From Captain Mainwaring to Patrick Bateman, positive representations of the banking profession are hardly abundant
Why are there so few positive images of bankers? One reason surely is that the banker exists as a figure on to which we project things we cannot stand about ourselves – how we are mired in acquisitiveness and inflamed by the desire to put our Gucci-loafered foot on the throat of our fellow man or indeed woman.
Or maybe it's just me.
Bankers have an even worse reputation than journalists in novels and films.
At least us grubby hacks sometimes bring down presidents or topple venal corporations in Hollywood cinema
Bankers are rarely allowed such narrative development.
Instead they are often irreversible reptiles, tempting us innocent Adam and Eves into their sick, debauched world where we will max out our credit cards.
Think Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and his dreary eulogy to avarice: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good" or Patrick Bateman the investment banker in Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho.
Amoral Bateman is not just a serial killer, but, even more unacceptably, a Phil Collins-era Genesis fan.
Otherwise they are humbugs.
In George Eliot's Middlemarch, the town's banker Nicholas Bulstrode is a man with a shady past that returns to ruin him.
For much of the novel he's been a pious Methodist trying to inflict his religion on the town (which Eliot describes as consisting of "broken metaphor and bad logic"), while living a life devoid of sympathy.
In a book that eulogises such sympathy for others in effecting human progress (think Dorothea Brooke's "unhistoric acts"), banker Bulstrode must be destroyed.
At best bankers are allowed to be stuffed shirts, such as Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army, a jumped-up little Napoleon (according to envious Warden Hodges) who replicates his pompous rule as local Walmington-on-Sea's back manager in the power structure of the town's reservist platoon – thereby making Britain's war effort more risible than it otherwise would have been.
True, David Tomlinson's stuffed-shirt banker Mr Banks in Mary Poppins moves from repressed paterfamilia to a kite-flying, kid-loving sentimental sap enchanted by everything Edwardian London has to offer – but he's a rare exception.
And anyway, what a sick-making transition: who can watch Mr Banks and his saccharine kids sing Let's Go Fly A Kite without being filled with hatred for humankind? Who wouldn't, in the face of such mawkishness, go rogue and dream of fleecing a bank and living sociopathically high on the hog for a while like Ewan McGregor as Nick Leeson in Rogue Trader? Not me.
Even Mr Banks's spiritual turnaround rests on an imposture – namely that to be a banker is to miss the point of what it is to be human.
Isn't it time we told the other story about the banker – not as despoiler of human life but as the figure who made our civilisation, for good or ill, what it is.
What we need today is not Robert De Niro to star in the looming HBO flick about the life of venal Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff (spoiler alert: turns out he's a rotter who immiserated thousands, but is now doing 150 years in jail) , but to take a leading role in a costume drama about the rise of the Medicis.
It was these Florentine bankers who made the Renaissance possible and, thanks to their money men, introduced the double-entry book keeping that revolutionised accountancy and made Europe wealthy for centuries.
OK, I've got to work on the pitch: accountancy isn't box office gold.
But the point remans: western civilisation is inextricably linked with the rise and fall and rise and fall of banking and to simply anathematise bankers means we fail to understand them or ourselves clearly.
At HSBC today staff are sometimes lectured on the real-life sacrifice off a certain Vandeleur Grayburn, the bank's chief manager in Hong Kong from 1930 onwards.
He remained in post during Japanese occupation, organising secret lines of credit, enabling food and medicines to reach those in need.
Later, he was captured by the Japanese, interrogated and imprisoned and Grayburn died a year later in jail.
But will anyone be starring in a flick called The Vandeleur Grayburn Story any time soon? Unlikely.
We have too much invested in casting them solely as endlessly corruptible monsters whom we would be foolish to trust, still less admire.
At least Dickens realised the truth about bankers is more complicated.
Everyone remembers Dickens' Mr Merdle, the boo-hiss character in Little Dorrit, whose bank collapse ruins hundreds of investors across the City.
We forget, though, Dickens' good banker.
There he is now on the Dover road hurrying to rescue Monsieur Manette who's been driven mad by his years in the Bastille .
In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens describes that banker hero, Mr Jarvis Lorry, thus: "Very orderly and methodical he looked, with a hand on each knee, and a loud watch ticking a sonorous sermon under his flapped waist-coat, as though it pitted its gravity and longevity against the levity and evanescence of the brisk fire."
After rescuing Manette, Mr Lorry later returns to Paris to rescue Charles Darnay from bloodthirsty revolutionaries.
What a drama – banker as hero, selflessly putting himself on the line for the greater good.
His story, too, needs to be heard.
Demons, after all, risk only begetting more demons.
If we want our bankers to be more moral, maybe it's time to depict them in a more nuanced way.
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BankingStuart Jeffriesguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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