Here we look at the introduction in the 1960s by a number of banks, of a card to guarantee cheques. By 1966 another banking revolution is already under way, with the production of the now ubiquitous plastic credit cards. (We must of course openly admit the limitations of Martins’ cardboard cheque guarantee card). The Archives also reveal an unusual break with banking tradition, when Barclaycard is advertised on TV without breaking the “gentleman’s agreement” that individual banks should not use this medium to sell their products.   Barclaycard’s main rival for many years to come will be the ACCESS Card, and with BOTH products pitched fiercely against each other, there is a never ending round of ever more expensive TV adverts.  You can read much more about the birth and life of the ACCESS card by visiting our partner site Access Credit Card Info  – simply click on the image above (right).

Cardboard or Plastic?

In the mid to late 1960s, the current account becomes at last portable with the issue to customers of Martins Bank Bankers Card.  Remember, the number of CASH MACHINES in the UK is only just into double figures, so if the holder of cheque card finds themselves in a town without a branch of Martins, they are at least able to cash a cheque up to the value of £30 (quite a useful sum at that time), at any of the participating banks: Looking more like something you had carefully cut out from the back of a breakfast cereal packet, these quaint yet perfectly functional cheque guarantee cards are actually in use well into the early 1970s when they are gradually replaced by the more familiar (clinical) plastic variety.  As things have turned out, possibly every plastic card ever made is still somewhere in the environment, whilst the cardboard ones are long gone!





Lloyds Bank Ltd

Martins Bank Limited

Williams Deacon’s Bank Ltd

Yorkshire Bank Ltd

Glyn Mills and Company

The National Bank Ltd

Lewis’s Bank Ltd

Bank of Scotland

Royal Bank of Scotland

National Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd

Bank of Ireland

Hibernian Bank Ltd

The National Bank of Ireland Ltd

Shame indeed, but thinking about it logically, why did no-one think of making a plastic cheque card, at a time when plastic credit and charge cards were already in use in the UK?

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Barclays Spread Eagle Fs.jpgFor Barclays, the smart move is into a small piece of plastic – one which will outlast any cardboard counterpart, and more importantly come to revolutionise the way we spend (or, more accurately BORROW) our money for decades to come.  The BARCLAYCARD is invented, and the idea of a credit card that can also be used to guarantee cheques is born.  Another crucial step is to ADVERTISE the new concept of Barclaycard on TV – but how?


A gentleman’s agreement amongst all eleven English Clearing Banks means that NO bank will Advertise alone on TV.  As we find out now from John Dalton, Former Barclaycard Advertising Manager, the dithering over being the first bank to advertise on TV went on into the 1970s, with Barclays believing they had succeeded in 1972. Then in 1989, a somewhat embarrassing discovery is made….

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A Gentleman’s Agreement?

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Barclaycard 66.jpgTo say that “Barclaycard ‘A piece of Plastic’” was a TV commercial isn’t strictly true and it obscures a fascinating aspect of early bank television advertising history. That film was used only in cinemas and at promotional events. Until the 1970s, all the English banks honoured an agreement that none of them would advertise on television; the only bank advertising being screened in those days was the famous “Bank Manager in the Cupboard” screened by the Committee of London Clearing Banks. In 1972 Barclays believed that another bank might break the agreement. For a competitor to be able to say that they were first on television was a prospect (that Barclays general managers couldn’t possibly contemplate – (neither did they want to be the Villains’ who broke the agreement). Barclaycard was the perfect solution; we were given a hefty supplementary budget of £93,000 just to get on the air first. Les Priestley and I supervised the production of two commercials during our lunch break one day. They were made at ITN’s West End studios and the whole job was done in less than 20 minutes; in later years I would go overseas with Alan Whicker for a whole two weeks, spend three times as much on production and come back with three commercials! Serious planned television advertising from Barclaycard didn’t begin until 1978 when we made jewellers Shop with Dudley Moore. Having said all that, it was not until 1989 that we discovered that the very first Barclaycard television commercial wasn’t by Barclays at all. It was made in about 1967 by the British Linen Bank (who at that time offered Barclaycard to their Scottish customers) and was shown only North of the Border.

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John’s comments were orignially written in a letter to Barclays Connection Magazine in 2000 and are reproduced here by kind permission of Barclays Connection Magazine.  

Advertisement and Barclaycard Name and Logo © Barclays and all other rights holders 1966 to date.

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Martins Bank is first on TV in England!

1968 Martins Unicorn TV Advert (5) MBM-Wi68P

The story above solves another minor mystery in Martins Bank’s history – their 1968 TV advertisement for Martins Unicorn is shown by three ITV companies – Granada, Yorkshire and Southern.  These areas have the largest concentrations of Martins Bank Branches and customers. By perhaps taking notice of the British Linen Bank’s lead for advertising in Scotland the product of a Barclays SUBSIDIARY company, Martins too is able to circumvent the special agreement, and in the process it becomes the first bank to advertise on TV in England, AND without looking like the villain of the piece!  Our search for a copy of the Martins ad continues, but you can see stills from it, and read more about how it was made, by clicking HERE.

The long and winding road to credit scoring…


As preparations for the merger of Martins Bank and Barclays Bank gain pace, Barclays spots an early opportunity to offer its still new Credit Card facility to the customers of Martins Bank. Not EVERY customer of course, mostly just those with a particularly high “net worth”.  This fairly innocent looking letter turns up on the doormats of the fairly well to do, inviting them on an opt-OUT only basis to enjoy the use of their very own BARCLAYCARD.

It is interesting to note, that since its arrival in 1966, the Barclaycard was capable by 1969 of offering credit via 42,000 outlets – nothing close to the many millions that are today shared amongst thousands of card issuers around the World, but nevertheless hugely impressive for the time.  In the late 1960s, religion and a very “British” state of mind meant that many would shy away from the thought of using credit, “never a borrower, nor a lender be” uppermost in their minds.

However, the credit bug became irresistible, and, helped by a clarification of customer rights in the 1974 Consumer Credit Act, we’ve been borrowing on the “never never” ever since.  It is however a somewhat sad and sobering thought that in the 2020s we are encouraged to build a CREDIT rating, rather than to save for the things we need. 

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The invention by Barclays of the DEBIT card in the early 1980s was greeted with suspicion by many, who could not separate out in their minds the difference between a plastic cheque and a credit card. Now, debit cards are indispensable, and along with being able to pay by mobile phone, watches and other devices, the days of cash itself are numbered, along with those of most Bank Branches. Credit alone is no longer enough – you must also stay permanently wired into your own “credit score”, otherwise, it would seem, you are not a very good person at all…

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