THE NEW SYSTEM.
Punch, January 28, 1903
[Professor Sully accuses the British business man of taking life too seriously, and hints that his methods would be all the better for a little levity.]
“Well,” said the Bank Manager, as he finished reading the last of the letters which the candidate for the vacant stool had produced, “your credentials are certainly excellent. All that could be desired. I see that the Editor of Screaming Shots says, ‘We have enjoyed many a hearty laugh over jokes submitted by Mr. Jones.’ ”
“Yes, Sir,” said the candidate. He modestly omitted to mention that the Editor was not the only man who had laughed at those jokes. Sydney Smith had won quite a reputation with them.
“And I notice,” continued the Manager, “that the senior partner of your late firm also speaks highly of your abilities. Let me see, where is it? Ah, yes. ‘While I cannot conscientiously say that Mr. Jones has the commercial instinct highly developed’ ”—here the candidate, conscious of not knowing the difference between a ledger and a copying-press, bowed—“ ‘yet he possesses a sense of humour which would make his services invaluable to any firm. Mr. Jones knows a good joke when he sees one.’ ”
The senior partner of Mr. Jones’ late firm had had two good stories, one about missing the train from Wandsworth Common, the other in connection with a wonderfully smart saying of his youngest son (aged two), and Mr. Jones had always duly honoured them on presentation.
“Yes,” said the Manager, “your credentials are excellent. But perhaps you could give me a specimen of your abilities?”
“Then what would you say if a customer, having presented a cheque for a large amount, slipped as he left the building and dropped the money down a grating?”
“I should say that he had lost his balance.”
“You would not say that to the customer?”
“Certainly not, Sir. I should make the remark in a humorous undertone to a colleague.”
“Quite so, quite so. I merely asked, because in no business is tact so essential as in banking. A customer, for instance, tells you a story about a cat that belonged to his Aunt Jane, and its wonderful instinct. Your natural impulse is, of course, to cap it with the anecdote relating to your Uncle Thomas’s dog, which found its way from India to Forest Hill solely by its sense of smell. But you must stifle that impulse. Otherwise the customer will in all probability withdraw his account and induce his friends to do the same. A sense of humour, though essential to success in a modern bank, must be judiciously exercised. Why, only the other day we had to get rid of a most promising young fellow. An excellent worker, full of the quaintest conceits. His idea of pouring ink down the speaking-tube when he knew the sub-manager’s mouth was at the other end was extraordinarily happy. But he had to go. He would insist upon emphasising the points of his stories by digging his hearers in the ribs. He was a fine strapping young fellow, and after a time customers began to complain. And one day, when he was making an epigram about cashing cheques and checking cash, he very nearly injured an old gentleman permanently. There was a good deal of unpleasantness, and he had to go. But may I ask why you are turning up your coat-collar?”
“I have a slight cold,” explained the candidate, “and the room is full of drafts.”
“Excellent, Mr. Jones,” said the Manager, “you may certainly consider yourself engaged. And as regards salary——”
“We generally pay by the thousand words. Would three guineas——?”
Two minutes later shouts of inextinguishable laughter from the outer office proclaimed that the new clerk had entered upon his duties.
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.