The Light Side of Banking

Wodehouse’s account book Money Received for Literary Work notes that in February 1903 he recorded payment of 2 guineas (£2·2) from John Bull’s Year Book for two items, “The Light Side of Banking” and “Football.” No copy of the Year Book has so far been found. But two nearly identical press accounts give us at least an idea of what the first item was about. One appeared in the Hampshire Daily Telegraph of April 18, 1903 with the title “Light Side of Banking”; the one below is from the Millom Gazette, April 9, 1903.



That amusing publication “John Bull’s Year Book” tells some good stories about the light side of banking. To realise the full point of one anecdote, it is necessary first to appreciate the entire worthlessness of what is technically termed a duplicate document. The original, of which the duplicate document is a copy, is valuable, but as soon as that original is safely in the hands of the owners, the duplicate becomes mere waste paper. In spite of this the regulations of the bank insist that it shall be duly delivered. On one occasion a high-spirited youth (recently joined) collected all the duplicate documents in the office, took them to London Bridge in a basket, and turned the basket upside down over the side of the parapet, after which he went on his way with the satisfying feeling that his duty had been done, conscious of having acted from the best motives. Unluckily the documents happened to fall into a passing barge, the captain of which, thinking that he had happened upon something valuable, and scenting large rewards, restored them in a neat parcel to the bank, and the clerk subsequently spent an unhappy ten minutes with the manager.

The most interesting moments in a bank clerk’s life are those which he occupies in personally conducting bullion from his office to another. There is a responsibility about the work which is novel, and appeals to him. Sometimes it ceases to appeal to him. This happens when he finds on arriving at his destination that some person unknown has relieved him en route of a considerable portion of his charge. A clerk was once seated in a cab watching bags of sovereigns being piled in the interior. He was determined to let nothing escape his notice, so he watched the door through which the gold was being injected with an unblinking eye. And in the meantime a casual passer-by thrust his hand through the opposite window, removed a bag containing a hundred sovereigns and passed on his way. These are the things which sour a bank clerk’s nature.

Another clerk was driving down a steep hill in a cab with a very heavy load of silver inside it, when he was interested to observe the entire floor of the vehicle give way in one piece. As both windows were closed he could not report to the driver immediately and was obliged to run with the cab for several hundred yards before he could explain the situation. A third official was taking gold to Leeds one night by train, when an accident occurred. The train was thrown off the rails and the clerk spent the rest of his night (which was cold and wet) in the open sitting on his money bags with a loaded revolver and defying perfect strangers to come within twenty yards of him. The list might be continued without end. It shall conclude with a mention of an episode which broke the monotony of business hours at a bank in Brighton. A gentleman approached the desk of the cashier and leaning confidentially towards him, made a sudden snatch at a shovelful of gold which he was counting. As he snatched the cashier hit the handle of the shovel sharply with the result that the gold flew in all directions, and the stranger without waiting to pick up any of it, left rapidly.



[Thanks to Diego Seguí and Ananth Kaitharam for locating and transcribing this article.]