspondent Banking" with various banks in the City. It is probably an odd thought this...but I always knew that each bank (in every country) had its own special characteristic. That will not be viewed with much sympathy in the current financial climate but I do feel sorry for the bank which will not retain its identity. Know what you mean about Lloyds though.