Saturday, January 31, 2009

Captain Mainwaring as cultural hero

In recent days I have come across two examples using Captain Mainwaring from Dad's Army as an exemplar of the sort of traditional bank manager whose demise we now regret.

In the Guardian this morning Simon Hoggart wrote:
If we still had bank managers like Captain Mainwaring this crisis would never have happened. "No I won't lend you the money, you stupid boy. You would probably never pay me back."
I can't find this piece on the newspaper's website, but for some reason Apocalypse Times has a graphic of this part of the column.

And a few days ago Larry Elliott developed this idea more fully:

The classic banker of the old school was Arthur Lowe's Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army; a solid, pompous martinet who made sure his books balanced. His deputy Wilson was the posher, more rakish John Le Mesurier, who looked down on his superior. Le Mesurier was classic investment banker material but played second fiddle to Lowe's traditional high-street bank manager. The two strands of banking were then kept entirely separate.

In recent years, of course, retail banking and investment banking have become intertwined and the Dad's Army pecking order reversed: the investment bankers have been in control and have spread the new creed that good banking is all about financial innovation, taking risks and achieving the best possible deal for their owners.

The last episode of Dad's Army was filmed in 1977. That was 32 years ago (and also 32 years after the end of the war). I know that the series has hardly been off our screens since then, but it is still a tribute to the way that comedy enters the culture that references to Captain Mainwaring are still instantly understood.

Larry Elliott, incidentally, has a talent for drawing illuminating parallels with classic comedy series. Here he is in The Age of Insecurity (written with Dan Atkinson in 1998) on the Britain of the 1970s:

To middle-class eyes, to those people who founded the National Association for Freedom in 1975 and were convinced that Harold Wilson was a Communist, Fawlty Towers was the Britain of the 1970s: riven by conflict, indifferent to the needs of customers, held back by shoddy workmanship.

Interestingly, the only person who could make the hotel work was Basil's gorgon of a wife, Sybil. Like another woman coming to prominence in the mid-1970s, she was middle-aged, blonde, shrill, philistine and utterly ruthless.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good Morning

Yes, I was one of those Captain Mannering's and retired (early) as a proper Bank Manager in 1999 before all this nonsense took a grip. I had a repuation for being mean with the 'Bank's Money'. Affordability was key to every lending decision.

Pity Sir Fred Goodwin (ex RBS from yesterday) did not take the same view before he ruined RBS and the lives and savings of shareholders meanwhile walking off with a 'pile' and a snigger on his face. He should be stripped of his knighthood.

Yet another Labour Luvi who should be holding his head in shame.

Magpie, Bromley