Fiction

These are the BONNIE BABES of the BANK OF LOWER CANADA

Now, who could tell which one grew up to be president?

Michael Sheldon December 21 1957
Fiction

These are the BONNIE BABES of the BANK OF LOWER CANADA

Now, who could tell which one grew up to be president?

Michael Sheldon December 21 1957

These are the BONNIE BABES of the BANK OF LOWER CANADA

Now, who could tell which one grew up to be president?

Michael Sheldon

It was Charley Stagg, the director of public relations, who persuaded president Blake Jopson that the Bank of Lower Canada should take a survey of staff opinion. “A loyal and contented staff, sir,” he said, “is a prerequisite of good customer relations.”

“Are you suggesting that our people . . ,” the president began.

“Lm suggesting nothing, sir. But we have no scientific evidence of how the staff feel, none at all. The Bank of Upper Manhattan takes a detailed survey every six months.”

“That’s not unwise—with the kind of turnover they have down there.”

“Mr. Jopson, I want just one survey. And I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it gave us a completely clean bill of health. But it's the only way of really knowing where we stand. Besides, we'd be pioneering among Canadian banks. It would be another first for the B of LC.”

Pioneering. Charley Stagg knew from experience, was catnip to his president. Get it into the headline of an ad and that ad would be approved, however big. however expensive. It worked again this time —quite rapidly. “Okay, Charley. But keep your results under wraps until we've had a good look at them. In case they say front office is a bunch of stinkers or they want a tellers’ union.” Blake Jopson prided himself on being outspoken.

So Charley Stagg went into a huddle with Beanpole Surveys Inc., and in due course a representative sample of B of LC employees from Halifax to Vancouver. Niagara to Whitehorse, were handed a sheet containing thirty-four probing questions that would reveal just what they thought about their work, their prospects and their superiors. To be filled in anonymously, of course.

The survey occasioned its measure of ribald comment; here was another of Stagg’s crazy notions. But the answers were finally received, tabulated and analyzed, and Charley Stagg was ready to present his report to the executive.

All in all the results were gratifying. The staff seemed contented

with their lot; they believed banking was an continued on page 41

Continued from page 23

honorable profession and the B oí LC the finest bank in Canada. There was just one reply that could give rise to concern. To the question, “Do you look on the senior officials of the bank as likable human people?" only twenty-three percent had answered “always" and seventeen percent “frequently;” forty-four percent had ticked “sometimes” and an awful sixteen percent ''never.''

It was good to have this justification for the money spent on the survey, but Charley wished it had occurred in some less sensitive area. To tell president Blake Jopson, the general manager and the assistant general managers, not to mention Gordon Broadhead. the terrible chief inspector, that three out of five of their subordinates had doubts about their humanity was quite an undertaking.

But it was not beyond the p.r. talents of Charley Stagg. “And so there is. ' he said at the end of his factual presentation, “this single weak spot. It's the result, I must admit, of my department falling down on the job. As the senior executives of our great institution you are all very busy men with heavy responsibilities. Naturally you haven't the time to consider how to present yourselves to those you work with. Your achievements are what count; that is what Canada requires of you. But we. for our part, should have devoted more attention to our task of showing you to the staff— and through them to the public—as the pleasant understanding people you really are. 1 have begun to line up a program to make good this failure."

The scapegoat was ready, even eager; the executive could shake itself free of any lingering self-doubts. Though Gordon Broadhead suggested the whole business was a pile of nonsense, he was overruled by the president himself. Charley Stagg was complimented on his survey and authorized to press on with his program.

His first move was to summon Stew Carruthers, editor of The Open Account, the B of LC staff magazine. Stew had begun his banking career as a junior clerk who preferred to write poetry. He spent many hours penning and polishing his Canadian epic. The Genesis of a Nation. But he could never quite bring it to the point of publication. Meanwhile, however, he had blasted his banking career by talking and behaving like a poet.

But not his career at the bank. When it was decided that a staff magazine was a necessary evil, Stew Carruthers' literary reputation made him the obvious choice for editor. He had held the

it

position now for ten years, the last three reporting—according to the organization charts—to Charley Stagg. But. assured the editorial chair was his until the day of retirement, he did not let his subordination weigh too heavily.

The\ sat opposite each other across Charley's limed-oak desk. His rank in the hierarchy entitled Charley to the smallestsize mahogany, but he had requested limed oak as a distinctive witness to his particular role. And he had even acquired an old-rose carpet to go with it. This special setup of Charley’s always irked Stew, whose editorship provided just a standard cubicle within the general office.

Now a lean drawn man, with the weary gestures of a former poet, still somewhat long-haired and floppy-collared, he watched the director of public relations bounce up and down behind his desk with agitating enthusiasm. There were absent moments when he thought he could actually hear Charley, round and Bostonbullish. barking.

"This is our great opportunity. Stew,” Charley was saying. "We can prove our value to them as we never have betöre. Here'’—he waved the survey report—"l have a scientific measurement of staff attitude, showing up this most significant weak spot. We do our stuff. Then we measure again, just as scientifically, and present them with the improvement in statistics. If that doesn't sell p.r. to front office once and for all . . .”

"How are you going to achieve your improvement?”

Stew used the second person like a rapier. Charley riposted: “It will be our achievement. Stew. The Open Account will spearhead our program."

“More pictures of curling and golf matches? A photo feature of the president and his lady relaxing on the beach at Nassau? Another editorial on what success hasn’t done to our beloved bosses?” “You think they've been spoiled by their success, Stew?”

“1 wouldn't generalize. Blake Jopson was always a hard nut; Gerry Bartholomew has remained a good-natured guy. But take Gordon Broadhead. He didn’t use to be the flinty character he is now.

1 can remember when he was quite human. The hardness has grown as he’s battled up the ladder.”

"I agree it’s not easy. Stew. It requires thought, inspiration.”

“And you’re not going to change attitudes with a mess of words. Send every euy forty ounces of Scotch at Christmas with the president's personal compliments, and maybe . .

“A little too direct, Stew; crude if I might say so. What we have to do is capture the staff’s imagination. Make the boys and girls in the branches see these men as they really are."

A wicked idea slipped into Stew Carruther's brain, one of those ideas that arrived from time to time to make up for the loss of active poetry-making.

"I've heard you say. Charley, that theie are three ways to get readership for an ad—use a dog. a baby or a pretty girl. Well you can’t change their sex or cover them with fur."

Charley gasped. "Holy smoke, Stew! Babies! We were all babies once. That’s the one common denominator. The Open Account can run a series of pictures of the executives as babies, with cut lines on their honest down-to-earth ancestry. Blake Jopson's father was a farmer in

Haliburton: Gerry Bartholomew once told me his mother took in washing. There’s our opening cannonade.” But the spirit of poesy was still on Stew Carruthers. “A dull way of doing it, Charley. Just pictures and words as usual.”

“And you suggest?”

“A contest. We get all these baby pictures and we print them and ask, “Which is which? Name the president—the chief inspector. Two weeks in Florida—or Disneyland—or where you like for the man or girl who sends in the first correct solution.”

“Isn’t your prize a bit extravagant?” “No more than the idea.” Stew sat back, waiting for Charley to pick holes in his fantasy the way he had so many times in the past. But Charley, who always recognized opportunity face to face, merely said, “You better start getting those pictures together at once. We’ve got to make the June issue.”

“But 1 . .

“You’ve sold me, Stew.”

“They won’t let me have any pictures. Can you imagine Angus Mather . . . ?” “Go to their wives.”

“But if . . . ?”

"Then their mothers. And, just to make sure, I’ll get Mr. Jopson’s personal support.”

You damn fool, Stew Carruthers grumbled at himself as he returned to his cubicle, why didn’t you keep your mouth shut? Why can you never keep it shut?

CHARLEY made his appointment with the president. “In this program, sir, to humanize the executive . . .”

“What!”

“To make them appear human, sir. I mean, to make clear their evident humanity.”

The president relaxed, nodded. “Okay, go on.”

“I’ve had an idea for a feature in The Open Account that I'm sure will get a hundred percent readership.”

“Fine. I suppose you want me to write a personal message.”

“Er—no, not at this stage, Mr. Jopson. What I would like is a photograph of you as a baby—and of the other members of the executive, of course. Then we’d run a contest.”

“A baby contest, Charley? Pick the finest baby?”

“Oh no, sir. Pick the president. We'll print all the pictures together and offer a prize for the first person to name them correctly.”

“Not a very dignified way to present the senior officers of the Bank of Lower Canada.”

To Blake Jopson, modernizer of the B of LC, “dignified,” Charley knew, was all but a term of abuse; his case was won, and far more easily than he had expected. “No, Mr. Jopson. not dignified ” he said, “just human.”

“Okay, I’ll see what I can dig up for you.” And the president added suddenly, “Matter of fact, I was the prize-winning baby of my year at the Haliburton Agricultural Fair.”

“Congratulations, sir. And would you speak to the other members of the executive?”

“Hm.” The president pondered. “I prefer to leave it to their good judgment— at least for the present.”

Charley made much to Stew of having got him the president’s picture, a fine buttocky view of the victor beside his silver cup. “The rest, my boy, is up to you,” he said.

Stew started with Angus Mather, the general manager, whom even his closest associates never managed to call anything but A.M.

“A baby picture of me, Carruthers? You must be out of your mind.”

“I don’t think so, sir. We have the president. Would you like to see him?” Stew began to open his file.

“I—I don’t feel called on to inspect the . . .” If one could only distinguish the different hues, A.M., it seemed to Stew, might actually be blushing.

“The whole bank will be inspecting it soon, sir. Yours too, I trust.”

A.M. shook his head in appalled comment. Then he said suddenly. “Well let me see it.” After an arm s-length inspection he added, “You don’t object to a little—covering?”

“Anything you like, sir.” Stew wondered if the general manager were going to use blue paint as they did on Montreal cinema posters. But the sealed envelope, which the chief messenger brought Stew next morning, contained a rather faded photograph of a glum kilted two-yearold. “No challenge there,” Stew commented, as he added it to the file.

His reception by the assistant general managers varied. Gerry Bartholomew told a string of stories about babies and how they came into the world, and provided a picture that almost rivaled the president’s. Of the four others, two were horrified, resisted and finally gave way; two were just horrified and resisted. Acting on the instructions he had received, Stew then forced himself to approach their wives. But his trepidation was unnecessary. Mrs. Wilmott and Mrs. Worthington both thought it was a beautiful idea and both had family albums in a back drawer of their personal writing desks. Mrs. Wilmott gave him coffee while she chose the most flattering presentation, a studio portrait with a model boat as a prop. It even had cotton-wool steam billowing out of the funnels. Mrs. Worthington handed him the album and told him to pick for himself. He decided on a snapshot of the infant AGM measured by his proud father against a freshly caught pike. Both wives agreed not to breathe a word to their husbands until the pictures had appeared; it seemed that they were in favor of humanization.

So only Gordon Broadhead, the chief

inspector, remained. Surely with so many scalps on view, Stew thought, even Broadhead would put up only token resistance. But he was wrong.

ORDON Broadhead was a very large Trobust man. Yet such an immense frame housed the meticulous brain required in a chief inspector. In his own encounter Stew was most conscious of the physical strength of the man who loomed over him. “You’re not having any picture of mine for your disgusting show, Carruthers. Tell that to your Mr. Stagg.” “But, sir, every other member of the executive—is right here. Perhaps you’d like to look. It might give you an idea.” “I said no, Carruthers, and I mean no. The fatuous antics you public-relations people dream up . . . Now off you go. I’m busy.”

Well, there’ll be a wife to deal with. Stew consoled himself. But there wasn’t, nor a mother according to the staff department records. No next-of-kin was listed for the chief inspector. Stew presented his file to Charley Stagg and said, “I guess we’ll have to hold the show without him.”

“No, wc won’t,” Charley exploded. “The entire executive must be there or it'll defeat the whole scientific purpose.” Stew noted with interest that the mantle of science had stretched from the survey to the contest, but then Charley Stagg and Gordon Broadhead were old enemies. “He refused absolutely?”

“He didn’t actually throw me out of the office.”

“I’ll speak to the president.”

Four days later, coming back from lunch, Stew found an envelope on his desk marked Confidential. Inside was a worn creased picture of a grinning curlyhaired boy of about eighteen months, sitting on a young woman’s lap. It had been taken in Atlantic City. There was no note attached.

It was decided that a hundred-dollar savings account was a suitable first prize for the contest, with several smaller prizes to be awarded on a regional basis. Anyone in the bank could send in an entry, apart from the executive and the publicrelations department.

The contest was a terrific success. Within two weeks more than eight out of ten employees had sent in their entries. It became the chief subject of conversation for all Canadian bankers from coast to coast. A large number of columnists and editors found in ii source for reflection — mainly favorable. A Social Credit member asked in parliament if it were true that the government was planning something similar on a national scale to stimulate the sale of Canada Savings Bonds.

Once all the entries were in, Charley and Stew began judging. And they found among them a number of letters. Most of these praised the contest; a few, too few for serious concern, attacked it as cheap and undignified. “Old stuffed shirts,” Charley pointed out. “They just don’t appreciate what our bank stands for in the modern world.”

It was during the third judging session that he opened a letter that made him roar with excitement. “Read this, Stew. It’s tremendous.”

Headed “The Sunlight Old Folks Home, Cooksville,” it was addressed to The Editor, The Open Account:

Dear Sir,

I am 76 years old. Another lady who lives here used to work for your bank and so she receives your magazine. She showed me the picture of the lovely babies and I recognized my own little boy, Harold, whom I was forced to abandon by forces beyond my control when he was just two years old. I am quite sure it is Harold, the little boy with curly hair who is smiling in the right-hand upper corner. I am with him. The picture was taken in happier days in Atlantic City. It would be an act of great kindness to tell him that his poor old mother is longing to see him. I am truly sorry for what I did to him, but I am happy to see he has made his way in the world. His father too was a very forceful man.

Yours respectfully, Alice Capstick (Mrs.)

“Gordon Broadhead’s mother,” Charley said.

“An old crank,” Stew answered. “Didn’t you say Broadhead has no next-of-kin? And he made a terrible fuss about producing any picture at all. And his photograph was taken in Atlantic City. I’m sure he’s her son.” Charley’s voice boomed with enthusiasm. “What a story, Stew. What a bonus! Our contest in The Open Account brings together the chief inspector and his long-lost mother. It’ll be a sensation. And make a lot of people see Gordon Broadhead as a human being for the first time—which is just what we’re trying to do, in spite of his deplorable attitude. We must get him to Cooksville at once. You arrange for a photographer.”

“I don’t think he’s going to like it, Charley.”

“Stew!” Charley was sincerely shocked. “Not like finding his own mother again —after fifty years? How can you suggest such a thing—even of Broadhead?” “Fifty years is a long time.”

“The feelings of a mother for her child, of a child for his mother . . . nothing in this world . . .” Charley’s eyes had lit up, but not Stew’s. “Very well. I’ll speak to him myself. Right now.”

“Yes, what is it?” As usual the chief inspector had his work piled up around him like a barricade.

“Gordon, the most amazing, the most wonderful thing has happened. Your mother has recognized your picture in The Open Account.”

‘My mother?” It w'as stupefaction first. That was natural; Charley waited for the love and happiness to burst forth. “My mother! Don’t be a fool. Stagg.”

“There seems very little doubt. She even named the place where the picture w-as taken. I can understand that after all these years it’s something of a shock . . .” “This is what comes of your half-witted contest.”

"Half-witted? With practically everyone who works for the bank sending in ,n answer? It’s a stupendous success. No public-relations project 1 know' of—anywhere—has done so much to humanize an executive. And now this discovery of your mother—it’s another national story.” “I forbid you to mention a word about it. This is my personal business. 1 ... oh get out and let me get on with my work.” Charley Stagg found the chief inspector’s bulk positively menacing.

He returned to his office, torn alternately by disgust and rage. “I couldn't believe it, Stew. A member of the executive of this bank to deny his own mother.”

“Maybe she isn’t.”

“I’m sure she is. The air was heavy with his sense of guilt.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“My hand is forced. I have to appeal to Mr. Jopson.”

“1 wonder if that’s wise, Charley. This really is a personal matter.”

“But it’s the most magnificent story,

. :ew. The drama! The significance! In all ny years in public relations I've never dreamed of a story like this.”

“I think you ought to hold off, Charley. Let the dust settle.”

“With that poor soul waiting for her answer?”

“She’s waited for fifty years. And we might work out some way of getting Broadhead to co-operate.”

There were many men who said that, in spite of his manners, Gordon Broadhead was the next president but one. “If you think so,” Charley agreed after some consideration. “I suppose we can afford a day or two more. Meanwhile I'll draft up a publicity program. We mustn't miss any chances when it does break.”

STEW Carruthers sat late in his cubicle, catching up with work the contest had made him put aside. He was alone in the department when Gordon Broadhead walked in.

“Evening, Carruthers. You folks don’t usually stay so late, do you?”

“No, sir. This is rather an unusual situation.”

“I’ll say it is.” The chief inspector sat down. He looked tired, distressed. It took him a while to speak. “Carruthers,” he said finally. “I’ve always thought you a reasonable person. You w'orked in a branch; you don't seem to be taken in by all this nonsense.”

“I hope not, sir.”

“I suppose Stagg has told you about our conversation?”

“Yes, he has.”

“The president insisted 1 produce a photograph. He absolutely insisted.” Gordon Broadhead's voice was high and strained. Stew looked closely at him and understood. “But it’s not yours?” “No.”

“Whose is it?”

“Hal Beasley’s.”

“I don’t think I . . .”

“He’s on the building staff—looks after the furnace room. We’re old friends, grew up in the same orphanage. Hal had this picture on him when he was found. I had nothing. I couldn't imagine anyone recognizing him.”

“But she’s his mother.”

“It seems so.”

“Have you told him about the letter?” “Just now. I’ve never seen old Hal so excited. He wanted to get on tonight’s train to Toronto.”

“Is he going to?”

“I persuaded him to wait a little. Because of—well, certain complications.” There was a long silence. "Mr. Broadhead,” Stew' said finally, “why don’t you tell Charley Stagg what has happened?” “And have him turn me into one of his national stories? I can’t, Carruthers. If Mr. Jopson hadn’t been so insistent I’d have explained to him. But he said

I had to be in the contest, that I was mainly responsible for that ‘never’ percentage. Hell, a chief inspector can’t go round smiling at people all the time.”

It would be impossible to publicize Hal Beasley's reunion with his mother without revealing the chief inspector’s distressing part in it. It was equally impossible, Stew now saw', to tell Charley w'hat had happened—in view' of the state of Stagg-Broadhead relations, the many occasions the chief inspector had said what he thought of the p.r. department. In twenty-four hours everyone in head office

and the Montreal branches w'ould be laughing like mad at Gordon Broadhead. And he, poor man, might never recover from the embarrassment.

Stew began to think out loud. “Suppose we—er—made your parentage sound a little doubtful, suggested that this woman wasn’t exactly . .

“No, Carruthers. It wouldn’t be fair on her—or Hal.”

Now the feeling of guilt began to grow in Stew Carruthers. Off-handedly, lightheartedly he had launched the whole project; he alone was responsible for the

chief inspector’s ghastly dilemma. He sought a solution feverishly—and found none. At last he said, ‘i’ll think of some way out, Mr. Broadhead. I promise you 1 will.”

And the terrible chief inspector just said, “If you do I’ll never know how to thank you enough.”

After his visitor had left. Stew sat staring at the contest answers that filled his cubicle, hundreds, thousands of envelopes still to be opened. Envelopes from all parts of the country—cities, towns and villages — stamped and postmarked. And then the way to save Gordon Broadhead burst upon him. It’s lucky, he thought. I’ve such a fine selection of sisters, aunts and female cousins.

HE was very busy that night and the following morning. In the afternoon he managed to pin Charley Stagg down to a full-scale attack on the remaining answers, taking care to open the envelopes himself. They found in all, twelve letters claiming one member or other of the executive as a long-lost son. Some were heart-rending, others poetic in their simplicity; several contained strong circumstantial evidence. The first two or three thrilled Charley as much as they puzzled him. Later he became quite disgusted.

“I can’t understand,” he said, “how women can get ideas like this.” He had just put down a letter from a New Brunswick farmer’s widow, who knew for sure she had given birth to the dear little boy with the dear little bottom.

“It’s quite natural,” Stew said. “Loneliness, repression, that sort of thing.”

“I suppose we must have them all investigated.”

“I don’t know about that, Charley. If

this story got out, the bank would become something of a laughing stock.” Charley contemplated the awTuI possibility. "I think it would be better if I wrote each one a letter saying we’re deeply sympathetic but in this case she's mistaken. I’m sure that will settle the matter.”

“Except for that one from Cooksville.”

"I can't see how she’s any different from the rest. But I'll write her a less positive letter. If she’s genuine we’re bound to hear from her again.”

And Charley Stagg, whose faith in human nature had been shaken, allowed himself to be persuaded.

The contest w'as won by an assistant accountant in New Westminster. And the president was not hard to convince of the need for a second survey of staff opinion. It showed that sixty-two percent of the men and women who worked for the Bank of Low'er Canada now' regarded their senior officers as likable, human people — always or frequently, ihat is. The incorrigible nevers were down to nine percent. This was generally conceded to represent a major triumph for the director of public relations. But Charley Stagg told Stew Carruthers that he felt the results would have been still better if he had listened to his inner voice, and followed through on those thirteen longlost mothers. For hidden among them, he said, might have been a story the like of which he would never meet again.

Mrs. Alice Capstick is now living happily with her son Harold, her daughterin-law and five grandchildren in their duplex in Notre Dame de Grâce. And she’s very glad, she says, that Harold didn’t take after his father in the matter of forcefulness. ★