Sailor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones on being scuppered financially...


Probably quite a few bankers are sailors. And no doubt quite a few sailors are also professional comedians, like Griff Rhys Jones, who feels he’s been ‘hung out to dry’ – much like the £50 bank notes pictured.

Given the state of our finances these days, some of us might think there’s not much difference between bankers and comedians! Certainly Fred the Shred must be laughing all the way to the bank. Does he have a yacht, too?

Meanwhile, poor Griff, who featured in Yachting Monthly recently with his lovely classic yacht, has been struggling for a laugh while writing a very good article on how his ‘safe’ deposit account evaporated with Lehman Brothers and wondering why his misfortune left the bankers totally unscathed?

‘As it happens,’ he writes in a guest column in The Times today, ‘I was hardly aware that I had anything deposited with this distinguished banking house (or hopelessly greedy incompetents, depending on the way you choose to look at them) until I telephoned the manager of my account at a hedge fund.’

‘I am just a standard freelance money earner with a moderately successful career,’ says Griff… who goes on to admit he became ‘intrinsically distrustful of all financiers in 1985’, after the only “tax scheme” he took part in (an industrial building allowance) proved to be hooey.

‘I have remained a suspicious old woman most of my professional life. And I have still been embezzled, suffered gross incompetence and been double and treble-charged (by mistake, of course). I have experienced the hubris of “bulletproof, perfectly legal” tax arrangements, the cupidity of lawyers and the stupidity of accountants who forgot to file, “tax advisers” who delayed meetings because they were so busy and then charged ten thousand per hour for out-of-date advice.

‘So, briefly, like many, I had a bit of money in equities… I heard rumblings and warning beeps and decided to withdraw all my money from the stock markets in April… it was all in cash by June. Cash. Dangerous, but real stuff. Money in the bank.

‘Well, let me rephrase that: money in a bank.

‘Then the bank collapsed. It was apparently a “segregated” or “custody” account. These were both terms that I had never heard before. But everybody told me that was OK. The hedge fund briskly suggested that I contact the liquidators myself, and I would get my custody money back within a week.’

Six months on, says Griff, it transpires that, far from an answer within a week, the liquidators seem to want a few years to sort things out. They are offering to scrape together about a quarter of this “segregated custody account money pool” and then charge me for doing so. I may well end up owing them money, I guess.

‘This is, by the way, actual money, not fantasy earnings or funds or “the value-could-go-up-or-down-money”. It happened, by sheer accident, to be in a deposit account. The truth is that my real money, and the other custody accounts, increasingly appear to be the only actual money that Lehman had at all.

‘But what makes it slightly bizarre is that the “false” money seems to be all right. Its brokerage divisions go on. Barclays and Nomura have taken them over. The jobs of the perpetrators of this asinine calamity have been secured.

‘This is seen as great success. More soothing words were needed. “You’re probably scratching your head about all this…” the lawyer kept saying, as if I were Winnie-the-Pooh. No doubt I needed the gruesome Robert Peston to help me with a diagram showing that “the good parts” of the bank have been sold on, while “the bad parts” are going to be taken up by the Government or shot or recycled or something. But in my Pooh naivety I thought of a deposit account as a good part, not a bad part. That’s how much of a patsy I am.’

For the full article see

What do you call 10,000 bankers at the bottom of the ocean?
Answer: A good start?