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ROLL OVER, CAPTAIN MAINWARING

The Frome Fossil

Long long ago my eldest sister landed her first job. She found a flat she could just afford, but she still needed a few essentials – a saucepan, knives and forks, a tin opener. Where would she get the money for them? Should she apply for a bank loan? This was, in those, days, a momentous step. She turned to my father for guidance. “Do you think the bank manager would mind?”, she asked. My father looked at her weightily. “I’ve got one piece of advice,”

he replied. “Always treat your bank manager with contempt.”


Now, no-one could have called my father anti-Establishment. Far from it. He was achingly respectable – a pillar of the business community, a churchwarden, a loyal Conservative and a doer of good works. But this was the early Sixties, and things were beginning to loosen up a bit. The old gods, including Etonian Prime Ministers, sleek lawyers, puce rear admirals and canting archbishops, were losing their mystical glow. Suddenly it was OK to laugh at them, question their authority and generally blow raspberries.


And bank managers were right there in the line of fire. Everyone had seen them as wielders of enormous power, the power of money. Now, unmasked, they turned out to be rather sad little folk (remember, Captain Mainwaring first appeared on our TV screens in 1968). So my father had no difficulty in treating them with contempt. By which he meant: don’t grovel for a loan, just demand one. Their job is to lend you money: that’s how banks make profits. This attitude did him no harm at all, as a series of unctuous bank managers fell over themselves to renew his loans and extend his overdrafts.


It worked for my sister, too, who soon got her cutlery. But for me the magic never quite rubbed off. I spent most of my life as a professional hack, and my earnings were erratic, and often laughable. Bank managers scratched their heads in bafflement. Most gave me stern lectures, but they still lent me money. One chubby little fellow took me out to lunch in a desperate attempt to understand my eccentric finances. But even he gave up. At the end of the meal he threw his pudgy hands in the air and said: “Just think, one day when you’re a respectable citizen we’ll both laugh about this!” I bet he’s not laughing now.