Lloyd's is trying to blank out the dreadful days at the end of the 1980s and put on a new gloss, says Mark Borkowski
It's been brave of Lloyd's to let me know its plans -'courageous' as Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister might have put it. Yes, Lloyd's wants to organise a refurbishment of its famous building, the great steel edifice Lord Rogers inflicted on the City in the 1980s when he was still plain Richard.
Naturally, this attempt at rebranding is a public relations exercise. Up until that decade, being a member of Lloyd's was something rarely mentioned. You certainly didn't brag about it or discuss it with your colleagues or put up eye-catching, head-turning, knee-trembling buildings in celebration of the loot to be made from other people's disasters. It simply wasn't done.
Like a debenture holder at Wimbledon, or a member of the MCC, being a Name was a private affair. The enormously profitable sport of backing syndicates had been strictly 'members only' since the eighteenth century, passed down aristocratic generations from parent to child.
The fact that, in the worst scenario, you could find yourself holding unlimited liability for a shipwreck, and be hit for your last penny, down to, and including, your cufflinks, wasn't so much of a worry 300 or even 50 years ago, because the risk was spread efficiently, and nobody had invented space shuttles, supertankers or jets which carried 500 people. Even more critically, no one had yet identified that asbestos was a bad thing.
But look out, Lime Street. The Germans have bought the Lloyd's building. Information, however, is strictly rationed. All I've found on the internet is this guff:
"The refurbishment was carried out to extremely high specification, including Barcelona chairs and hardwood tables. Datasphere are pleased that the inquisitor met with such high aesthetic standards."
Blimey. Who's this 'inquisitor' then? A scary new German initiative? It turns out to be a type of interactive computer to amuse guests waiting in reception.But you can hardly blame the venerable institution too much for wanting to change its image. The memory of the debacle which unfolded over the end of the 1980s, before Lord Rogers concrete was even dry, will ensure that the name 'Lloyd's' remains synonymous with shattered lives and the most insidious form of insider trading.
For years the men-in-the-know had been hiding the truth about the massive pay-outs due to asbestosis victims in the US. Eventually someone would have to pay up.
The scandal finally hit with the first cash call for £508m in 1991. By the time the total loss was calculated, it was £8bn. Those who had to fork out were the recently recruited, including a significant number of US citizens, with whom the old members of the 'club' had no social ties.
Many of the 'old guard' working Names felt little compunction about protecting their own interests, and those of their family and friends, at the expense of these newcomers.
But Lloyd's doesn't want us to think about all this appalling ancient history. It wants to be warm and cuddly, and presumably its refurbishment brief overflows with words such as 'modern' and 'transparent', backed up by 'solidity' and 'confidence'.
Naturally the place is currently flourishing, crammed with Nasdaq-style young blades sporting Oswald Boateng suits and as far removed from Old Money and old ways as it is possible to be. I'm sure things are done better today. But its infamy still prevails. If Alastair Campbell ever needs another outlet for his talents, perhaps Lime Street is the place to head. IT
' Mark Borkowski is head of PR agency Borkowski