Bunhill: Nice Christmas Day at the office, dear?
Sunday 28 December 1997
A new survey of 374 organisations by Reed Personnel Services, the recruitment specialist, reveals that 8 per cent will have worked on Christmas Day this year - a rise of a third on 10 years ago. The reason is that the customer now seems to demand it. Reed says the most marked increase in Christmas working has been in the services sector, and in particular telephone banking operations and computer helplines.
It is perhaps only a natural extension of all-night shopping in supermarkets that the service ethic should now infiltrate the day traditionally set aside for The Great Escape, Ben Hur, the Omnibus edition of East Enders and the East Enders edition of Omnibus. Christmas used to mean conspicuous consumption, self-indulgence that knew no tomorrow, and of course the compulsory breath of fresh air on a bracing, weight-reducing walk of around eight minutes' duration. Now it means ringing up the bank to find out how much damage the Christmas shopping has inflicted on your finances, before presumably grabbing back the presents and returning them to the shops.
A spokeswoman for Reed said employees were not necessarily victims of the all-consuming consumer society, pointing to anecdotal evidence that many of them actually like to get out of the house on 25 December (probably to escape from the very same obsessive people who'll be ringing them up later). However, if you extrapolate Reed's figures for the whole of Britain's working population, and assume an average of just one person per company chained to their desk on Christmas Day, around 2.5 million hapless souls will have been in their offices last Thursday - and surely that is the work ethic gone crazy.
No wonder the roads were so crowded as I drove to the office.
As the Heritage Lottery Fund considers applications from the arts world for Millennium funding, its eyes may be drawn to one request from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside. For the chairman of trustees at the NMGM has first-hand experience of Britain's cultural heritage.
In an earlier incarnation David McDonnell, who's also head of the accountancy firm Grant Thornton, played the drums for a band called the Quarrymen, named after the Liverpool school he attended, Quarry Bank. "I liked the idea of being a drummer," he recalls. "I was also lousy at it."
And what an exercise in realism that was ... if only he'd stuck at the music and bunked off mathematics. Instead, he threw down the drumsticks and went on to earn a crust leading a global accountancy firm. But the Mersey beat carried on without him: after a few more personnel and name changes, the Quarrymen went on to earn something more than a crust as the Beatles.
That Mr McDonnell ever had a crack at showbiz was down to his being at school with one John Lennon - he who would have been convicted many times over if assault with a deadly tongue had ever been made a criminal offence. And without wishing to give credence to the latest bout of revisionism that has transformed Lennon from rebel with a cause to unreconstructed bastard guilty of every "ism" going, it seems that "Give peace a chance" wasn't on his mind in the playground. "My memory of him is as not a very nice person. He was a bit of a bully," says Mr McDonnell.
However, they then got to know each other better and then they went their separate ways. But their paths were to cross again. Mr McDonnell's first accounting job was as a "raw recruit" in the small Liverpool firm of Bryce Hanmer, and one of its clients owned a music store in Liverpool. The client's name was Brian Epstein, who then met the Beatles, became their manager and got Bryce Hanmer to do the band's accounts.
This was 1961, and if ever Mr McDonnell wonders about the one that got away, think how his accountancy firm must feel. About a year later Mr Epstein moved his financial affairs down to London, and as luck would have it Bryce Hanmer had by this time merged with another firm, Thornton Baker, which had a London office. But Thornton Baker looked the gift horse in the mouth and, deciding that the Beatles "weren't the sort of reputable clients it wanted", passed on the work to a rival. The Beatles weren't even taking drugs at the time; the accountants almost certainly were.
Mr McDonnell has moved onwards and upwards since then, and he's also lost his Scouse accent. However, he has stuck close to his roots and used his high-profile position to correct the popular perception of Liverpool as an area full of thieves, men with permed hair and police identity parades where no one can spot the difference. It was partly because of this work as "a low-key ambassador for the City" that the NMGM approached him in 1995, and he admits that at first he didn't know much about the arts world. "I had to hit the ground running," he says.
Now, as he prepares a full bid to the Heritage Fund for pounds 35m of Lottery money, he talks of the city's renaissance as a cultural centre showcasing both national and local works of art. And he speaks in much the same terms about his own industry. "The old image of accountants as grey professionals who counted other people's money is not entirely unjustified and it's doomed to extinction anyway," he says. "This is now a function of technology and, before you know it, people will be doing the calculations for themselves from computers on their watch straps." The future for the profession, he adds, is corporate finance, "entrepreneurialism and helping people to create things".
So could accountancy be the new rock 'n' roll and will Mr McDonnell be playing the drums? On Penny Lane, meanwhile, will the barber serve another culture buff? And, seeing as our friend from the North is so involved with urban regeneration, will he please do something about those 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire?
Yes can do
HERE'S something one of my colleagues drank earlier. It's a hot drink in a can, one of a new range now appearing in Bunhill Towers courtesy of Brooke Bond - the company that brought us PG Tips and the tea-drinking monkeys.
My colleague speaks highly of this development because the alternative is one of those plastic vending-machine cups that lead to burnt hands, evocative language and a hefty dry-cleaning bill. The drinks still taste the same, of course, but that's not really the point; like I've always said, you can't beat a nice can of tea.
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