Bringing Hollywood to London after WWII

London’s first Bank of America branch survived the London Blitz during WWII and went on to help finance the London film industry.

On February 1, 1931, the first Bank of America branch in London opened its doors. Located at 12 Nicholas Lane, the original bank started with 13 employees, all of whom followed the style and sensibilities of the day, which included men wearing top hats and tail-coats. The London branch served customers and clients through several economic and political hardships, including the Great Depression and the Battle of Britain during World War II.

The Battle of Britain was the attempt by the German air force to take control of England in 1940. For two months, German and British forces battled in the air. It was the first major military campaign in history to be fought entirely in the air. The failure of the Germans to defeat British forces and invade was one of the turning points of World War II.

For the first months of the battle, Germans targeted military bases and airfields with bombs. But in the third month, on September 7, they targeted civilian areas of London. This was the beginning of the Blitz—a time of intense bombing of London and other cities that continued until the following May.

For the next consecutive 57 days, London was bombed either during the day or the night. Fires consumed many portions of the city. To provide safety during the Blitz, a bomb shelter was constructed in the bank’s basement and an emergency location for the bank was prepared at Denham Film Studios, based outside the city in Buckinghamshire, in the event that London was evacuated.

Thankfully, no employees were injured. And with the exception of some shattered windows, 12 Nicholas Lane remained undamaged. In a 1981 interview celebrating the office’s 50th anniversary, retired employee Fred Benson, who had worked at Bank of America since its opening, recounted his memories of the London Blitz. “What a sight we were! Bankers calmly conducting business dressed in three-piece suits and army helmets,” he described.

The London branch went on to play an active role in financing the London film industry. It started by handling and converting receipts from U.S. movies that were distributed in England, and then expanded to lend money to U.S. studios with offices in the United Kingdom, including Columbia Pictures and United Artists.

From there, Bank of America began to finance British-based film companies, such as Anglo Amalgamated Film Distributors and The Rank Organisation. Our London bank was a destination for some of our more famous clients who conducted their financial business overseas. It was not uncommon for employees to serve as hosts to Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Edward G. Robinson and Buster Keaton, providing them with personal services such as making house calls to pick up checks and handling their letters of credit.

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