Nick Leeson - the Wad Waving Wastrel from Watford who Broke Barings Bank - at least had the English language on his side. Almost everything he did started with the same letter. He is still gainfully employed showing clients how not to hire someone like him. Groucho Marx said as much when he announced that he would never join a club that would have him as a member.
Life would be so dull without the need, from time to time, to mix with people we would rather not mix with. I am reminded of a member of the Savile Club in Mayfair who was forced to resign because, somewhat fuelled up, he had lifted a very small bishop onto the mantlepiece of the club coffee room with the phrase "You talk like a clock so this is where you belong."
The City of London - the "Square Mile" - where I have lived, mind-bogglingly, for nearly sixteen years now, has had more than its share of cads, cardsharps and cutpurses. My latest History Walk, the Bent As A Nine Bob Note Tour takes hard-working City of London workers, stag groups, hen groups, members of the Ed Sheeran Fan Club, and others, for a hectic after work whirl around the locations where the dodgy deals actually happened. Sometimes the earth beneath our feet hasn't quite cooled yet.
Such places include Cheapside, the City's high street, where not far from swanky new members' club The NED, French Emperor Napoleon used Barings Bank as a vehicle to maximise his profits when he sold the entirety of Louisiana - every humid, swampy acre of it - to the just-getting-going United States of America. Just over two hundred years later our Wad Waving friend Nick Leeson would bring the very same bank crashing down, by remote control, all the way from Singapore, opening the way for Harry Enfield to create one of his most memorable characters, zip-up polyester peacock Loadsamoney.
The striped Ice Cream Salesman's jacket Nick Leeson wore when he was roaring on the floor of the bourse sold some years ago for £21,000. And then resold for £4,000. Ice Cream Salesman's jackets can go down as well as up. I'd have been into him for a '99 with Cadbury's Flake at the very least.
The Bent As A Nine Bob Note Tour also features the South Sea Bubble (how could one resist?)
The South Sea Company was set up in 1711 because a national investigation had established that the country owed around £9m (£238bn in today's money). Loadsamoney, in other words.
This was the first time anyone had actually bothered to dash about in Westminster, find all the pieces of paper with the debts written on them, and put them in one place. Let alone add them all up. Panic ensued. National debt had not yet become something we take for granted, and for those who ran the country it was as though they had been discovered with their breeches around their ankles in a house of ill repute by several Covent Garden balladeers simultaneously.
Several early versions of the National Lottery were tried, but the debts just wouldn't soak up, and so the South Sea Company was set up as a way of shovelling further large amounts of cash from the hands of unsuspecting citizens into the Treasury. And all without the "T" word ("T" for tax, that is) passing anyone's lips.
The Company was set up to trade in all things South American, and, as a rather sweet afterthought, "to promote fishing". No self-respecting gentleman in England doubted the benefits of a rural expeditions armed with a stout rod. What was not to like?
Unfortunately there was a small problem. The War of the Spanish Succession was in full swing, and with Spain in armed-to-the-teeth domination of South America it was completely impossible to imagine that any such trade would occur within anyone's likely lifetime. The stock was worthless. Many were ruined, and the MPs who had been richly bribed not to spill the beans were investigated and disgraced.
Edward Ward's retrospective engraving shows the Quality of England flocking to Change Alley (which still exists today, though much changed) in utter desperation. The roofs of the country bourgeoisie of England would be leaking for many years to come.
Even King George I himself was to become involved. His not-one-but-two mistresses (one wonders what he did in his spare time, and indeed what the Queen, who was an Electoral Princess of Hanover, made of the whole arrangement) were the Countess of Darlington and the Duchess of Kendal. They had both part-underwritten the stock issue. The ladies' strong German accents did not endear them to the mobs who mercilessly jeered them when they rode in their open carriages through Hyde Park.
“Goot people!" cried the Duchess, "Why do you abuse us?" "We come for all your goots!”. A voice from the crowd shouted back “Yes, damn ye, and for all our chattels too!” Thank heavens for modern Regulation, which protects members of the Royal Family from a similar fate as we speak.
My History Walk, which is available for booking now (tickets selling out fast), is a no-holds-barred reminder of just how fantastically fortunate we are to be living in 2018.
The next tour is on 2nd October. Click on the experience below.
A drink and some serious Heritage Networking will follow in the Jamaica Coffee House.