Yesterday, a banker was fired from his bank for waving a tenner at a group of protesting NHS workers from his office window. His name is Romain Camus. His namesake, Albert, once wrote that the man who doesn't cry at his mother's funeral will end up going to the gallows. The point being that you don't fuck with prevailing public opinion.
In the 1980s Harry Enfield did a similar joke with a character called 'Loadsamoney'. But that was a quarter century ago. Average salary at Romain's bank is about £350,000 so it was a reasonably judged office gag and one which did nothing but support the NHS workers point about the injustice of UK life. The trouble is, timing. From the bank's point of view Romain's gesture was rather like a Nazi torturer doing armpit farts at the Nuremberg trials.
Which takes us naturally to that Halifax ad. The cleanest, most inviolate humans ever to run a bank's radio station. You know, bank radio stations. You've got your cash machines, your mortgage advisors, your counters, pens, deposit boxes, then upstairs there's management, admin, radio station and Bureau de Change. That's it. Right in between the sheep dip and the hosiery section.
I forgive the creative team for the device of the radio station. The brief for the campaign came as a response to public perceptions of bank profligacy, Halifax's previous ads being big, wanky production numbers. So the conversation presumably went...
'Hey, how about if we forget telly.'
'Yeh, too profligate'
'Yeh, like maybe we should do like a launch of like a Halifax radio station?'
'Hey, that could be really cool'
'Yeh. Could be really great.'
'They could play like songs about money'
'Be really great.'
'Yeh, and have like interviews and financial advisors'
'Be really great'
'Be really cool'
Not a bad plan. Till the agency said 'Not radio, there's no margin. Turn it into telly and we'll sell it'.
All good, though.
But then came the city boys, with their beautiful wives from Spearmint Rhino, who committed the most astonishing mass heist in history. A crime so massive in scale that we are unable to fit it in our brains. They stole from everybody. In every direction. When they took clients' billions and invested them in risky mortgages, which then became collateralised debt obligations, which were then valued higher the riskier they were, and were in any case rated as AAA by complicit rating agencies, it was your billions they were using, spending on Petrus and motorbikes. They gambled without risk. One incompetent Hong Kong trader made such losses he was fired, with a £10 million pay off. Tax free. By pocketing the proceeds and passing on losses you and me and old people and babies all over the world will pay for the rest of our lives.
But as the banks then had to be saved from collapse, to prevent something silly happening, like money ceasing altogether and people having to do dances and juggle to pay for groceries, bankers still persist. They must still walk amongst us, rather than be put down humanely as they would be if they'd merely been dogs that had chewed your face off.
So what must bankers do now? Be nice. Not just nice. Halifax advert girl nice. Blonde, nubile 20 year old nice, with 6 year old brain and a vagina stuffed with butterflies. You know, so fucking nice, that she will watch with riveted attention as a work colleague pushes a mixing desk slider lest its plastic grooves injure the underside of her pinkie.
It's not just the girls. And not just Halifax. Nat West's caring counter staff are just as genital-less in the Helpful Banking posters. Scrubbed simpletons, chosen for vacuousness, brains extracted and faces gurning with compliance. But why do they have to do this? If I need to discuss a mortgage I don't want a Japanese sex doll, I want someone who possesses the appropriate forms. All these sweet, youthful, white-teethed virgins are here to stop you thinking about that thing that just happened. Ignore the fact that you just glimpsed NatWest horse-whipping your terrorised family as they lay chained to the radiator in a shit-smeared back room. That didn't happen. We're nice. You must be mistaken.
Back to that Halifax ad. The scene in which the lovely, toasty, caring mug of tea was dropped said it all. The team must have discussed it at length, for it drips with significance, the way a trampoline in a 15th century Italian painting was never just a trampoline. The dropped mug is there to tell us this.
'Despite the inordinate care we took to avoid crashing the entire banking system and you having to pay us back, it was JUST AN ACCIDENT. And everything's fine. The mixing console needs a wipe but no harm done. Everything's fine. Not to worry.'
Or are they calling us mugs, like Romain?