There was a time when the City was the sole preserve of chinless wonders. These ex-Etonians would cavort around the Square Mile in pin-stripe suits and bowler hats meeting chaps they’d fagged for and chatting about cricket. The average working day would begin at 9.30, involve a three hour boozy lunch at ‘the club’ and end at around 4.30pm. It was a tight-knit club of clipped vowels and polite manners where a gentlemen’s word was his bond. This week yet another nail was hammered into that arcane world as Cazenove, by far the poshest City firm and ‘stockbroker to the Queen’, agreed to be taken over by the American behemoth JP Morgan.
The rot really began when Maggie Thatcher implemented ‘Big Bang’ in 1986. This was a concerted effort by the grocer’s daughter from Grantham to wipe away the over-regulated elitist old boys’ network and open up this rarefied world to all in sundry. Worse still, Johnny Foreigner was allowed to buy all our quaint old partnership stock broking firms. Soon oiks (some of whom hadn’t even been to public school!) began to enter the hallowed gates to untold wealth and before you could say ‘loadsamoney’ a whole generation of nouveaux riche Cityboys was born.
Within a few years nearly all the old stock broking firms had been acquired by rapacious foreign banks and these guys really meant business: twelve hour days, profit margins, getting in on time - all that crap. These uncouth Nazis also had the temerity to believe in something called ‘meritocracy’. It was a dark day indeed for Tarquin and Rupert when over-bearing yank bosses demanded results and didn’t care a jot about which school they’d attended. These arrogant scoundrels didn’t even respect the fact that you never had butter with brie or that house pronounced correctly rhymed with lice.
Soon the posh boys were being pushed out by diligent, clever middle class types and super sharp barrow boy traders. Inevitably, these Stella-swilling chavs would reveal their poor upbringing and cause problems. Indeed, one Watford boy called Nick Leeson would show his contempt for all things posh by causing the collapse of Baring’s - Britain’s oldest investment bank. It was almost as if he was on a one-man mission to finish the job Maggie had begun! All the trends suggested that the number of upper class stockbrokers was on the decline and that they would experience a similar fate to their fathers and uncles who had once monopolised government.
But the rumours of the demise of posh folk in the City proved to be greatly exaggerated. They have shown a remarkable resilience and I came across numerous diminutive chins and double-barrelled surnames over my twelve year City career. Nepotism and the old boys’ network have helped ensure their survival and the kudos that an Oxbridge education confers still matters to City firms. I always used to wonder why these already rich upper class chaps didn’t just bugger off back to their estates and take up a traditional country pursuit (like developing a smack habit) and so let some poorer folk have a piece of the action. However, a couple of Hoorays once explained to me that their families were often cash-poor and asset-rich and hence a fast buck in the Square Mile was still a very attractive option.
So, posh folks can rest easy in the knowledge that they’re still a major force in the City and look likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. They are also uniquely qualified to survive in the current climate of banker-bashing for surely no social group is more used to resentment and envy than our aristos who’ve seen their economic and political power steadily usurped by uppity social groups over the last century. The public hostility they’re currently experiencing must surely just wash away like raindrops off a well-oiled Barbour.
Geraint Anderson is author of Cityboy - Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile
See more on his website: Cityboy