Quite by chance, about 10 days ago, someone put me on to a video available (to those who pay a television licence fee) on BBC iPlayer. Called ‘The Markets’, it was released in 1976 and is an interesting vignette of how things used to be in the City of London, and how the plumbing really works. I don’t go back that far, though I did study at the London School of Economics, but many of my work colleagues in the early 1980s were around then and regaled us with tales of the old days – not the ‘good old days’ mind you.
Lest we forget, the 1970s was a time of galloping inflation, the Unites States lost the Vietnam War, and the first oil price shock hit hard. Finance was shot to pieces, Britain suffered a secondary banking crisis and then had to go cap in hand begging the IMF for a bailout – the first developed nation to have done so.
The video starts off with a traditional street market, populated with what were known as ‘barrow boys’, then swerves to a toff in a top hat leaving his (small) Union Discount Company office in Cornhill. I used to pop into another one almost next door, Alexanders Discount PLC, another small building on the West side of the street, where a narrow entrance hall had a row of coat hooks above which sat a shelf for the top hats. The issue of exactly who has access to the central bank is as valid today, when this week the US Fed has increased its repo arrangement to at least $150 billion – daily.
The London stock exchange was divided into brokers and jobbers, a red line that was abolished with Big Bang allowing dual capacity – as is today the case with investment banking. But look at the outfits! Flared trousers, kipper ties, long pointed shirt collars and the hair cuts – not to mention the facial hair on display. Enough to make a hipster weep!
By the way, the stockbroker who was keen on the rights issue for Carless (great oil company name!) then went on to become quite a big cheese on the London International Financial Futures Exchange – where I too worked at the time.