A couple of years ago, I was profoundly depressed, inching closer to suicide and utterly lost. So I started looking for something. I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was not God.

The Wisdom of Mary Poppins

Rather out of nowhere, my daughter asked to watch Mary Poppins the other day. It’s possible I might have nudged her in that direction, what with it being one of the greatest films of all time, but I can’t be sure. Anyway, I was struck by the lyrics to the Fidelity, Fiduciary Bank song. It’s sung by Dick van Dyke, performing even less convincingly as an ancient banker than he is as a cock-er-ney chimney sweep. Written in 1964, I imagine this song was intended to poke a little fun at banks for being considerably less interesting than buying birdseed outside St Paul's. It’s arguably even gently anti-capitalist, with the bearded bores delighting in profits to be made from misfortune: “Think of the foreclosures! Bankruptcies! Debtor Sales! Opportunities!” And little Michael manages to cause a run on the bank by refusing to hand over his money, so it’s not all plain sailing in late Victorian England.

However, what’s most striking is its concrete insistence of what a bank should be for. So much so, I’ve taken the liberty of a brief rewrite from Richard and Robert Sherman’s original here:

“If you invest your tuppence

Wisely in the bank

Safe and sound

Soon that tuppence,

Safely invested in the bank,

Will compound

And you'll achieve that sense of conquest

As your affluence expands

In the hands of the directors

Who invest as propriety demands

You see, Michael, you'll be part of

Railways through Africa!

Dams across the Nile!

Fleets of ocean greyhounds!

Majestic, self-amortizing canals!

Plantations of ripening tea!

All from tuppence, prudently

Fruitfully, frugally invested

In the, to be specific,

In the Dawes, Tomes

Mousely, Grubbs

Fidelity Fiduciary Bank!”


To this updated version. You can sing along here, if you fancy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxyB29bDbBA


“If you invest your tuppence

Blindly in the bank

Lost to all

Soon that tuppence

You thought invested in the bank,

Will disband

And you’ll achieve that sense of despair

As your deposit becomes

In the hands of some mad gambler

Who invests as his bonus pool demands

You see, Michael, you'll be part of

Collateralised debt obligations!

Sub-prime property!

Credit default swaps!

Majestic, incomprehensible securities!

Meaningless screens of numbers!

All from tuppence, fearfully,

nervously, fraudulently invested

In the, to be specific,

In the Crook, Spiv,

Bonus, Grabbs

Tax Haven Protected Bank!”

Simpler days, readers. Simpler days.

The Pitfalls of Populism