The Docklands Light Railway opened for the first time, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’ was the first house record ever to top the UK chart and mobile phones were rarer than gold bricks and twice the size. The year? 1987.
This was the same year that the comic strip Alex was born in a soon-to-be defunct newspaper called the London Daily News. Later that year, he moved to the Independent, and then in 1992 to his current home, the Daily Telegraph. In 2007, he also joined us at square mile.
For 25 years, Alex has been the City of London’s favourite comic strip. The fact he has also been the British banking sector’s only cartoon (anti)hero is beside the point. He has reflected the changing face of banking in the UK as surely as if one of his 1980s contemporaries has dusted the cocaine off a mirror and held it up to that world-changing village we call the City, making us laugh year in and year out for a quarter of a century. Alex was there at the birth of the modern City of London. He was created by Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor to reflect the emergence of the ‘yuppie’: the braying, pinstriped, brick-phone and Porsche-owning hate figure who had come to symbolise the rampant 1980s capitalism of Thatcherism, just as the rest of England alternated between violence and boredom in waning Northern mining communities and police-hating inner cities: the same year as the glass towers were raised in Docklands.
The Big Bang had happened the year before. Until then the City was home to bowler-hatted gentlemen with good pensions but no mega-bonuses, who went back to Royal Tunbridge Wells every evening sober on the 5:15 from Waterloo. No one knew what a derivative was. And no one had thought of selling insurance on whether it would rain on some date in the future in the American Midwest, or hit upon the brilliant wheeze of offering 125% mortgages to unemployed trailer-park dwellers and feckless Greeks.
Twenty-five years on, the City is deplored for the consequences of taking full advantage of deregulation to explore investment opportunities. Alex now fears for his job at Megabank and feels very much like a dinosaur. The young newcomers work out more often than they go lap dancing, and lunch is delivered to desks by sushi bars when they used to be steak and claret and never take less than four hours. Greed, simply, is no longer seen as being quite so good.
In short, Alex had the best of it. He is the icon of a lost era of politically incorrect hedonism. Laugh with him as he remembers 25 years in the City. Alex, we, who are about to cry, salute you...
Alex, you are one of the few City institutions to have survived the last 25 years relatively unscathed. What is the secret of your longevity?
We in the City are all team players and I think I can safely say that I owe much of my success to the quality of the people I’ve chosen to work with. That’s why I’ve always made sure I recruit people who are more stupid than myself, so that they get canned first in any downturn, which is what’s happening at the moment. So, take my advice and always maintain that crucial buffer zone of incompetence around you.
How is the City different today from the City you worked in back in 1987?
Back in the 1980s, we didn’t have any of these whizzy derivative and quantitative products and, of course, the bankers were largely British; there were no Eurotrash or Americans. Thankfully, the global debt crisis seems to be taking us right back that way. Marvellous.
Does the negative press bankers got then and now make you feel bad?
Yes. I should have made enough to have retired during the intervening period.
Many young bankers seem to have taken up endurance sports instead of endurance lunches. Is it a good thing?
It’s two sides of the same coin, really. They want to live life to the full and so do we. I suppose we both agree that life is about the liver. And mine happens to be cast-iron.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
As someone who worked on many of the biggest corporate deals over the last two decades it’s hard to single out a particular one. I’ll have my headhunter forward you a copy of my CV when I get back to the office.
Thank you. And the low point?
Er, ask me again in six months...
Are you confident the UK can survive the Eurozone crisis? Where do you see the FTSE this time next year?
With a mood of austerity being predicted for the next year, do you think it’s important for bankers to set an example with their lifestyles?
Absolutely. And I’m prepared to do my bit. I’m considering drinking non-vintage champagne. At weekends, perhaps.
How do you feel about the recent anti-capitalist protests?
I don’t understand their agenda. What do they want to replace capitalism with? We all remember Soviet Russia. Nationalised industries, state intervention in the economy... We’ve had all that over here since the credit crunch. An economy made up of big flabby organisations full of apparatchiks and redundant layers of management, incapable of functioning efficiently? Well, just look at a modern investment bank.
There’s always a lot of anger over City bonuses. Is it justified?
Totally justified. I mean, I’m always very angry about my bonus. But normally it’s simply a show that I put on to make my boss think that he’s underpaid me. What worries me this year is that I might actually mean it.
Any celebrations planned for your silver jubilee?
It’ll be an excuse for a big party, yes. A bit like the one I had for my 20 years in the City. We certainly pushed the boat out then. Well, it was in the middle of the last boom. Just a few close friends and, of course, and some of my clients. You can tell what a good party it was because some of them couldn’t even remember it.
They got that drunk?
No, they weren’t actually there. The clients, I mean. I just put their names down so I could put the whole thing through on expenses.
Where will Alex be in 25 years’ time?
Retired, definitely. But, come to think of it, I said that 25 years ago…
One final question: are you fearful for your job in 2012?
Well, I’ve been tin-tacked twice in my career already. Frankly, in our line of work, getting fired is an occupational hazard. But previously when I was downsized (in the late 1980s and early 2000s) the stock market bottomed out fairly quickly afterwards. So in a way you could say that me losing my job is a contra-indicator. If it should happen again I will be investing my redundancy settlement in the FTSE. And I would advise you all to do the same. Remember where you heard it first.
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