Barclaycard History

Barclaycard 50 Years

It was just over fifty years ago, in January 1966, that Barclays brought together a small team of its bank staff to set up, launch and run Britain’s first bank credit card. In doing so it had made a decision that would change British banking, the finances of millions of Britons and the shopping habits of a nation. The first one million Barclaycards were distributed just six months later and forty-one thousand Merchants signed up . . . altogether a remarkable achievement.

From this pioneering start – and despite some difficult times and strong competitive pressures in later years – Barclaycard has always been the Market Innovator and Leader and still dominates every aspect of the Cardholder and Merchant scene in Britain. It has earned its place as one of the most successful and respected members of the Barclays Group.

Opportunities opened up by developments in technology – together with people’s changing attitudes and needs – have of course played a major role in the success of Barclaycard. But that is not what made Barclaycard different; it was the dedication and imagination of the Management and Staff whose job it was to develop and implement ideas which had not even been imagined before . . . the determination and innovation applied to overcome difficulties and capitalise on opportunities . . . the building up of experience in what was a completely new industry.

Barclaycard has always been blessed with more than a fair share of entrepreneurial ‘characters’ all of whom have contributed to the enviable ‘personality of Barclaycard’ . . . they have much to answer for and to tell us!

History of the early years of Barclaycard and the life-changing effect it had on the general public is well recorded as is the development of technology and the things Government made Barclaycard do (and stop doing!). What was not well recorded is what people did to make it all happen and so, within the context of how Barclaycard grew, some of those who worked at Barclaycard in those early days have been encouraged to search their memories and tell what it was like working at Barclaycard . . . the new skills they learned . . . those incidents they remember with pride – and those that still make them chuckle . . . and more IN THIS CELEBRATION OF BARCLAYCARD’S PIONEERING YEARS.

Attitudes and Aspirations were changing

Barclaycard was at the forefront of the enormous changes in people’s attitudes and aspirations that began in the mid 1960s. That period saw the birth of “Consumerism”.

Wages and salaries – and the cost of things – were a small fraction of what they are today. Few families had an income of more than about £1,500 a year … petrol, for those fortunate enough to have a car, was less than 6 shillings a gallon (that’s less than 7 pence a litre in “new money”) … you could buy a really decent pair of shoes for two or three pounds … a great many homes still didn’t have a fridge or a telephone. Southern Europe was beginning to become a popular holiday destination but anywhere beyond you only read about or saw in films. Even people with bank accounts still used cash to pay for most things but usually needed to have only three or four pounds in their pockets.

The computer technology we all take for granted these days hadn’t arrived.

Family upbringing was “if you haven’t got the money you go without”. Some of the more affluent ran an account at the garage, department store or local shop but it was always paid off in full at the end of the month. It was alright to have a home mortgage but to borrow for anything else (usually through Hire Purchase) was frowned upon.

Every town still had at least one cinema and that was the main source of entertainment; some of the film industry’s finest productions – including Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago – attracted huge audiences to local cinemas in the 1960s. In the larger cities, Theatre was thriving. Television in the home was limited to just three channels – mostly black and white, still – on small fuzzy screens.

Cafes and restaurants mostly served the working community needing subsistence away from home during the day. For the better off, and at times for celebration, to dine at an hotel was usual. Pubs had focussed on serving beer – plus a bag of crisps or (maybe) a sandwich – but the Pub Grub concept heralded a welcome major change to the function and character of pubs and inns. “Fast Food” (enabled by freezers and microwaves) was still two decades away but every High Street had its ‘Chippy’ – serving freshly fried Fish and Chips wrapped in newspaper,
to patiently waiting queues … and in some areas traditional Pie Shops thrived.

After years of post-war austerity, families were just beginning to have a bit of money left for non-essentials and in the 1960s a Food Revolution – with ordinary people going out for a meal as a social event – got started. Brothers Frank and Aldo Berni had seen the Diner concept in America and started the Berni Inns Steakhouse Chain in Bristol, providing American-style service in a traditional English setting. Berni Inns soon became the largest restaurant chain outside the USA and played a hugely successful role in getting British people to ‘eat out’. Berni
Inns offered slick service and value for money – achieved partly by offering only a limited meat-based menu, small wine list and quick turn-round. Tables were not booked in advance. On arrival Customers were usually directed to a bar area where they would wait (and spend money) until a call for them was broadcast – “Mr Smith, your table in the Steak and Duck Bar is now ready”.

Berni was one of the first restaurant chains to join Barclaycard – use of which could make the dining experience much more relaxed. When the bill had to be paid with cash, one was ever mindful of equating the content of one’s wallet or purse with the prices on the menu … and working out whether or not a bottle of wine (or pudding) could be afforded.

Another great “Dining Out” motivator of the time was Egon Ronay who published his annual Hotel & Restaurant Guide containing highly disciplined and reliable reviews and recommendations. He was a great campaigner to raise food and service standards in all
branches of catering.

The way goods and services were paid for had changed very little over the centuries. People were generally comfortable with what was familiar to them and saw little need to do things any other way.

How the effects of inflation, consumerism, aspiration and computer technology would ever lead to the wide choice of sophisticated financial services we have today was way beyond anyone’s imagination. The ‘Other Banks’ certainly didn’t understand the importance of what Barclays was up to and their response was to introduce Cheque Guarantee Cards (little card cards, not plastic) which tended to undermine the long-held highly respected status of cheques!

Barclaycard was a regular topic for dinner party talk. Many who had been given a Barclaycard in the early days liked to show it to their friends, regarding it as something of a status symbol – even though, at that time, it didn’t much change the way they managed their finances. They would voice doubts as to whether “other people” should be trusted with them; some
husbands were even heard to say “I wouldn’t let my wife loose with one of those”!

It was good that Barclaycard became so well known so quickly but it was recognised that to get people comfortable with using the Card – without fear that it might lead them into difficulty – would take time.

The continuing alternative to Barclaycard was of course the use of cash and cheques … and decisions that “one would go without”.

Barclaycard had to convince people that it was perfectly normal and sensible to shop with a plastic card, that it was more convenient and safer than carrying large quantities of cash and – contrary to popular belief – it did help the management and control of one’s finances. Powerful national advertising campaigns identified and faced up to the objections people held; the advertisements explained why such fears were unjustified … and went on to demonstrate the truly realistic benefits of the service. Because Barclaycard offered so many benefits and yet it was free (provided one paid up in full each month) there was for some, perhaps, a credibility gap … what’s the catch? This made the marketing that much more difficult.

The unsolicited issuing of Barclaycards to one million of Barclays’ best banking customers had given the credit card a firm base right from the start. Increasingly more of the Bank’s customers were persuaded to join but Barclaycard was making Barclays Bank stand out as looking more innovative and modern than its rivals – a valuable opportunity to recruit customers of other Banks. Promotions were staged in large shopping centres where people were signed up in the street and the highly successful campaign of loose insert leaflets that irritatingly fell out of favourite consumer magazines brought in huge numbers of new Cardholders.

None of the English Banks advertised on television, they all honoured a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” not to; it was not until 1972 that the Agreement was eventually broken … by Barclaycard!

What was said in Barclaycard advertising and where it was placed was always done with great care and a feeling of responsibility. To end up attracting Applications from people for whom Barclaycard would be unsuitable, or who might have difficulty managing it, was not to be in their best interest and was certainly not in Barclaycard’s interest.

From “Merchants”, there was quite a lot of disinterest and some notable hostility in the early days. Some saw Barclaycard as being mainly for Barclays Bank customers and therefore not sufficiently universal. That changed as soon as Access launched. Some Merchants felt a conflict of loyalty to their own Bank and there was opposition to having to pay a Service Charge and a Rental Charge for each Imprinter.

It took time for many retailers to understand that it could actually help them to sell significantly more – to see it as a marketing tool. Even on the garage forecourt, Barclaycard customers would usually ‘fill the tank’ rather than buy just three or four gallons at a time – dependent on the amount of cash they were carrying. Many retailers were doing very nicely
out of their ‘in house’ hire purchase and other credit schemes and feared that Barclaycard business would erode that and have an adverse effect on customer loyalty.

Barclaycard was never designed for long-term hard-core borrowing; indeed, it was not until November 1967 that The Bank of England allowed Barclaycard to offer Extended Credit. The option was recommended as a convenient and readily available means of spreading the bill over periods of a few months from time to time … at Christmas, after the holidays and for
large purchases, for example. But with no other income from Cardholders, Extended Credit income was fundamentally important for the future growth and profitability of Barclaycard.

In 1966 Barclaycard was probably a bit ahead of its time. The procedures and technology then available were positively “Dickensian” compared with the way things are done today. Over the following few years the Nation’s economy went through a difficult period, too, and it was several years before international use of bank credit cards became well established. However, by the time competition did eventually appear, Barclaycard had become so well established
that it was virtually generic.

The launch of Barclaycard was one of the most innovative achievements of any UK Bank at any
time and this was of tremendous value for Barclays’ image.

The announcement on 23rd October 1972 that Access was to be launched came as a complete surprise. Barclays had expected one or more of the other Banks to have launched their own card long before they eventually got together to form the Joint Credit Card Company. But it was a very good thing to have happened, it marked the beginning of the use of bank credit cards being a routinely normal part of life for everyone … and this must have had quite an influence on the tremendous period of growth for Barclaycard that quickly followed.

But no-one at Barclaycard felt comfortable with the Access advertising slogan “Access takes the waiting out of wanting”. It was highly emotive and quite controversial at the time and wholly alien to the high ethical standard that Barclaycard was required to (and did) maintain. It was something Barclaycard would not have dared to say … but it is still well remembered
and probably did quite a lot for Access before critical pressures caused its abandonment.

The creation of Barclaycard was to be far more revolutionary than anyone had foreseen at the time. It really did alter ways of doing things that had remained little changed for many centuries. And it opened the way for new developments and opportunities that hadn’t been thought about … internet and mail order trading, paying for services over the ‘phone, contactless payment and World-wide acceptance without currency complications. These changes to the ways people paid for things and managed their money couldn’t have happened on such a scale without a little help from Barclaycard.

The Birth of Barclaycard

Barclaycard’s parentage was wholly American – the Bank of America in California. A couple of  “expense account” cards for Business people had been around for a while but BankAmericard was the “World First” card for the everyday shopper.

BankAmericard was introduced in 1958, as a small pilot scheme in Fresco, to build experience before extending the service throughout California. Within a year, however, First Western Bank started a card service in San Francisco and so, wary of possible competitive rivalry, Bank
of America abandoned its plan for gradual expansion and promptly issued one and a half million unsolicited BankAmericards throughout the State. Many ended up in wrong hands, resulting in some heavy losses, but profits appeared in 1961 and the years that followed saw steady business growth.

Barclays General Managers had watched this innovative development with interest and in 1965 sent a three-man team to California to see how it worked and explore the potential for Barclays to become involved.

D E Wilde (General Manager), J B Dale (Manager, City Trustee Branch) and A H Duncan (Organisation and Methods Department) received a welcome that was as friendly, open and helpful as it could possibly have been. An excellent relationship developed with both sides seeing great opportunities for their respective Banks – a ready-made and tested system
Barclays could adopt and access to Barclays World-wide territories for BankAmericard customers.

Derek Wilde was the inspiration and driving force behind the initiative and in December his Team’s report on the visit was delivered to Barclays General Managers with the recommendation that a Department should be formed for the purpose of issuing credit cards (the Barclay Card) as a licenced version of the BankAmericard on terms as close as may be possible to those adopted by Bank of America, and that a formal link should be established between the two Banks to broaden international coverage and keep ahead of technical

It was suggested that a Chief Office – with accommodation for the Chief Manager and about
twenty staff – should be provided close to the Bank’s Head Office … and Card Centres opened in the London, Midlands and Northern areas. The Midlands (in Northampton) was to be the first. The same transaction limits as applied to BankAmericard were proposed for the Barclay Card; £25 for purchases and £100, £200 or (for the really affluent) £350 for total
spending limits. There was no Extended Credit.

The Minutes from a Meeting of The Board of Barclays Bank on 30th December 1965 state: “The Chairman explained why he recommended to The Board that the Bank provide such a credit card scheme, notwithstanding its hazards, as soon as possible and announce without delay its intention of doing so”.

The Board did approve the recommendation of its Chairman, John Thomson. On 10th January 1966 Barclays announced that it would be launching a credit card and Barclaycard Department started its work immediately. J B (Dickie) Dale was appointed Chief Manager with D D G (Dai) Davies as his Deputy; other Management included: John Blackwell, Tony Baker (Accounts), Alan Fowler and Peter Stansfield (Merchants), John Cox (Administration), Leslie Priestley (Advertising). Ken Nuttall was to run the Northampton Centre with Ken Mead (assisted by John Knight, Colin Otterson and Jim Headford) in charge of Credit & Collections. The target date for a full-scale Launch was set for 8th June – just five months away – without any preparatory market research or an initial pilot scheme to take place!

In that short time much had to be achieved. Premises had to be found and fitted out with desks, chairs, phones etc. Processing systems and procedures had to be designed, produced and tested; whilst much could be based on BankAmericard systems, a lot of work was needed to adapt it to United Kingdom requirements. Specialist equipment – such as imprinters and machines and for embossing cards and imprinter plates – was procured. Specialised stationery – and the Barclaycards themselves – designed and produced in large quantities was dependent on an infant supply industry.

Mike Stevens Card

“a licenced version of the BankAmericard on terms as close as may be possible to those adopted by Bank of America” went so far as the two cards looking identical – apart from the name and replacing the American words “Good Thru” with the English “Expires End”. The type font, even fr the name Barclaycard, conformed to the American Bank’s house style and not to that of Barclays. The term “Merchant” was embraced as practical and inclusive to cover all kinds of trader.

It was realised early on that the huge amount of computer systems development work to be done couldn’t possibly be completed in time for the June launch so, for a while, the daily processing of data would be carried out in Germany. A Barclays staff member flew there each evening with tapes produced from the day’s voucher and remittance processing and was able to return the next morning with tapes of the completed records.

Much Marketing know-how had been gathered from the California visit but to be able to translate that fast to motivate the British consumer was going to be a steep learning curve. On 15th February, Advertising Agents, Charles Barker & Sons Ltd presented to Dickie Dale and the Bank’s General Managers in a competitive pitch for the advertising business … and won. Barkers was a very long established City-based firm that was producingg excellent creative work for several ‘blue chip’ companies. They had worked for Barclays for many years … and for The Midland Bank(an arrangement that would be unheard of these days but essential discretion was effective; the ‘Chinese Walls’did work).

Many of the Staff for Chief Office in London’s Moorgate and the Barclaycard Centre in
Northampton (where some two hundred would be needed) were seconded from Barclays Branches and Departments, others were newly recruited. Management were pulled in from Trustee Department … and from Inspection – on the basis that it was one area that could reduce its activity for a while. There were some ex-Military men, too. For everyone, new skills had to be learned very quickly – and then taught to others.

Barclaycard Retailer Advert
Intensive advertising in Newspapers and the Trade Press supported Merchant Recruitment

The Northampton Centre was housed in a redundant shoe factory – Aquila House, St Giles Terrace, in the middle of the Town. The building was in an exceptionally poor state and had to undergo massive refurbishment … fast. Contractors worked seven days a week to complete the major tasks in just two months after which a number of Managers and Staff spent a weekend cleaning the place up and spray-painting the interior.

Aquila House opened on 2nd May 1966. Gavin Kidd, Gerry Jordan, John Healey and twenty seven ladies formed the core Staff on that day. Additional Clerical Staff recruited to work in Northampton were being offered from £360 a year at 16, rising to £1,000 at 30 … but that is if they were Male. For Females, the upper limit was £745. Married Women seeking part-time employment (minimum age 23) were offered five shillings and nine pence (28.75p) an hour.

The Northampton Centre was officially opened on 27th June. Barclays Chairman (John Thomson) and Northampton Mayor (Councillor Grace Brown) were welcomed for the celebration by Ken Nuttall and Dickie Dale.

Opening party Photograph
Kenneth Nuttall (Centre Manager), James ‘Dickie’ Dale (Chief Manager - Barclaycard), Mrs Thomson, Councillor Grace Brown (Mayor of Northampton) and John Thomson (Chairman – Barclays Bank) at the opening of the Barclaycard Centre, Aquila House, Northampton on 29th June 1966

There was a heavy and relentless national newspaper and trade press advertising campaign to support the build-up to the launch (put back, just a little, to 29th June). An unprecedented £500,000 was invested in advertising – in 1966 Barclaycard wasn’t just another brand, the formidable task was to create a new and better way for people to manage their spending and a tremendous amount of highly detailed advertising and publicity was put together in those few months. Some could be based on American experience but most was a pioneering task – to establish a service that was utterly new, in a way that would be appropriate to the characteristics of British people.

Up to that time, advertising by Banks had been very staid; there was an unwritten convention that they did not try to poach each other’s customers. Through Barclaycard, Barclays changed all that … going so far as stressing “You don’t have to bank at Barclays to have a Barclaycard”.

Mindful of Barclays’ Quaker background, the General Managers stressed very firmly to Barkers the need for the highest ethical standards, that promotion of the new service must not encourage people to “indulge in credit” and is certainly not for the purchase of everyday basics … an especially not for food. Hence, BARCLAYCARD makes shopping simpler became established as the pivotal advertising message and the same ethical standards were always present in the way Staff at Barclaycard tried to look after their Cardholders. There was extensive campaigning; too, to convince ‘opinion formers’ that credit cards were not a dangerous inflationary American import.

On Launch Day itself, prominent spaces were taken in all National newspapers with the punch-line Show your BARCLAYCARD Sign the bill, and pay at the end of the month. The Daily Mail carried eight consecutive pages, on a Regional basis, listing all the Barclaycard Merchants in each area “The first Barclaycard retailers”. Inclusion of names was all part of the Merchant Recruitment deal and right up to the night of publication there was feverish activity to get the list as up-to-date as possible. Newspapers were still dependent on the use of metal type composed manually from (for this project) the lists Barclaycard provided – and central to the deal was Barclaycard’s responsibility to proofread it all – a huge responsibility that had to be perfectly accomplished in just a few hours. Until very recently, this Daily Mail eight pages was the biggest press advertisement ever to have been seen in Britain.

J B Dale
Large advertisements appeared in all National Newspapers on 29th June … Launch Day

With just 41,216 Merchants at the start (it would be long before the major chains, supermarkets and department stores came in), Cardholders needed to know where their Barclaycards would be accepted and making sure that window badges were prominently displayed at all Merchant outlets was a vital task for the Merchant Sales and Merchandising Teams. There were two versions of the badge, both in blue, white and gold with three orange bands around the outside – BARCLAYCARD makes shopping simpler HERE and, for hotels, restaurants, garages, etc., BARCLAYCARD welcome HERE. Further help came in November when Directories – listing all the Barclaycard Merchants in the local area – were sent to Cardholders; the London Area Directory listed about 1,200 outlets. Birmingham New Street, Leeds and Newcastle were the first British Rail Stations to join.

Persistent use of the powerful advertising slogan Barclaycard makes shopping simpler soon got the service and what it was for, well known and understood.

Two award-winning films were produced, too. “A Piece of Plastic” was a seven-minute film for retailers and shoppers, explaining how Barclaycard worked. “All a Girl Needs When She Goes Shopping”- Bikini Girl – was a very popular and effective cinema advertising film.

Barclaycard advertisements (complete with the Union Jack) appeared in American Travel Publications to reach BankAmericard-holding travellers. 4 million Americans had BankAmericards by then.

The need for a fully authentic-looking Barclaycard in publicity illustrations called for a fictitious Cardholder to be created – M. Stephens. Any failure to get the signature perfectly consistent every time would attract a flood of finger-pointing comments from eagle-eyed customers!

Things were very active in Scotland, too. British Linen Bank (in which Barclays had a major interest – having no Branches of its own in Scotland) ran its own part of the launch advertising, issued Barclaycards to its Customers and signed up Merchants. On 1st July, Merchants in Scotland and the North of England were listed in a four-page advertisement in the Scottish Daily Mail … “The first BARCLAYCARD Shopping Weekend”. Similar activity was taking place in Northern Ireland through the Provincial Bank of Ireland.

LESLIE PRIESTLEY joined Chief Office in January 1966 to Manage Marketing

The Team to manage Barclaycard was brought together very quickly and secretly. I had been told by the Local Directors in Maidstone that when my appointment as an Assistant Inspector terminated in December 1965 I would be appointed as Chief Clerk in their largest Branch in Maidstone. Audrey, my Wife, and I were delighted and we found a suitable house just outside of the Town.

Shortly thereafter I was carrying out an Inspection at a Branch in the District on a Friday when I received a telephone call from the Chief Inspector’s Office asking me to report there on Monday – no-one appeared to know why! However, having spent quite a concerned weekend, I duly reported to his Office in London. The conversation was very short and unrevealing, and I was sent to see the London Staff Manager.

Mr Houghton, the Staff Manager, told me the Bank was going to launch a credit card and I had been selected to deal with what would now be described as the Marketing . (There was no Marketing Department anywhere in the Group); I was known because I had previously worked for a short while (as one of just three) in the Bank’s Advertising Department.

The first Barclaycard Team came together in early 1966 and comprised eight ex Assistant Inspectors (all aged about 30 – 35), three Managers (two from Trustee Department) and an Inspector. J B (Dickie) Dale was the leader. I admired and liked him a great deal – and fortunately he trusted me and gave me a fairly free hand.

The first meeting of the Team was memorable partly because we had no office large enough to accommodate us. I took myself off, back to Advertising Department and commandeered a meeting room, subsequently the Team moved several times to various locations including Moorgate, Cannon Street, and Lower Thames Street before settling into Juxon House.

The Bank had somehow negotiated with Bank of America and we almost totally relied upon them; they had had plenty of experiences to build upon and guide us. We copied just about every form they had in connection with the Card – there were about 200 different forms, all of which had to be printed.

We were told to launch Barclaycard in June 1966. We simply accepted this, having no idea what was involved. In the event, we achieved the deadline and launched on 29th June 1966.

There were many problems. There were no other real credit cards – the nearest were American Express and Diners Club – both charge cards and not widely held. However we had advantages – the Bank had a large customer base and there were no legal restrictions on issuing unsolicited cards. Branch Managers were instructed to select customers to whom they would like to issue Barclaycards - with a recommended credit limit. This was a great “mistake”, the very best customers were selected - ones with healthy balances - who certainly did not want credit!

There was also a need to recruit “Merchants” i.e. outlets which would accept Barclaycard for payments and pay us a “service charge”. Again, Branch Managers were asked to approach suitable customers … and, importantly, non-customers.

The response from Branch Managers was very mixed, some saw this as a wonderful opportunity to develop their Branch business, others were quite antagonistic to the thought that we were trying to turn them into “salesmen”! There was therefore a massive job to train and motivate them. At the time Barclays had 3,500 Branches in the United Kingdom (the Bank slogan was “If there isn’t a Barclays – you’re lost”.

The Branches were controlled by36 Local Head Offices managed by Local Directors (some of whom were also on the main Board). My role in this was initially to form a team and produce a program to present to all Managers and their Local Directors. We organised quite large meetings all over the country, the team to address these meetings comprised: me, Antony Snow (the Account Director from the Advertising Agency Charles Barker & Sons Ltd) and a Director from a Sales Training Company (Tack Sales Training). We therefore spoke to a representative (usually The Manager) from just about every Barclays Branch in the Country – which I believe has never been achieved since, except by video! Some of these audiences were quite hostile, but as previously noted, response was generally very mixed.

Two magazines were launched, one for Cardholders and one for Merchants.

We made a promise to Merchants that we would publish a Directory of all Merchants signed up by the time we launched. I agreed to this without thinking through the implications: when would the cut off date have to be, the cost of printing and distribution and dealing with the details?

In the end I discussed with the Advertising Agency and the Daily Mail and Daily Express the possibility of printing a list of Merchants actually in one of those papers so that it could be folded into a directory.

The Daily Mail (which had regional editions) made the best offer and we went ahead with them. We booked eight full pages for 29th June, which I understand was a world record, at the time. To achieve this we had to produce “ready to print copy” on an agreed date. To do this we calculated we would need 200 staff for all or part of one night, with the support of Barclaycard Management I presented our case to the General Management of the Bank, and to my enormous relief they immediately agreed.

The most serious problem we had in those early days was not having a computer system to process the work. Before the launch the Bank had ordered new computers from IBM but it quickly became obvious they would not be available in time. All transactions were therefore recorded on a punched card system and the results flown daily, by courier, to Germany for processing. Nothing went seriously wrong, we were very lucky.

All of the other Banks forecast our failure and issued, by way of response, Cheque Guarantee Cards. However I have to say all of these cards did muddy the waters a little.

JOHN HEALEY was a new recruit at Aquila House on 2nd May 1966

On Monday, 2nd May 1966, twenty-seven ladies and three men made their way at 9 a.m. to Aquila House, St Giles Terrace, Northampton to take up employment with Barclaycard.

According to the recruitment advert - and I quote “We are sited in attractive modern premises at Northampton”. This proved to be something of an overstatement as the building was a converted boot and shoe factory that was nowhere near being fully converted; it was more like a building site.

We were invited into a makeshift office where we were introduced to the two Kens – Nuttall and Mead – the Centre Manager and his Assistant. There was also a number of Assistant Managers including Peter Stansfield, Colin Otterson, John Knight and Tony Baker. All of these had transferred from Inspection Department and in 1965 most of them had been to see the system used by the Bank of America in California.

Ken Nuttall gave us all a welcome and apologised for the state of the building. He gave a brief introduction to what a credit card was and then invited the ladies to go home and not return until the following Thursday (5th May). The three men were invited to go home that day, but to return to Aquila House the next day, this time in “Scruff Order”, as they would be required to assist in menial tasks. This, then, was the introduction to our banking careers!

When we went back the next day our tasks included unloading lorries, moving furniture and stacking boxes, etc. Our first Barclaycard related duty was to burst (separate) 1.003 million card carriers from streams of 1,000 into individual items. These carriers were pre-printed with the details of the cardholder to be, so it was essential they were kept in strict order.

When the actual cards were received they were manually checked against the details printed on the carriers and we had to insert them all … manually. To do this with over a million cards obviously took lots of staff. These came from further fresh recruits, but we also borrowed staff from Barclays Clearing House in Gladstone Road, many of whom actually ended up transferring to Barclaycard on a permanent basis.

With a launch date set at 29th June 1966 all these cards had to be mailed in good time –a daunting feat that was achieved well in time. Ken Mead recalls a sales lecture he gave to a gathering of Merchants pre-launch, amongst whom was a Mr Lewis from John Lewis who said “I can assure Mr Mead that we will never take Barclaycard in our shops”. Mr Mead said that when he goes shopping at Waitrose now, he gives a very satisfied smile.

The usual credit limit on the cards was £100 - with a starred card for the more affluent customers having a credit limit of £250. Any Merchant wishing to sanction a purchase of £25 (£50 for a starred card) had to ‘phone for Authorisation. John Knight recalls that the first authorisation call received was a fraud – the Merchant needed authorisation for a diamond ring, for a gentleman client - unfortunately for the client the Barclaycard had been issued to a lady!

Many Cards were returned by initial cardholders as they considered them beneath them.

The first sections set up after Authorisation were Credit Review (by this time many new applications were being received) …Limits - for when people exceeded their credit limit … and inevitably Collections - for when people didn’t pay on time.

GWYNETH EVANS was ‘loaned’ to Barclaycard from a Branch in Mid-Wales in 1966

Whilst working for Barclays Bank at a branch in Mid-Wales I was offered (on loan) a stint in Northampton, together with a small team of other Branch staff, several of whom were Managers who had been to America on a fact-finding mission to learn about BankAmericard.

They returned, and together with the likes of myself and other Bank staff, we were all housed in the Grand Hotel in the centre of Northampton, and each morning we would head off to a disused shoe factory.

I remember how dusty and chaotic those early days were at the factory. There were boxes and boxes of plastic card application forms waiting to be processed. They had been forwarded from each and every Branch in the UK.

Gradually we worked through them with the help of giant computer tape decks (which were housed in a temperature controlled cabinet the size of the Branch that I had come from). There were reams and reams of printed out paper everywhere you looked.

The basement was where all the plastic cards were embossed and punched out by many staff some of whom had been taken on from local call centres and supermarkets etc. looking for a more lucrative form of employment.

The top floor gradually became an enormous open plan office and many, many desks were set up with telephone handsets. Through from here was another large room which was to become Authorisation Department, where sound-proof cubicles were installed with desks and headphones.

This was in readiness for “live date” in June 1966.

That was such a memorial time which I remember vividly because it was the Summer that England won the World Cup. We secretly had radios on at different parts of the office (although I can’t remember whether we also had a TV) in order to listen to the Match.

I seem to remember we didn’t have a huge number of Authorisation calls in the beginning, because it took time for payment by plastic to catch on!

I can also remember my Manager back in Newton, Montgomeryshire had to visit all shops, garages and businesses in the vicinity as did every other Branch Manager. The stock phrase used to persuade merchants to join the scheme was “you cannot afford not to join up” It was very hard work convincing people that what was working well in America could also work in the UK.

I feel quite privileged to have been there at the beginning and life seemed quite “humdrum” when I returned to my Branch.

MARTIN CLARKE was sent to America to work on the computer programming.

I played my part in the team of four Computer Programmers (with Jean Heap, nee Pomfret, Alan Duncan, and Alan Wood) who were despatched to Bank of America in San Francisco (First Class on a Boeing 707!) to ‘Anglicise’ the BankAmericard computer programs. That was in March/April 1966, so no pressure then!

I remember re-writing the “American Credit Card Purchases Input Program” for our IBM 1401 Computer. It was more complicated than just converting US Dollars and Cents processing to Pounds Shillings and Pence – believe me.

I was putting the finishing touches to this particular program on the morning of 29th June 1966 as the first ever batches of Sales Vouchers (the 80 column punched cards produced by an ‘army’ of ladies tapping away on the punch-card machines in an adjacent section of Building) arrived in the Computer Room for processing.

This was an incredibly interesting and pioneering time for everyone involved.

Authorisation Section at Aquila House in 1966. The booth to which a call would be directed depended on the Card Number.

PHILLIP KEMPTON came to Barclaycard from the Bank’s Trustee Department in1966

I had been working in the Income Tax Department in The City for some while and had been told I was next in line for promotion to Chief Clerk “when an opportunity came up”. I was asked if I would like to go to the Bank’s new Department – Barclaycard; I knew absolutely nothing about Barclaycard but I said I would simply because the opportunity for promotion was so attractive - and I had been an evacuee in Northampton during the war.

I went along to see Mr Dale at Barclaycard’s Chief Office (which happened to be in the same building in Moorgate as my then present job) … a nice fellow, I still remember him fondly. He had been a Commander in the Navy and ran Barclaycard much as he had commanded his ship. It was all a bit casual though, but he came straight to the point – “What have you been doing?”, “You’ve learned how to write letters, haven’t you?”, “Right, if you’d like to come to us you can be in charge of our Customer Relations office”.

And so, at the age of 30, I found myself as part of the newly-formed team of about one hundred at Barclaycard in Northampton – with promotion to Chief Clerk and the magnificent salary of £1,550 per annum. No longer was I expected to turn out in the pin-stripe suit – with waistcoat, bowler hat and umbrella – expected of me when I had to visit wealthy clients in The City and West End!

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in October 1966 but was to soon find out. People didn’t use the telephone much in those days, they wrote letters - that had to be answered – and I found my team of 16 – 20 new local recruits sorting four large sacks of mail into various boxes. I soon noticed that whilst my team were dealing with some of the letters, others were taken away to goodness knows where; so I followed one of the collectors and found myself in a large room where about ten typists were “topping and tailing” pre-printed standard replies, leaving everything else for personal attention and individual replies by my team. And without any kind of word-processing, yet, every reply had to be individually typed, checked and signed.

In those early days it was very much ‘all hands to the pump’; everybody did everything and there was tremendous camaraderie – we even had our own cricket team (I organised that).

Phil Kempton retired from Barclaycard in 1988 but continued to keep himself fully occupied with his many voluntary interests. He immediately joined the Committee of the Barclaycard Pensioners Club and was its Chairman for no less than twenty-five years – a very demanding responsibility to which Phil gave so much of his time, hands-on involvement and infectious enthusiasm.

Barclaycard Pensioners Club was formed in the mid 1970s with just a handful of members under the Chairmanship of John Fishwick. With the natural increase in retirements around the time of Barclaycard’s twenty-fifth Birthday, membership rapidly increased to more than one thousand – and has remained so ever since as one of Barclays’ biggest Pensioners Clubs.

Barclaycard Pensioners Club is centred on Northampton for obvious reasons. “The Family” is kept together with is regular lunch and coffee morning gatherings, days out and holiday trips and the Newsletter. And Committee members are always on hand whenever a member has a
welfare need.

PETER STANSFIELD had several important roles in the very early days

After some four years on Inspection, and having passed my Institute of Bankers exam, I was expecting to move to a Chief Clerk’s position at a South London or Surrey Branch. Our house at Addlestone was sold and we were in the process of buying a new property in Leatherhead when Barclaycard offered the chance to move to Northampton as an Assistant Manager. Wow! With my Family, I moved to rented accommodation in Upper Stowe in March 1966.

Along with an Assistant Manager from Staff Department I was responsible for interviewing potential employees. We were operating out of the foyer of the former New Theatre in Abington Street; material in blue, white and gold was hung to disguise the dilapidated state of the premises!

On Sunday 1st May I went to Aquila House with my vacuum cleaner in order to tidy the room where our new employees would be welcomed the next day. For the next few months my task was to ensure that the burgeoning staff always had sufficient supplies of stationery; we were well served by the Bank’s Stationery Department in Bletchley, even if the size of our orders sometimes threw them into a tizzy.

Subsequently I came to head up Customer Relations Service, the Section dealing with correspondence from Cardholders.

JIM JARVIS came to Barclaycard at Aquila House in June 1966 on a 3-years attachment

I was originally in Authorisation with John Adams. We had some interesting times - especially as we were working off computer printouts that were four days old! All the processing was done in Germany. We could usually handle a call in under a minute but when there was fraudulent activity we got some surprises, especially when people’s balances shot up. In those days, card numbers included a number to tie in with the first letter of the name; staff accounts were 700. We had enough Authorisation booths to cover the range of number groups up to 790. We used to get the job of sorting out vouchers that had incomplete details; as long as we had most of the number we could work out the rest.

At that time the initial launch was on Branch Recommendation but some Branch records were out of date - mail was coming back marked “moved away” and sometimes “house demolished”! After about a year I was transferred to Collections, that’s when I worked more closely with John Healey. Another interesting job was supervising the opening of the mail – hundreds of letters (if you were a stamp collector you had a field day!). I designed the first Barclaycard tie. I have fond memories of my short time there but I wanted to get back to domestic banking and returned to the Chelmsford District in 1969.

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PAM PETTIT remembers the first Remittance Cheque

I started at Barclaycard on 4th July 1966, I had worked in the Shoe Industry before that and can remember Aquila House when it was a shoe factory. I was put onto Remittances (Rems), there were very few payments coming in for a while but it was me who opened the very first one to arrive and I caressed the cheque with a great feeling that history was being made.

Every cheque had to be carefully examined to ensure that it was … in date … the figures and words matched … and it was signed. The card remittance Slips went for key-punching to get the payments onto the Cardholder accounts. The cheques had to be sorted and batched according to the Banks and Branches they were drawn on; it was only when they reached the Branches that they could be entered manually against the individual Bank Accounts. Quite a few payments were by Postal Order.

I worked in many of the Departments at Northampton over the next thirty-plus years. Investigations - when Mr Lano-Moore (a former Deputy Chief Constable) was in charge – was one of the most interesting and exciting. My most enjoyable and satisfying job was in Merchant Customer Relations when I had to search files and computer records to dig out information needed to respond to queries and complaints.

LEONARD HARDEN joined Barclaycard at Aquila House in June 1966.

Aquila House had atmosphere and character, many of the staff had been transferred from Barclays Branches in various parts of the UK and the remainder were recruited from the local fraternity. Nobody had any real experience of credit cards because it differed so much from branch banking where loans needed a guarantee; credit card lending back in 1966 was completely new unsecured lending to the public from all walks i.e. NatWest, Lloyds and Midland Bank customers were all welcome to apply for a Barclaycard.

Although Barclays sent Barclaycards to one million of their own customers, a large number returned the card with comments like “I don’t want an unsolicited card”. Then the real work started - having to delete these cardholder accounts … and at the same time we were receiving applications from many other people requesting a Barclaycard. This was a good learning curve for all of us until 1969-1971 when it really took off.

I left Barclaycard in 1978 to join another credit company; Barclaycard gave me a very good apprenticeship.

The paper-intensive Aquila House Barclaycard Centre in 1966.
The paper-intensive Aquila House Barclaycard Centre in 1966.