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Channel 4 cashes in with Bank of Dave

Wannabe banker Dave Fishwick makes for entertaining TV, but starting local banks won't solve the economy's problems.

David Bowden

Topics Culture

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Infamy, infamy. One of the features of having my name is that you’re forever being stopped in the street and shouted at. Not the full name, of course, though I keep a close eye on my two most famous namesakes (one, confusingly, a journalist who appears on TV; the other an evangelical Christian poet) just in case. Being a Dave has its advantages, of course: it’s easy to blag your way into house parties; it’s a good, if confusing, introduction to strangers trying to get hold of some other guy; and there’s the a never-ending supply of copies of Will Self’s excellent novel, The Book of Dave.

So I approached new series The Bank of Dave with some interest (no pun intended). Channel 4 must be delighted with the timing of its broadcast, following a jolly and down-to-earth Burnley entrepreneur, Dave Fishwick, as he attempts to set up a bank to kickstart the local economy, free from all the extravagance and skulduggery around Libor and all that. Then again, having a pop at banks for being greedy and uninterested in the little guy is hardly the sort of iconoclasm which comes date-stamped.

Still, it’s enjoyable enough stuff. Fishwick is an engaging screen presence: a shameless show-off with a big red Ferrari, a chirpy self-made-millionaire demeanour and an honorary doctorate from the David Brent School of Management. He has an unashamedly populist touch, too, complaining about bankers and their ‘clicks’ when he discovers he needs £50million starting capital to set up a bank; while listing the number of ‘To Let’ signs that have cropped up in Burnley since the crisis hit, it sounds like he’s mispronouncing the name of some kind of exotic foodstuff. A typical scene, which features him waiting for a client to arrive from the US, shows he has two clocks in his office offering New York and Burnley time.

It must be said that his intentions are rather on the refreshing side too: unlike similar shows, such as The Secret Millionaire, Fishwick is not particularly interested to go on a journey of understanding with how people are suffering under the recession. Fishwick was doing perfectly well before the financial crisis, thank you very much, and he wants to go back to the period of economic growth, easy credit and consumption which helped him buy his Ferrari and, he hopes, would let others buy one, too.

Moreover, the idea of setting up a bank is a potentially exciting way of exploring the question of how finance operates, how layers of regulation can act to throttle small businesses, and the benefits of dynamic risk-taking and enterprise. After all the bluster about Occupy St Paul’s last year and plenty of sermonising from secular circles about Jesus kicking the money-lenders out of the temple, it was rather striking to be asked to cheer on someone winning the right to do just that.

Sadly, nobody involved seemed to have much idea of what was involved in setting up a bank, how it is supposed to operate or even how it differs from a building society. Neither were we, the viewers, by the end of the programme. Fishwick’s solution to the problem of capitalism being more capitalism was nice enough, but seemed utterly devoid of any mention of profit and associated niceties. At least The Secret Millionaire is honest about offering charity and handouts to the deserving poor. Being wealthy may not be much of a qualification for setting up a bank, yet you can’t help but feel that it’s a better start than being a nice-sounding bloke.

That one of the new bank’s proudest cheerleaders has been Burnley’s proud son and former prime-ministerial spinmeister Alastair Campbell should give you a ready indication that this defence of enterprise and growth was perhaps not as sincere as it claimed to be. As has been pointed out elsewhere by spiked writers in recent months, it takes more to support real economic growth than simply shouting ‘growth!’ It all sounds very well offering loans to keep businesses afloat during a difficult period, as happened during the initial crisis, if you remember, but it will take some bold risk-taking from profit-seeking businesses taking big loans for start-up costs to get you out of that recession.

Bank of Dave is a nice idea but it has been rather sadly played for laughs. You might laud an attempt to make a difficult, boring and technocratic discussion about how to reform and restructure the banks accessible and fun by giving it a human touch, but frankly there’s no getting away from the fact such a discussion, meaningfully had, is difficult and boring and technocratic. Dave Fishwick is a fun, charismatic figure and this is a fun show. But rather more serious is the thought that people aren’t really laughing.

David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.

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Topics Culture

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