Many weeks ago, when the trees were bare and we didn't yet have the facility to do bank transfers, (we do now) we sent a cheque by post to one of our actors, whom I shall call Martin, though he isn't called Martin.
To speed things up, because he needed the money, we sent it to his bank, Upnorth plc (that's not its real name either). The cheque had the correct account number and sort code on the back and went to the correct address.
The cheque was cashed, but the money - nearly a thousand pounds - never appeared in Martin's account. Martin was by now in Singapore and desperately needed the money, so we replaced it, as we are very actor-friendly and thought we could stand the loss for a few days better than he could. We rang our
bank, who assured us that this never happens. Martin, they said, must simply not have not noticed the amount had gone into his bank. They could, for a few quid, send us a copy of the cheque.
We got the copy of our cheque, which had the correct account number and sort code on the back. Because we are very, very clever indeed we worked out that the likeliest thing was that somebody at the bank had got one digit wrong and paid it into someone else's account. Someone Else, whom I shall call Mr Lucky, had presumably checked his bank statement, noticed a gift of nearly a grand had gone into it, and thought Yippee!
We rang our bank again. They assured us, with some sarcasm, that this never happens. They made no bones about what they thought had happened: Martin had actually received the money the first time, as well as the second time, and was trying to defraud us.
This infuriated us because we knew it was not the case. Martin was pretty pissed off about their insinuation, too. Although he was in Singapore, he rang his bank, Upnorth plc and pointed out that we had now paid him twice and were a thousand quid down.
"Sorry", said Upnorth plc, "we can't trace the money, because this never happens, so it can't have happened, so we can't pay it back."
Martin got frustrated and asked us to ring them, because it was really difficult to be put on hold for hours when you were in Singapore and it was costing squillions. We rang them.
"Sorry", said Upnorth plc, "we can't talk to you, because you're not a customer of the bank."
Could Upnorth plc talk to our bank? - Apparently not. Data protection. Customer confidentiality. Time of the month. Letter Y in the day. Or some old bollocks.
Stalemate. We were a thousand pounds short. Martin was understandably very upset about it. Mr Lucky, on the other hand was presumably dining out every night and generally having a rather good time.
Finally, Martin returned to England to do some work in the Deep South, where he wandered into a branch of Upnorth plc which had The Employee With the Brain. Martin told the story.
"Have you a copy of the cheque?" asked Mr Employeewithbrain.
"My agency has a copy," said Martin, "I will ask them to fax it to you."
The magnificent Jane, in our office, faxed them the cheque. Mr Employeewithbrain did a quick comparison of the cheque with Martin's bank statement. Using his ace detective skills he worked out that the money was not, nor had it ever been, in Martin's account.
"Probably the likeliest explanation is that someone's got it one digit wrong and it's gone into Someone Else's account," he said, then followed it up with the Golden Sentence, "I'll refund it to you."
They did. It was now June. The whole thing had dragged on for weeks and weeks. Martin paid us the money back. We wrote to complain to Upnorth plc about their general shitness.
In fact Jane wrote, and her name is Jane, and she signed it Jane with her surname. How lovely, then, to get a reply from their Customer Relations Manager addressed to Dear Sir/Madam containing no real information at all but many such exciting sentences as,
"We are committed to achieving high standards of customer service, so I am sorry to learn of the difficulties you have experienced."
It was signed Freda Cowface (actually it wasn't, but you get my gist) - except it wasn't even signed at all: they had used one of those dreadful, - yes, really vile, please, please, never ever do this - typefaces which pretend to be handwriting. I did find myself wondering how Freda ever got the job as CUSTOMER RELATIONS MANAGER for one of the biggest banks in the country.
I think we'll be writing back.