Minor Bitish Institutions: The ATM

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The automated teller machine (ATM) is a proud British invention, conceived in proud British fashion by a former British-Indian Army parachute instructor in his bath, sold to the chief general manager of Barclays over a pink gin before lunch, and launched by a genial British comic actor, Reg Varney, who made the first-ever cash withdrawal, in Enfield in 1967. (British technological advances have often been introduced by comedians – Ernie Wise made the first mobile phone call, in 1985.)

Maximum withdrawal was £10. "But that was regarded then as quite enough for a wild weekend," the inventor, John Shepherd-Barron, later noted.

There are now some 70,000 of them; somewhere, queues of prudently furtive Pin enterers are shuffling forward, inwardly cursing the double transactors, and wondering if the neglected machine really is out of order (cash machines are prime examples of Nevin's Law: the more wondrous the technology, the greater the irritation when it fails to work).