We were delighted to be contacted by Alan Prime, who has contributed the story of how he came to work for Martins, an achievement which, it must be said, cameabout against a number of odds. Alan Prime’s career with Martins Bank, starts and ends at our Chief Overseas Branch, 80 Gracechurch Street London. Here, using some of his own pictures and letters from the time, he tells us about what he recalls as the most enjoyable years of his working life - learning the ropes and climbing the ladder at Martins Bank between 1957 and 1965…
In the early summer of 1957, the Evening News carried a “Junior Section” in their Situations Vacant columns and Martins Bank Limited invited students of GCE standard to apply for a position. This I did, and in late June / early July 1957 travelled to 68, Lombard Street for an interview. I can recall during the meeting some written numeric testing. I was not optimistic. My education during the previous five years had been at Chingford County Secondary School, Wellington Avenue, and although in the immediate past week I had taken seven GCE examinations, my standard, according to my archived school report book, was a modest ‘satisfactory’ accompanied by lots of ‘could do better’.
However the conclusion in my Leaving Report dated 26th July 1957, by my Headmaster, Mr. Prothero, , declared that “Alan should do well when he has settled into the post he obtains”. I was therefore, surprised to receive a letter dated 12th July 1957 from the London District Superintendent of Martins Bank Limited, Mr F C Harding, advising me that my application to join the staff of the Bank had been accepted. Starting salary was £265 per annum plus a London allowance of £60(!) and a six month’s probation period would apply.
The Bank asked when I could commence my duties and following further communication, I was directed to attend Chief Overseas Branch, and began my duties in the Travel Department in the main Banking Hall. The Travel desk was under the supervision of Mr Geoffrey Raby and the whole of the Hall area under the watchful eye of Mr Melvin, the Staff Manager. This ground floor area also incorporated the Gracechurch Street Branch, which was additional to the Chief Overseas Branch.
I suspect that most people have a feeling of where they see themselves starting out in the world. When at school I always had an image of myself sitting behind a desk!! For some weeks after starting in Martins Bank I recall logging cleared Travellers Cheques or issuing new batches to the various branches of the Bank. I should at this point refer to my GCE results which I received in September 1957, and which I was obliged to declare to Mr Melvin. The results of seven (7) GCE failures resulted in a presumption that my probation would end and that I would be shown the door. I clearly recall my meeting with the Staff Manager and I remember my fears and anxiety at announcing to him my results. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry Prime, carry on’. And so began my University of Life. I promised myself that I would prove that I was worthy of being a member of Martins Bank Limited.
After a few weeks on the Travel Department, I was transferred to the Post Room on the Mezzanine floor. There I remained for a few years starting out life as the most junior of juniors to eventually becoming Head Post Boy!! In addition to the collection and delivery / dispatch of post, I was involved with the clearing house in Lombard Street, both receiving and sending various sets of clearing. I can recall it was forever an exciting yet rushed job, carried out twice daily. Other boys in the Post Room I recall at the time were, Norman Penty (in 1964 my Best Man), Terry Fitzgerald, Mike Kellard, Vincent White, Bob Little and George Maidment.
George and I became good friends, particularly as we lived close by in Leyton. Both Terry Fitzgerald and Norman Penty strongly influenced my journey which followed in the branch. In the Post Room, the frames that held the pigeon holes became worn and splintered and the name tags also needed replacing. When I became Head Post Boy, I suggested to Mr Melvin of the need to replace the frames and the name tags and that I would be happy to be involved and contribute to the work and come into the branch over weekends. Mr Melvin’s response was positive and I happily came in at weekends to type out and affix the new labels.
On the social side, I became a member of Martins Bank Chess Club and I played for the Bank in the London Interbank Chess League. I also played in the Branches, men’s Table Tennis Team. Adjacent to the Post Room was an area for three shorthand typist desks and some ladies names recalled during my time there were: Helen Machin, June Francis (who I later married in 1964) and June Snowden?
Following my time in the Post Room, I was transferred to Collections Department on the first floor. Here, Mr Lionel Jowett was the supervisor of the department with Mr Donald Snowden. This department (among other functions) dealt with the delivery of proceeds from cheques drawn in overseas currency. I think at this time I may have been aged 19 or 20 (1960 / 1961). In addition to Mr Melvin, the Staff Manager, Mr Lionel Jowett became extremely helpful and from both these gentlemen I learned much of manners and the man. Indeed on my 21st Birthday 25th February 1962, Lionel Jowett gifted to me my first bowler hat which had been specifically measured for me by his Hatters.). These two officers of the Bank had a dramatic influence on my journey.
Upon joining the Bank in 1957 I confess that I had no appetite for studying for the AIB examinations, possibly as a result of my dismal failures in the GCE some years earlier. But then, with the help of The Rapid Results College and attendance at the Institute OB at 10 Lombard Street, between September 1962 and April 1963, I passed Part 1 of the Institute Examinations for which I recall I received a cheque for £30. My records show that I passed Monetary Theory and Practice in April 1964; Accountancy (Distinction) in September 1965 and Finance of Foreign Trade September 1967.
The dramatic success it seems for Part 1 in 1962 / 1963 followed my time in the Foreign Exchange Department to where I had been transferred from Collections Department. I remember showing an interest in the FE department during 1961 /1962. Mr Clarke was Pro Manager with Mr Sidney Stockwell as his assistant. Other senior people on the section I recall were Miss Marjorie Prevett and Joan ?, Alan Williams and Derek Bean. I had additionally mentioned to some Management members my interest in the Foreign Exchange Dealing Room. Any move possible to the Dealing Room however could only be found by achieving an AIB status or the positive attempt for it. At that time the Dealer in charge was Mr Bruckin, with David Wilson and John (Dixie) Dean. I showed a very strong interest in exchange rates and the function of the Dealing Room while working within the Foreign Exchange Department where we dealt with requests from branches of customer’s payments to overseas beneficiaries. The department itself was adjacent to the Dealing Room.
Mr Bruckin retired shortly after and Mr Wilson was promoted to Management. Mr Dean and Mr Squirrell then led the Dealing Department and my friend Norman Penty then also joined from within Chief Overseas. I became a member of the Dealing Room in 1963. Dixie Dean left and I believe went back to Liverpool Overseas and Stuart Squirrell then became Chief Dealer. Norman left the department in 1964 and I became Assistant Chief Dealer to Mr Squirrell. Neville Fobister came down from the Liverpool Dealing Room and Tony Allwright also became the fourth member. Dealing room activity involved control of the Bank’s overseas Currency accounts together with the Sterling accounts of overseas banks with Martins Bank. We applied rates of exchange to the various payment forms coming in from the Foreign Exchange Department and also responded to requests from Corporate Customers calling in for quotations. We dealt with incoming currency payments; and also traded in the Interbank Market in Foreign Exchange. This last activity was conducted directly with overseas banks via a telex or by telephone and also with the London banks via Foreign Exchange Brokers of the Day with which the Dealing Room had direct telephone lines and immediate contact via a Dealing Board with 36 direct lines. These lines were in addition to the 8 telephones which sat on a shelf above the Dealers Table which provided internal and external access to / by the Dealers.
This is me at the Dealing Desk in 1963/1964. Immediately behind me is the telex machine used for overseas communication for trading with other Banks in Europe. The two pads in front of me carry:
(a) the spot currency prices and
(b) the forward currency prices.
Just to my right can be seen part of the 36 direct line dealing board.
Image © 1963 Alan R Prime
The four members of the Dealing Room sat at a rectangular desk with one Dealer at each side. The Foreign Exchange Brokers through which our trading business was conducted included the names of Charles Fulton; Quin Cope; Astley & Pearce; Woellwarth & Co; and M W Marshall. It was while trading directly with banks in France from the Dealing Room that I learned to speak French (at least sufficiently to complete FX transactions). During my time in the Dealing Room, I became an International member of the FOREX Club. This club had a membership made up from other London Bank FX Dealers together with members of the Broking fraternity. The club members would meet at Plantation House in Mincing Lane on a monthly basis and it was usual to have a guest speaker from the world of politics / banking / commerce or industry.
Outside the Dealing Room was also located a desk with 4 – 6 Pro Managers. I remember the following names (spanning my time with the FX department and also the Dealing Room): Mr. Shackleton, Mr. Jennings, Mr. Height, Mr. Anderson and Mr Duffy. Other members of staff that I recall were Mr. Frank Waite in Cash department, Michael Spinks, Graham Mather, John Uppington, Ray Fuller, Sam Weller and Margaret Perks with whom I worked many hours in the Unit Trust department in the late 1950’s early 1960’s, assisting with New Issues. I recall receiving overtime I believe it was one shilling per hour! I was just about eighteen or nineteen, and this lady was a natural leader and well remembered for her friendliness and help. Of shillings and pence I also recall that staff from Gracechurch Street would visit the staff canteen in 68 Lombard Street for lunch. There, a main course was one shilling plus threepence for a pudding. A roll with cheese was also available for a few coppers.
In 1965 following an approach from Charles Fulton which I found difficult to refuse, I resigned from the Bank and became a Foreign Exchange Broker. Later that year during a conversation with Stewart Squirrel, I indicated some regret at my decision to leave the Bank and a meeting was arranged with Laurie Cockburn (with whom I had had a good working relationship as I often reported to him the daily activities of Martins FX Dealing Room’s activities) with a view to my returning to the Bank. Sadly I was unable to attend the meeting.
Such is life. My eight years with Martins Bank I have always considered the most enjoyable, happiest and fruitful of my time. I continued into the Banking world after my time with Charles Fulton (where I became a Director), and after a short spell with a Canadian Investment House, I completed my Banking Career with the HSBC Group as an adviser in the Global Capital Markets area.
For my birthday in 2013, my two adult children gave to me some Martins Bank memorabilia which included a Martins Bank Share Certificate; the last pre-decimal coin collection; some bags for coins (ten shillings worth of threepenny pieces and five shillings worth of copper) and also three Magazines from 1965 and 1966. These gifts led me to finding the Martins Bank website which I consider provides an amazing study and record of Banking from an era when the Traders motto of ‘My Word Is My Bond’ sincerely reflected truth and trust. I am saddened to read of so many old colleagues who have since passed on.