The Sterling Crisis: Dealers make their mark: The currency dealing room

IT WAS 2.20pm in the National Westminster Bank's currency dealing room when the news broke. 'Announcement coming through everyone,' yelled a man in the middle of the room staring disbelievingly at the computer terminal in front of him. 'Jesus. 15 per cent MLR.'

The shout echoed round the room as though a witness were being called in court: '15 per cent, MLR. Call Mr 15 per cent.'

'15 per cent?' screamed someone as he tapped anxiously at a calculator. 'Do you know what that does to my bleeding mortgage? They've got to devalue now.'

'Sod it,' was his neighbour's analysis. 'I'm leaving the country.'

This is where the lions of the currency market work, where they circle the ailing wildebeest that is sterling. In a vast room, they sit at tiered banks of pine desks. Atop the jumble of computer screens on every desk is a little flag denoting the currency in which the occupants deal. It looks exactly like the European parliament chamber, except there is real power here.

In the middle of the room is the bear-pit where the dealers in dollars, marks and pounds face each other. Yesterday, the Union Jack above the sterling desk appeared to be at half-mast.

Here Trevor, Mark, Andy and Yosser had put their well-cut jackets on the hangers behind them at 7.15am and by mid-afternoon they were still at it: shouting into telephones, jabbing their discreetly golded fingers at each other, deciding the future of the British economy. On the desk in front of them, behind the copy of the Sun and the litter of empty coffee cups, were rows of little loud-speakers. These blared snippets of conversation into the ether: 'Give me seven, someone,' a disembodied voice would shout with a hint of desperation. 'Go on . . . my son, give me seven.'

Above the speakers, on banks of computer screens, lines of green numbers blinked. Oddly, given all the hi-tech around them, the traders recorded individual transactions on paper using biro and - 'bugger it, I've just lost 200 million' - Tipp-Ex.

Much of the time the dealers just stared at their screens, or chewed at their telephones, waiting for something to happen. Then, suddenly and for no clear reason, someone would react to one of the voices on the speakers.

'85/90,' the voice would go. 'I'll give you 86/91,' the man on the sterling desk would yell.

There would be a flurry of activity, everyone on the mark desks standing up as one and screaming at the sterling boys. Fingers would be pointed, brows agitated, the air turned blue.

It was not clear what was going on, but at the end of it, it was the lads on the mark desk who were smiling.

Outside the NatWest building, meanwhile, life went on as normal: the cash dispenser was out of order.

(Photograph omitted)