Re­view of the best of the week

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Tv + Radio - TV re­view by Barry Did­cock

TV re­view: The Bank That Al­most Broke Bri­tain, BBC Two

It’s 10 years ago to­day since Royal Bank of Scot­land (RBS) found it­self at the heart of a fi­nan­cial cri­sis which re­sulted in a pub­licly-funded £1 tril­lion bailout and, more dam­ag­ing in the long run, a decade-long legacy of dis­trust in and anger at the fi­nan­cial elites whose greed and hubris paved the way for Brexit and Trump. One tril­lion pounds. Just read that num­ber back and savour, if that’s the right word, its grotesque enor­mity.

Nar­rated by Blythe Duff, who brought a strange, Robert Lud­lum au­dio­book feel to the hour-by-hour ac­count of that dra­matic day, The Bank That Al­most Broke Bri­tain told the story of RBS’s Icarus-like jour­ney from high-fly­ing fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion to soggy shark bait through the eyes of some of those who were there at the time (though not then­boss Fred Good­win, who de­clined the pro­gramme mak­ers’ over­tures for some rea­son) and those who were left to pick up the pieces.

Among the lat­ter group was David Soanes, a fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor to the Labour gov­ern­ment. “We were on the very brink of Ar­maged­don,” he said of the fast-mov­ing events of Oc­to­ber 7, 2008. “It’s dis­as­ter movie type stuff. Where is the su­per­hero?”

There wasn’t one avail­able, of course. In­stead the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem had to make do with the next best thing: Alis­tair Dar­ling, then Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer in Gor­don Brown’s gov­ern­ment. If he had his pants on over his trousers it was hard to see in the ar­chive footage.

But he cer­tainly wore a trou­bled look at odds with the sun-kissed vis­age he pre­sented to the pro­gramme mak­ers as he went over a tale he has no doubt told a hun­dred at din­ner par­ties since.

We also heard from jour­nal­ist Robert Pe­ston, who cov­ered the fi­nan­cial cri­sis for the BBC, Mervyn King, then Gover­nor of the Bank of Eng­land and var­i­ous other bit-part play­ers and ob­servers.

Adair Turner, who took over as head of the Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Au­thor­ity a month be­fore RBS went into its tail­spin, fea­tured just once for some rea­son.

Ap­pear­ances by Alex Salmond were oddly sparse too, though his wry ob­ser­va­tion that the open­ing of RBS’s mam­moth, Sil­i­con Val­ley-style HQ on the out­skirts of Ed­in­burgh was treated to a big­ger RAF fly­past than the open­ing of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment had re­ceived didn’t go un-no­ticed. Still, as his­tory clearly demon­strates, size isn’t every­thing.

Global in im­por­tance it might have been, but the cri­sis was met with a typ­i­cally Bri­tish re­sponse – Good­win and his fel­low bank­ing fat cats were sum­moned to the Trea­sury where Su­per­man, sorry Alis­tair Dar­ling, made them an of­fer they couldn’t refuse and then sent out for curry. Though not enough curry as it turned out.

“It’s a sore point,” said Soanes. “By the time I got back from my meet­ing with the CEOs, the Balti had been com­pletely hoovered up”.

A bit like the tax­pay­ers’ money then, eh?

For­mer Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer Alis­tair Dar­ling

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