Money Season

BBC Two season investigates the world of money, profit and regulation

Ian Hislop - When Bankers Were Good

Category: BBC Two; Factual
Ian Hislop examines the colourful, seriously loaded Victorian financiers whose spectacular philanthropy shows that banking wasn’t always a byword for greed or self-serving financial recklessness.

Victorian bankers achieved wealth on a scale never envisaged by previous generations, but many were uncomfortable with their new found riches, causing them intense soul searching amidst furious national debate about the moral purpose of money and its potential to corrupt.

Looking at some of the most renowned banking philanthropists of the era, Hislop champions these extraordinary and generous individuals at a time when the reputation of bankers has perhaps never been lower.

Samuel Gurney was a Quaker whose honest prudence shone through the financial storms of the 1820s and whose wealth helped the work of his sister, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, who is immortalised on today’s five pound note.

Self-made millionaire George Peabody was a merchant banker with a reputation as a stingy scrooge, yet he surprised everyone with his enormous donation to London housing.

Angela Burdett-Coutts inherited the enormous Coutts fortune and went on to become one the greatest philanthropist of her age. Yet Angela knew there was more to life than money, and sacrificed her riches for love.

Natty Rothschild tried not just to ensure that his personal wealth did good, but that his bank’s did too. Natty hated the idea of the welfare state, believing do-gooding was best left in the hands of the Big Society. A hundred years ago he lost that argument – only for the debate to re-emerge today.