1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 25

its latest publicity film is on show to the public,

in a theatre next to the visitors' gallery, from this week. A body called the Wider Share Owner- ship Council published a report earlier this year which called bravely for prestige advertising by the firms themselves; but stockbrokers, even when they aren't worried that advertising might demean them, may lack enthusiasm because it could bring them too many small clients who would be more trouble than the worth of it. At present, anyone who writes to the Stock Exchange is sent the names, of six or seven brokers, who tale their turn to go on the list; a few of the larger stockbrokers keep away from the list, but even so, there are sometimes complaints from the public that a broker will say that the amount to be invested is too small. There's no reason why a broker should be saddled with dozens of minuscule orders from hopeful widows and bus-drivers. But as the Share Ownership report says bleakly : 'It is not a good way to en- courage investment if the new investor is first expected to use a pin to find a broker and then is cold-shouldered because the amount of money he has to invest is comparatively small.'

But if it wasn't like London, with traditions, then it might be like America: Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith, the New York stock- broking firm, has been installed in the City since 1960, advertising its services and doing a nice piece of business (Merrill Lynch, lacking a City tradition, has to acquire one: the London staff sent a joke photograph of themselves, with bowlers, and umbrellas, to New York, where it was promptly printed in the annual report). Traditions may seem unnecessary, but since finance involves so many delicate human rela- tionships (runs the argument), then to remove or impair a tradition may be to do some mysterious damage to the machine.

There is always thin ice. 'We must not incur jealousies,' said a careful stockbroker—a man with a scientific approach who would probably advertise if he could. 'We must keep our friends in the House'—that is, in the Stock Exchange. People who talk like this are often members of firms—stockbrokers or bankers—that have ex- panded, or even started from scratch, since the war; they aren't blue-blooded, they don't have the cream of the business, and although they are nervous of City mystique, aware that for a new- comer to give offence .could be disastrous, they are not as impressed by the past as their elder brethren.

Handling new :issues, and underwriting issues by other people, is the kind of cream that the rising young stockbroking firm may find hard to get. Such firms are more keen on economics degrees than on family relationships; and they are comforted by the lack of blue-bloodedness at the insurance companies and pension funds with which they do so much business. The typical investment manager and most of his staff at an insurance company are more likely to have gone to a grammar than to a public school— 'tough nuts who've come up the hard way,' said a broker. 'They want service, and they dOn't care if the man they get it from has been in the Brigade of Guards or not.' And the insurance companies are where the money is: a by-product of affluence, millions of it in premium income, to be poured into the stock market every week.

It would be false to pretend that the stock- brokers' world is being transformed, nicely in key with the managerial revolution: things don't happen like that in the City. Americans who know the Stock Exchange note the gap, in many firms, between partners in carpeted offices and the staff with their linoleum and grammar-school accents. Old school ties are on sale in quantity at City shops, from Berkhamsted, terylene, thirteen and six, to Uppingham, all silk, twenty- one shillings.

Revisiting the place after a few years, it's remarkable how little has changed. When a com- mittee began work under Lord Jenkins four years ago, its task to report on the Companies Act and to look at directors' duties and shareholders' rights, newspapers were still buzzing with argu- ments about the propriety and mechanics of takeovers: Harrods had been plucked by Mr. Fraser, and Watney Mann had shaken off Mr. Clore. In addition, rich pickings in property deals had awakened a bewildered interest among people who weren't always sure if it was all right to condemn the morals of the property specu- lators, since (apart from the obvious scandals that came to court) it was hardly ever possible for laymen to grasp what was going on.

In the City, they feared a Securities and Ex- change Commission of the kind that has operated

in. the United States since the anguished after- math of the Wall Street crash. But when Jenkins came to report, the City got off lightly. The document was criticised at the time because it seemed too tolerant of reticence by companies at the expense of shareholders; and now a booklet published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Disclosure in Company Accounts, gives the argument some powerful twists. The author is a Reader at the London School of Economics, Harold Rose, who suggests that 'at several points the Committee's attitude towards disclosure is almost maidenly.' He makes a strong case for taking lids off companies so as to benefit share- holders.

As the shadow of a Labour Government falls over the City, its upper orders begin to have uneasy dreams, and fears of an SEC are ex- pressed again. It seemed to one stockbroker that the gambling that surrounds new issues, with fast profits to be made by the well-placed specu- lator, was the kind of thing that would lead, sooner or later, to more government controls. To be fair to the City, many people inside it would welcome less speculation, just as they would welcome more information by and from companies: an odd sensation for an outsider, meeting a stockbroker for a beer, is to be asked if (as a journalist) he happens to know anything about the so-and-so company, which hate its head office a hundred miles away, but is more or less a closed book to the broker.

Self-interest is disguised as tradition and per- petuated with smiles and good manners: this is an old and hallowed technique in all sorts of places, but nowhere is it used more effectively than in the City. The Steck; Exchange is proud to be a self-governing, largely self-regulating in- stitution of excellent character, but there. are always people who exploit the loopholes that survive from the wilder days of not so long ago. Companies will sometimes go to great lengths to obtain the Stock Exchange quotation of an existing firm, rather than apply for a new one and so expose themselves to the curiosity of the Stock Exchange examiners

Non-City men are the best sources of infor- mation here: as long as they trust your dis- cretion about their identity, they are prepared to talk, unhindered by the thought that they're letting the side down. I remember the cheerful face of one souring for a moment as he talked about 'all that paraphernalia' of the Stock Ex- change quotation, and how the current company he was forming, with a syndicate, would be taking over one that already had a quotation. 'Otherwise,' he said, 'there's a lot of guarantees you've got to give7-stuff the Stock Exchange Council wants, things like the last ten years' profits or something. They ask all sorts of bloody questions : Who are the shareholders? What did they pay?' Then he got to the point of it all: 'Some of the answers you give 'em might involve you in tax.'

The City is very knowledgeable about avoiding tax, but it doesn't like the smell of fiddling. Its reputation is too valuable an asset to be tainted with roguery, and although puritans who don't sympathise with commerce may think 'that im- morality is rife, the City man, looks on most of it as the driving of hard bargains, playing a sort of financial chess with the Revenue, making a life's work, sometimes, from the study of tax- avoidance. It's the fast operator outside the CRY, using its institutions but feeling no bond with the place, who talks blatantly about tax-evasion and sometimes plain corruption as a fact of life: 'Once you get to know a fellow, and haute lunches and so on, then he starts having holidays with you. You say, "What about coming to the races, and I'll put ten pounds on a horse for you. If it comes up, it's yours. If it doesn't come up, it wasn't your ten pounds." After a time when a fellow does these things it doesn't feel so bad. . . -

The City likes to pretend it has nothing to do with the wide boys, because in no time at all the stranger (it's feared) starts listening to opera- tors like the one quoted above, and getting wrong ideas. The solid bedrock of decent institutions and unsensational men is what the City likes to stress—the steady turnover, the slow develop- ment, the modest aspirations. The press, it coin- plains, gets hold of sensations in Throgmorton Street, but who ever notices the quiet efficiency of Mincing Lane and the commodity markets?• This is, in fact, an intriguing corner of the City—in decline for many years, but still a world centre with a secure reputation. The products used to come here in the flesh—barrels, bales, jars, chests, sacks. Sixty years ago the ships traded through London, and the goods arrived unsorted : cocoa, coffee, mother-of-pearl, .rubber, pepper (fourteen kinds), cinnamon (twelve grades), . sugar, cochineal and a few hundred other com- modities were graded by experts and available for inspection on the wharves. The brokers' offices in the Lane reeked of samples—a paradise for armchair romantics. But by.the First World War, ships were beginning to'sail direct between the East and America. The markets generally re- mained in London, but the amount of physical traffic declined; and 'the supplying countries learned to do their own grading of commodities. The Second World War encouraged the resen:t- ments and jealousies of the supplying countries=- 'Why. .must we trade. through. London?' The

principal answer was that London was safe: the endorsement of its brokers was worth their per- centage. `These things,' said a London broker, 'are tricky. It's not a question of salesmanship, it's a question of trust. He may sound all right on paper, but then you find he's living up a tree.'

But the Second World War finally gave the sup- pliers of pepper and rubber and the rest the push they needed. The economic blockade, the need for currency clearance from the Bank of England, meant that all the details of a trans- action had to be declared: it amounted to intro- ducing the supplier (who might be in China) to the consignee (who might be in Canada). Before, the supplier might know only that someone in London was buying; now, he got to know the name and address of the firm to which the order was going. London has lost its iron grip on com- modities, and a reluctance to let foreign dealers come to London and join the markets hasn't helped.

Because some things have changed for the worse, the City seems determined to make the most of its ceremonial. There may be doubts sometimes about what the City is really getting at when it talks about traditions, but in its cor- porate, formal aspect, the tradition is laid out for all to see. With the Lord Mayor at its centre, there is a continual round of activities: raising money for worthy causes, eating good food, dressing up in elegant clothes, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from being a privi- leged minority. The livery companies, often with long waiting lists to join, have few powers but the power to exclude—but this is enough to make them important. No one climbs far up the ladder of City office unless he belongs to a company, and the livery, far from withering away, seems to be getting more and more popular. There has even been talk of 'junior' livery companies to reduce the waiting lists. - There is an extraordinary sameness about the names at City functions, and to outsiders it sometimes seems incredible that anyone can stand the reiteration of speeches, the endless repetition of faces down the banquet tables. But from the inside it must be very different. Inter- locking makes people feel safe. The Lord Mayor talks about his trips to Canada and the .Con- tinent to any number of gatherings, but because he's urbane, a gbod speaker, a well-liked man, his listeners, even if they happen to have heard about it already, show him the tolerance that a family shows a member who is repeating a story for the benefit of a newcomer.

The new Lord Mayor, who takes office on November 9, is a property man, Alderman C. J. Harman. The theme of his year will be the building industry, and at the Lord Mayor's Show that day. several thousand chocolates shaped like builders' tools will be thrown to spectators lining the route; last year, when British exports were being promoted, they had people on the floats dressed as mice, throwing cheese to the crowds. No one could complain of a lack of colourful enterprise when the City is in the mood. The Mansion House still offers its guests soft lights, an open fire, rich furnishings and nourish- ing service; the secretarial staff still plans the Lord Mayor's life with the care of a military staff planning a campaign: 11 a.m.: Presides at Vickers Dunfee Memorial Benevolent Fund AGM—Mansion House.

1 p.m.: Attends luncheon of Institute of Char- tered Accountants.

5.30 p.m.: Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress At Home to Canadian Trade Mission of Canadian Association of Advertising Agencies—Mansion House.

7.30 p.m.: Attends Haberdashers' Company din- ner—Haberdashers' Hall.

The City Corporation, with its ceremonial and practical aspects. is the other focus of corporate life. The City governs itself efficiently, and many of the criticisms that were made earlier this year, when the London Government Bill was being discussed by Parliament, were directed at ap- pearances, at the anachronism of having a piece of London that didn't conform. The Observer suggested that the case for treating it like any other borough council was that this would make a valuable symbolic break with the past and dis- courage the idea that Britain is a museum; but Sir Keith Joseph repulsed all attacks; the City, he said, was 'a living piece of history.'

The common City view is that no Labour Government is likely to interfere with a piece of machinery that proves so useful in entertaining

foreign visitors, and provides such a soothing background to the financial institutions. What is criticised at times is the detail: for instance, the system of election to the Court of Common. Council, the City's governing body, which can creak loudly. A poll is sometimes held at twenty- four hours' notice with no way (or, apparently, wish) to tell the voters. Election expenses are held to be insufficient. 'It's about twenty-five pounds,' said one candidate. 'Well, Jesus wept, no one wants to bribe the electorate, but it means you can print your address and post about half of it—the rest you take by hand.' The number of those entitled to vote—if they are not resi- dents they must own or rent property—is falling every year, partly because the director of a com- pany, who could qualify for a vote if he sub-let himself a room in his building, may simply not bother. `No one has a vote at X's,' said a Common Councilman, speaking of a merchant bank, 'because X is too lazy to sub-let himself a lavatory.' A total of just over 15,800 voters in 1952 was down to 13,700 last year—though when the Barbican scheme is finished its residen- tial section should add 6,000 to the City's per- manent population. Independent local govern- ment is likely to last. Insiders will continue to seek minor reforms, but largely it seems a ques- tion of shielding the system from, the charge that it may look undemocratic. The City is well content to go on governing itself in -basically the same way for another thousand years.

It is, as everyone trust have heard by now, the most historic square mile in the world. You never quite know what to expect. The College of Arms turns out to be in the City—dreaming away (or, as it would no doubt insist, working away) behind a mellow façade near The Times, employing its Kings of Arms, its Heralds and its Pursuivants to do unsuspected things with

genealogy, heraldry and State ceremonial. They will design and execute a coat of arms for any- one who is entitled to have one. On the tele- phone they do their best to be informative, but tend to refer inquirers to brief accounts in Whitaker's, or to books that are out of print. A kindly voice once referred me to a catalogue that had been produced by the College; I should, he said, be able to get hold of one somewhere. `I'm afraid there hasn't been one since 1934,' he added. 'But after all, that's only thirty years ago.'

After all, the sneers of the outsider, fall un- heeded on the hard surface of antiquity. The City's electoral wards still correspond to the estates of the City families that lived there before it became fashionable to start moving west. Some of the streets still follow routes that were first determined by the Roman walls. King Lud, of Ludgate Circus, is ,supposed to have been a pre- Roman king—but the City's sense of history depends on more material things than legends, on walls, churches, foundations, bits of ship, coins, nails, buckets and the general debris of centuries. Most of it will never be excavated, short of some post-atomic dig, but it's all there.

As the traffic gets worse, the courts and alley- ways and little gardens become more than ever a new dimension—places to escape to. Plenty of holes and corners survive. Except in the new office blocks, where cold commissionaires ob- serve your progress across the polished, echoing floors, the entrances to City firms are generally inconspicuous. Even great merchant banks go in for modest portals, either with no nameplate or with one where the name has been Brasso-ed to a shadow. The traditional City entrance is gloomy and cramped, the windows have net cur- tains above which bald heads or blonde beehives bob to and fro, and inside the hallway will be dozens of names; sometimes a modest building will seem to contain as many occupants as a skyscraper. Cramped conditions are one ex- planation; another is the fondness of many pro- vincial firms for a 'registered office' within the City—which means, in practice, a drawer full of company seals in an accountant's office, and a row of framed Certificates of Incorporation on the wall. The theory is that the Inland Revenue in London are harder-pressed than their colleagues in a distant market town or seaside resort, where inspectors lead quiet lives and (pre- sumably) have more time to contemplate the accounts of small fry. The result is a series of metal nameplates as you go in through the door.

In the alleys, by the gratings, the rich gravy smells from dining-rooms and kitchens are another characteristic. Eating places are plentiful in the City,"and the pubs at twelve o'clock have a succulent look : sandwiches are stacked under glass, joints of beef and pork are waiting for the knife, and the chef is ready for action, having just washed his hands in the discouragingly grey hand-basin behind the counter. The popular dining-rooms serve huge quantities of better food than you could expect at the price: sauted kidney, mashed and peas, four shillings; cold veal pie and salad, four and six; steamed sultana roll, one shilling; apricot tart and custard, nine- pence. This, and milk-bars, and food from paper bags—eaten around the table in the general office, or on stone steps or wooden seats in summer—is how most of the City's 400.000 transients have their lunch. The select restaurants and clubs are for the select few—anyway, the pleasures of heavy lunches soon fade, and many businessmen avoid them when they can.

One City director, shaking his head over the possibility of more interference in expense ac-

counts if Labour gets in, asked indignantly how much experience the average politician might have had of selling a bridge to someone in South America. 'It's no use going to Lyon's Corner House.' he said. 'You've got to give him a jolly good meal I went out to dinner on Thursday and when I got home, my wife said, "What did you have?" I said, "Well, I had smoked salmon, then I had turtle soup, then I had sole meuniere, then I had roast duck." Andirshe said, "You're lucky!" I said to her, "I would swap the whole lot for fish pie at home any night of my life."'

People talk about 'the City' when they mean the upper ranks of it: down below there isn't much that makes the City's workers different from those anywhere else, except in sheer num- bers. The strange sea-noise of feet shuffling over London Bridge in the morning, and shuffling away again at night, is a reminder of common drudgery. It must have been unbearable before there were girls: a great variety of bright, fashionable beauty walks about the City streets, apparently contradicting the legend of the `man's world.' The Bank of England, gallantly attempt- ing a bit of public relations, claims to have been among the first to. employ women; they are now indispensable in everyone's offices, but they are no more a part of the central, top-person's City than they ever were.

On the whole, shops seem to favour men: small groups in bowlers and black suits stand for a long time on the pavements, inspecting window displays of binoculars, fishing rods, guns, shooting sticks, canes, wallets, boots and tele- scopic umbrellas. Stamp dealers flourish and so do barbers. Tailors are there, often catering for a clientele that comes, in the main, from a

tiny area. One, near the Stock Exchange, has a pair of crests in the glass: To His Highness the Maharajah of Patiala, India. Heaven's light our guide.' And the other: 'To His Highness the Amir of Afghanistan.' Inside, the proprietor smiled and said that those crests went back a long time: his father took over the business that had had their highnesses as customers, when it went bankrupt in 1924. His clients were mainly stockbrokers—not, for instance, underwriters from Lloyd's, because that would be too far (you could walk it in four minutes). The German tailors worked on the floor above; he had just finished a hunting coat for a stockbroker client; as a rule they were conservative gentlemen.

They couldn't really be anything else. City scenes have an entrenched look. Long black cars glide past the Royal Exchange; a huddle of men obstruct the traffic, surrounding a machine lit below with fire, doing old-fashioned things with tar, blocks of wood and stiff brooms; the Bank of England overlooks the scene with its be- leaguered architecture, its citadel walls that seem to be announcing the proximity of gold-stuffed vaults.

Behind old glass and velvet curtains in a side- street, a gambling man, not long back from lunch and an afternoon's backgammon at his club, is telling his partner the cautionary tale of the Frenchman that someone tried to cheat. `The man he was playing against went to wash his hands, so the Frenchman thought, I'm going to wash my hands, too. When they got there the Frenchman said to the other chap: "You're not a member of this club." And the other chap said: "No." "Tell me," said the Frenchman, "how much are they paying you to play against me?" "Fifteen per cent of my winnings." So the Frenchman said: "I'll pay you 50 per cent to lose to me." And the chap was so skilful, he was able to do it.'

The messengers pass in and out of doorways, lights flash on the dealing tables, the foreign- exchangers send their jargon backwards and for- wards by telex between Zurich, Paris, New York. The man you see in a bank, talking austerely into a telephone behind a glass partition, reappears an hour later at a tea-shop window, talking to a girl, his features softened by lust and tiredness. Private Eye is on sale next to the City Press, which is denouncing decimals as if they were the plague. Somewhere in an office where they look after you well, a voice is saying, or a clerk is thinking: 'Now then, Harris, don't be silly, remember your pension.' At the Mansion House the password to the Tower of London is under lock and key. Presently the picquet will arrive at the Bank of England, and the officer in charge will eat his dinner, alone or with one guest, male, to be off the premises by II p.m.

The place has a sense of community: this is what lies behind the confidence, the' arro- gance, the atmosphere of clandestine goings-on that you sometimes en- counter. How much the sentiment helps or hinders the City in a competitive world is another matter. A lot of the trimmings seem un- necessary, but you couldn't expect the City to agree. It survives. simultaneously an indus- try and a tourist attrac- tion: an achievement by any standards.