When Bankers Were Good Review: Jesus Saves! (The Economy)

IAN HISLOP – WHEN BANKERS WERE GOOD: Tuesday 22nd November, BBC2, 9pm

There are plenty of people who’ve rightly taken a fair bit of stick from the public in recent years. But despite their various transgressions, expense-fiddling politicians, phone-hacking journalists, super-injunction seeking celebrities and unfaithful footballers, have all played second fiddle to greedy *ankers, who’ve retained their position at the top of our ‘Bastard List’ as the economic crisis continues into a fourth year.

Of course the fact that many believe these city boys have simply taken their undeserved bonuses and left us all in the proverbial, doesn’t help matters. But it was not always thus says Ian Hislop. Indeed a couple of centuries ago, many of the richest bankers were renowned for being philanthropic and principled people who gave thousands of pounds to the poor. So where did it all go wrong?

Hislop doesn’t really bother with this question (after all, that’s been attempted before in countless other programmes, which are important, but usually quite quite dull) and as the title suggests takes us on a trip down an often-overlooked memory lane. Yet there’s still room for a few digs at the current banking class, my favourite of which was: “I’m not saying that modern bankers should hurl themselves from the top of Canary Wharf, well not ALL of them anyway..” after he explained that a bank manager who lost a fortune in the 1800s was ashamed enough to commit suicide. This is still a long way from the kind of witch-hunt we’ve seen before though and it’s all done with the kind of enjoyable smirk that we’re used to from Hislop’s appearances on HIGNFY. Indeed, this is a comparatively relenting piece, especially from a man who makes his living satirising the powerful.

As such our host introduces us to a number of noble 19th century bankers, before giving us a brief run-down of how the financial system and the nation as a whole changed as we moved into the modern era. Tales of great generosity from Victorian fat-cats like Elizabeth Fry, George Peabody and the Gurneys of Norwich, who all gave vast swathes of their cash to the poor in a variety of manners, dominate the early stages. We learn that if famous Victorian values were crucial in building up the early banking system, the philanthropists listed above laid the first foundations for the Welfare State with their generosity.

Apparently it was faith which triggered all the good-will towards their fellow men and women, which isn’t difficult to understand when we hear that Victorian bible lore held that “it was more difficult for a man rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle.” Thus it was unsurprising that these God-botherers felt that hoarding their riches would be frowned upon once they reached the Pearley Gates. So it’s true, Jesus Saves.. (the economy anyway)