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Sixty years ago, plans were drawn up for yet another American idea to “take-off” in Britain, yet the drive-in bank arrives with less of a bang, more of a whimper. In fact the whole experience leaves Martins Bank’s Directors incandescent with rage when things go horribly wrong.  That drive-in banks did not really capture the imagination of the British banking public is probably down to the subsequent arrival of the cash dispenser. (A modern comparison might be to look at the effect that the launch of mp3 digital music recording has had on the once “futureproof” Compact Disc, another new technology that was made redundant by the miniature digital storage devices which then themselves have given way to the smart phone). To see just what all the fuss was about, we journey to 1959 where Martins Bank is investing thousands in launching what it says will be Britain’s FIRST drive-in bank…

Technology from across the pond…

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January 1959 – press speculation is rife – Martins Bank, known for its innovation and attention to friendly customer service is about to open Britain’s first Drive-in Branch. Based on the American system, which is a tried and tested way of banking on the go, Martins Drive-in Bank will combine a brand new Branch at Leicester that will incorporate a drive in lane. Customers will be greeted in their cars by a cashier who will communicate through bullet-proof glass via microphone and speaker, enabling the customer to cash a cheque or pay in money in around two minutes flat.  No expense has been spared, many local and national newspapers are following the story with interest. Even Harold Watkinson, Minister for Transport under Prime Minister Harold MacMillan was persuaded to come to Leicester to open the Drive-in Bank and speak on local road improvement schemes of which he saw the Drive-in Bank as one.

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“Queering the pitch”…

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Friday 30th January 1959 – under the noses of the Directors of Martins Bank, and on their home turf of Liverpool itself, the Westminster Bank opens a drive-in bank at its Toxteth Branch.  As if to underline its “coup d'état”, the Westminster takes out FULL PAGE advertising in NATIONAL newspapers. It is hard to imagine that someone reading the ad in either Land’s End or John o’Groats would have dropped everything and raced to Liverpool to marvel at the new service, so it might just be that the advertisement is intended to be an extra shot across the bows of Martins Bank!  Reproduced here with the kind permission of our friends at RBS Archives, the advertisement is full of pride AND self praise on the part of the Westminster Bank…

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{On Friday last it became possible for motorists in Liverpool to drive straight into the new Westminster Bank branch in Princes Road, and, without getting out of their cars, cash their cheques and pay in money at one of the specially installed windows. Our Liverpool customers thus became the first people to use drive-in banking facilities in Britain and the Westminster becomes the first British bank to provide them.

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{So, once again, the Westminster Bank adds to its already impressive range of services, all of them planned to help modern people cope with modern problems. So successfully do they do this, that thousands of people today regard the Westminster Bank as being just as necessary a part of modern living as the motor car. And when you remember that all Westminster Bank services are available to all Westminster Bank customers, right from the day they open their accounts, isn’t that yet another reason why you should bank with the Westminster too?}

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The first customer uses the new facility just after the new Branch at Princes Road opens at 10 am on Friday 30 January. The Westminster Bank ropes in the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Alderman Harry Livermore to cash a cheque and be “caught on camera” for the purposes of newspaper publicity. Luckily for martins, the Minister for Transport will still be available to add a seal of approval to THEIR drive-in a month or so later!

Image © 1959 – Remastered by Martins Bank Archive,

and reproduced by kind permission

of Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc

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The limelight having been well and truly stolen, it is small wonder that behind the scenes, Martins’ top brass are beside themselves with rage, and the Bank immediately calls upon Ron Hindle of its Organisation, Research and Development Department to come up with something – ANYTHING – that will put Martins back into the limelight, and show it to be ahead of its rivals in new technology.  The answer is for the Bank’s experiments with computers to be announced to the public, before any other bank can do the same. Trials of Ferranti’s PEGASUS computer had already successfully processed the work of 30,000 current accounts, so Martins became the first British bank to demonstrate that computers had arrived in banking, and would be here to stay. The Bank’s research hastened the development of an automated UK clearing system, and the introduction of the cash dispenser and computer accounting at local branch level. You can read much more about Pegasus and the technologies that followed, and also find out about Martins’ Branch Accounting Computer Program, (parts of which were still in use at Barclays in the year 2000) in our NEW TECHNOLOGY section.

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Carry on regardless…

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Considerable interest is taken in Martins Bank’s proposals for a drive-in bank. Ideas from across the Atlantic are popular – rock and roll has taken hold of Britain’s youth and spawned our very own “teenagers”, eager to adopt the look and attitude of their American counterparts.  By 1959, those who chose the old route of becoming an adult at the age of 13 by looking, dressing, and sounding like their parents, are soon found to be in the minority!  Science fiction, in particular anything that fuels the cold war ideas of Earth vs Mars (i.e. America vs. the U.S.S.R.) is extremely popular, so the concept that drive-in banking will offer an “invisible detector ray” to warn of incoming cars, and bulletproof glass with a built in communication system must have seemed quite futuristic. 

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At this time too, Martins is a very popular bank in the Midlands, and this particular DISTRICT of the Bank is growing fast. By staying “on the right side” of local reporters and editors, the Bank is helped by generous feature spreads heralding the arrival of new branches, and Martins repays this valuable publicity by taking out generous amounts of paid advertising space in local papers.

An expanding district has an advertising budget aimed at recruiting new customers.

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The stories we have reproduced here, with the kind assistance of our good friends at the British Newspaper Archive appear in National Papers – Daily Mirror and the Daily Herald, and the regional Birmingham Daily Post.  

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THE DAILY MIRROR – 12 January 1959

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{THEY’LL DRIVE IN TO CASH A CHEQUE}

{A NEW bank with special ‘drive-in’ facilities for motorists —the latest move in the Battle of the Banks — Is to be opened In Britain next month. It will be the first bank of its kind in the country, although America and Western Germany have been developing the idea for the past two years. The main benefit of the new “drive in” bank will be to enable a motorist to visit his bank and deposit money or cash a cheque without leaving his car—thus cutting out parking problems. All he has to do is drive off the road and stop at a cashier's armour-plate glass window. The cashier controls an electrically operated arm which stretches out to the motorist and returns to the cashier. Fitted to the arm are a microphone and speaker, so that cashier and customer can talk to one another, and a long drawer in which cheques or money can be placed. Martins Bank. Ltd., who are opening the new ‘drive-in’ branch at Charles Street. Leicester, claim that a motorist will be able to make a deposit or cash a cheque and be on his way again within a couple of minutes. Fuller banking services will be provided inside the bank itself but for these the motorist will have to leave his car. Mr. M. Conacher, Chief General Manager of Martins said yesterday that the new ‘drive in’ facilities were an experiment. They followed visits by bank officials to America where they had seen ‘drive in’ banks in operation. A spokesman for Barclays Bank, the largest of the Big Five banks said last night:  “It is a scoop for Martins. We have been thinking of a ‘drive-in’ bank for some time, but have no immediate plans for one”.}

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Image © Trinity Mirror Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive

www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

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“It is a scoop for Martins”- That is quite compliment from Barclays! On the same day, two other articles appear as follows:

 

BIRMINGHAM DAILY POST – 12 January 1959

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{Banking without leaving the car}

 

{The first “Drive-in” bank in Britain will be opened by Martins Bank at Leicester towards the end of February.  At the new Charles Street branch customers will be able to deal with “in” and “out” payments without leaving their cars.

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A cashier behind an armour-plate glass window will operate a mechanical device and within a minute or two the customer can be on his way. Full banking facilities will be provided in the ordinary way through the normal entrance. There will be a special opening ceremony to celebrate this form of banking, which is popular in the United States…}

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Image © Trinity Mirror Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive

www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

 

THE DAILY HERALD  – 12 January 1959

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{DRIVE-IN TO CASH A CHEQUE}

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{A DRIVE-IN bank which will help to put cash-grab bandits out of business opens in Leicester next month. It will also help customers in a hurry. This is how the system, imported by Martins Bank from America will work.

1.      The customer pulls up in a driveway opposite an amour-plate glass window in the bank.

2.      From the car window he reaches for a hand microphone and tells the bank cashier his business.

3.      The cashier replies through a loudspeaker and pushes a button to operate an electrically powered device.

4.      In the drawer go the customer’s cheques or cash – and the drawer closes. It slides out again to “hand out”

the money if a withdrawal is being made, or a receipt for a deposit.

Estimated time for each transaction: Two minutes.

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Image © Trinity Mirror Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive

www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

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Careless talk costs “drive-ins”…

It would appear that Martins Bank’s pre-publicity for their drive-in bank was at the same time a blessing AND a curse. Whilst some rivals looked on, perhaps glad it was not them that invested so much money into something not tried in Britain before, others regarded this project with envious eyes, and made plans to get there first. Work on the new Westminster Branch at Princes Road Liverpool is speeded up and the special drive-in lane with gadgets and bullet-proof glass take shape. Then, without a mention of their previous enthusiam for Martins Drive-In Bank, the Birmingam Daily Post publishes this article (right) on 31 January 1959, the day after the Wesminster Bank claimed the prize of being first in Britain with a drive-in…

Images © Trinity Mirror Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD, reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Making the best of it…

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Finally, and to the great relief of all concerned, what SHOULD have been Britain’s first drive-in bank is opened on 2 March 1959 by the Minister for Transport, who in the picture below (left) seems unsure about whether or not to remain in his car. We are sure he soon got the hang of it…

The next day, the Birmingham Daily Post covers the opening of Martins Drive-in, and (thankfully) NO MENTION of the rival operation is made! The images on the right are from Barclays’ collection of martins Branch photographs, and were taken by Martins Bank as publicity shots.

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The Chairman of Martins Bank Sir Harold Bibby, Minister of Transport Mr Harold Watkinson, and manager of Charles Street Branch Mr J K Cornall.

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1959-03-02 Opening Day Min of Trans tours branch - BGA Ref 30-1597

“Just how does one make a cup of tea with this?”

Images © Barclays Ref 0030-1597

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All’s well that ends well, and the day goes according to plan. However – it says a lot for Martins Bank’s wanting everything to be “perfect” that two female cashiers are brought down from Liverpool to Leicester for the day, given expensive makeovers, and planted in the publicity photographs! You can read more about Martins’ Leicester Drive-In Bank, and the opening of the Epsom Drive-in Bank by visiting our DRIVE-IN BANKING section.

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