About the strip > The 90s
The new decade had been christened the “Nice Nineties” (to distinguish it from the brash, vulgar Eighties) almost before it had begun. But would events bear it out?
Clive’s affair with Ruth now took the form of clandestine weekends away.
06 Feb 90
Alex’s bank was involved in a counter-surveillance operation which lasted some weeks.
16 Feb 90
Alex's surname - Masterley - was revealed for the first time in this strip. In truth it was invented specifically for the purposes of the joke, which required Alex to be identified by his surname. Charles came up with "Masterley", which sounded pleasingly patrician and has become somewhat iconic.
05 Mar 90
The City Programme, presented by Danielle Donougher and Steve Clarke, was required viewing for the banking fraternity. Alex appeared on it to respond to recent negative publicity for his bank over mass sackings.
18 Apr 90
"Dancing Flowers” were the novelty gimmick of the year. Plastic flowers that were activated by sound and would sway from side to side to music. Fairly lo-tech by today’s standards but ground-breaking for the times.
NB Note the smoking in the office.
03 May 90
Militant Welsh Nationalists were angry about affluent English people buying holiday homes in Wales. Clive’s cottage in Powys was torched.
11 May 90
The Shadow Chancellor (and soon-to-be Labour leader) was on a charm offensive in the City, intent on undoing eleven years of Thatcherism.
16 May 90
One of the most popular Alex jokes ever, ran during Glyndebourne this year.
26 May 90
In summer Alex and Clive both fell victim to one of the waves of firings that swept across The City.
11 Jul 90
Banks would assuage their conscience by sending sacked employees to "outplacement" - where they were offered an office which they could use to find themselves a new job (and sometimes to avoid admitting to their wives that they’d lost their old job). Alex and Clive found themselves in such an establishment.
21 Aug 90
Alex and Clive endured a few months on reduced circumstances.
01 Sep 90
Clive was reduced to selling insurance door-to-door.
24 Sep 90
Meanwhile, Greg, Alex’s journalist brother, who had been in Lebanon filing stories about the militias there, was seen being smuggled out of Kuwait, and was in position to be embedded with troops for next year’s impending Gulf War.
25 Sep 90
On 3rd October Germany was reunified, which provoked some nervousness in the rest of Europe.
03 Oct 90
Happily later that month Alex and Clive were re-recruited by their old boss Rupert, who had defected to a rival bank, and they were returned to their old jobs in a new office.
19 Oct 90
It was a year in which Filofax and Sock Shop - emblems of the Yuppie era - went bust. Flying in the face of this, the first Alex Desk Diary was launched. It retailed at £35 which made it pleasingly exclusive in those recessionary times.
Soon afterwards another icon of the “wealth generation” vanished - Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister on November 22nd.
26 Nov 90
Continuing the Christmas fantasy story theme, Alex and Clive were abducted by aliens and spent the festive season on a spaceship, where Clive suffered various indignities including being seduced by a seven-foot-tall telepathic alien woman.
03 Jan 91
04 Jan 91
The Gulf War had begun in 1990 and with Operation Desert Storm now imminent Alex’s brother Greg was embedded with the Allied Troops. Charles and Russell were both several times discreetly warned off covering these events by staff at The Independent who claimed to be passing on “A word to the wise… “ that came “right from the top”. There was a feeling among some journalists that the Alex strip was not sufficiently reverent towards our brave boys at The Front (The embedded journalists, that is) and that the cartoonists should stick to their brief of doing jokes about men in suits sitting in offices making sarcastic comments about the state of the financial markets. All good points, but, since the cartoonists were also receiving some letters of support from readers who were actual troops stationed in the desert and since it was the story that everyone was talking about and was affecting everything else, they carried on regardless.
22 Jan 91
This was an example of a two-framer cartoon, which featured two parallel scenes. Unfortunately they used up too many puns to be viable as more than an occasional feature of the strip.
19 Feb 91
Clive, clearly traumatised by the Gulf War, joined a Men’s Group and went into therapy.
14 Mar 91
02 Apr 91
In these recessionary times domestic cutbacks had to be made, but Alex tried not to let it affect the emotional development of Christopher, now a toddler.
13 Apr 91
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis was published. Its protagonist was Patrick Bateman, a psychopathic serial killer who held down a day job as an investment banker on Wall Street. Alex was naturally an enthusiastic early reader.
23 May 91
That summer’s “silly season” story in all the newspapers concerned “dangerous” dog breeds.
03 Jun 91
With Nelson Mandela released from prison there was a dilemma of when to recognise the relaxing of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
15 Jul 91
There was a new film out: Edward Scissorhands, starring an little-known actor called Johnny Depp. Clive and a colleague from his men’s group went to see it and were traumatised.
29 Jul 91
In the autumn Alex and Clive were sole survivors of a plane crash in South America and had to make their way back to civilisation through the Amazonian rainforest.
15 Nov 91
25 Nov 91
Having lost his Welsh holiday home, Clive bought himself a new cottage in the country only to find it was haunted.
17 Dec 91
20 Dec 91
Alex had been wooed by the Telegraph from his first days at the Independent. But his authors had always resisted the lure of more money, out of a sense of loyalty to the vision behind the Independent. It was not a loyalty that was repaid however. When no pay rises were forthcoming and the newspaper refused to even give Alex any free adverts a chance meeting with a senior person from the Telegraph led to a new offer to jump ship being made and accepted.
Alex signed off from the Independent at the end of 1991 with a rather cheeky strip. However as the newspaper hadn't informed its readers of Alex's impending departure the irony of the cartoon was lost on most people.
28 Dec 91
However the secret was soon out. Following a rather rancorous advertising campaign, Alex began life at the Daily Telegraph on January 20th. Amid all the excitement and embarrassment of the switch Charles and Russell had omitted to think of any new jokes. They elected to start off at the Telegraph with a story about Alex bedding his Essex-girl secretary Wendy, on the premise that their new employer was unlikely to fire them in their first week at the paper.
24 Jan 92
31 Jan 92
A senior staff member at the Telegraph became convinced that the jokes were all about him. The Telegraph’s editor Max Hastings claimed he received sackfuls of mail over the following weeks complaining about the graphic nature of the opening story. There were rumours of cartoons having to be faxed to him in his Range Rover on a grouse moor for his approval. To his credit he ran them, though it took Alex a few years to win over the hard-core Telegraph readership.
The Independent, having officially deemed Alex “passé”, replaced it with a new, supposedly more “zeitgeisty” strip they’d commissioned: “Glibb” about a Paxman-esque TV presenter named Jonathan Glibb. It lasted six weeks.
The Independent staggered on for another 25 years before embracing its digital afterlife in 2016. It employed some good freelance features: Garland, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, ‘Schott’s Miscellany’… But all of them ended up moving on to other papers eventually.
The affair storyline was vindicated on February 6th when it was revealed that Lib Dem leader Paddy “Pantsdown” Ashdown was having an affair with his secretary. Mrs Pantsdown elected to stand by her husband. Alex got away with it too.
After several run-ins with Wendy’s boyfriend Wayne (including fighting a duel with him) Alex used the end of her probationary period as a way to give her the elbow professionally and romantically.
02 Mar 92
Shortly after came the 1992 General election in which, in a bid to alienate Telegraph readers even further, the cartoonists had Alex stand as a Tory candidate. He was campaigning against a Luvvy-Labour candidate called Vanora Hobson, loosely based on Glenda Jackson.
19 Mar 92
23 Mar 92
01 Apr 92
10 Apr 92
Charles and Russell were invited to the prestigious Telegraph election night party in 1992, hosted by Conrad Black. They felt rather out of place but enjoyed the lavish culinary hospitality. Margaret Thatcher was there, Cecil Parkinson plus other Tory grandees. It was said that many in The Conservative party were not expecting to win and that they were secretly hoping to lose, so that they could have Thatcher back as their leader. But Kinnock managed to blow this scenario with his premature victory celebration in Sheffield three days early and they got another 5 years with John Major instead. The party that was intended to be a wake ended up as a curiously muted celebration.
11 Apr 92
Penny found out about Alex’s affair and ran him over in her car. He awoke to find himself in hospital.
09 Jun 92
Penny left Alex for a short while, but soon came back.
26 Jun 92
That summer Alex was kidnapped and a huge ransom was demanded from the bank for his safe return. Alex had still not won over some Telegraph readers. The Letters Page published a letter which said simply: “So, Alex has been kidnapped. Please do us all a favour and don’t pay the ransom.”
11 Aug 92
Townie “weekenders” buying houses in the country were a social phenomenon of the day
28 Aug 92
16th September saw the Sterling Crisis when the UK fell out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism - a precursor to the Euro - on "Black Wednesday", which some Eurosceptics at the time dubbed “Golden Wednesday”.
18 Sep 92
24 Sep 92
Rupert had his second major brush with the law as he was arrested on holiday in Spain and committed to trial for fraud.
28 Sep 92
Canary Wharf was now open for business and the gradual process of banks relocating there was beginning.
08 Dec 92
Alex's constant snide digs at Docklands struck a particular resonance with journalists at the Telegraph, which was at the time based there, having relocated in the early days when the place was still a derelict wilderness without even a coffee franchise.
That Christmas Francis Ford Coppola’s "Dracula" was released and Clive had a week-long nightmare about being the Vampire Count himself.
19 Dec 92
Greg did an assignment for his newspaper which involved sleeping rough with homeless people over Christmas for a seasonal feature.
05 Jan 93
Rupert’s trial took place. He was found guilty and sent to prison.
22 Jan 93
29 Mar 93
14 Apr 93
19 Apr 93
29 Apr 93
Rupert was ‘inside’ himself when he made this opportunistic joke about Asil Nadir, the Chief Executive of bust business Polly Peck, who fled justice to Cyprus. A cartoon for which we received a “herogram” from Max Hastings.
The strip expanded its fan-base during this time. The original artwork of one of these jokes was bought by a prison inmate. Rupert was later released and his case was dismissed retrospectively on appeal.
07 May 93
Business in the City had traditionally been done by word of mouth, but now Information Technology was beginning to become an important part of its operations.
11 May 93
Alex took part in a corporate golf day organised by his bank for clients. Vince, the oikish moneybroker, was for some reason also invited.
06 Aug 93
14 Aug 93
Alex took his village cricket team on a summer tour.
25 Aug 93
On 24th April an IRA bomb in Bishopsgate had seriously disrupted commercial activity. Banks took retrospective precautions.
17 Sep 93
Alex and Clive went to The Gulf on business.
05 Oct 93
Ruth secretly gave birth to Clive’s lovechild. Clive was present (well sort of..)
04 Dec 93
President Clinton’s sex life caused an international scandal.
23 Dec 93
Alex fell asleep during his son Christopher’s school Nativity play and had a rather bizarre dream.
30 Dec 93
Alex did his first deal for Northern metal basher Mr Hardcastle, who was to become a long-term client.
14 Feb 94
The bluff Hardcastle endured a painful introduction to how the City of London works. Over the year readers have often enquired as to what exactly Alex's job is. This strip answers that question nicely.
21 Feb 94
22 Feb 94
The early 90s Recession was over and life was going well for Alex and his ilk.
29 Apr 94
Although Alex’s parents who were Lloyds names were suffering some financial hardships.
30 Apr 94
India was a hot new emerging market. Alex and Clive travelled on business there.
03 May 94
05 May 94
Takeovers were back in the City and corporate advisers were making money again.
27 May 94
It was 25 years since Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon's surface.
08 Jul 94
Newfangled items such as laptop computers and modems were beginning to make remote working a possibility, though such devices were still rare.
12 Jul 94
Rail strikes were a regular occurrence of the decade with their inevitable impact on people’s working lives.
14 Jul 94
“Dress down” started to permeate the City, though at this stage it was confined to American banks and Fridays.
22 Jul 94
The continuing rail strikes gave many men the excuse they had been looking for to buy motorbikes. Even Clive got in on it.
15 Aug 94
Post Communist Russia was entering the business world. Alex and Clive did a trip there over the summer.
12 Sep 94
“Road rage” was becoming an identifiable social phenomenon.
21 Sep 94
Disabled facilities were now being provided in banks with obvious benefits to staff.
23 Sep 94
After 25 years of armed conflict the IRA declared a ceasefire which was widely welcomed.
28 Sep 94
The National Lottery was brought in by John Major's government in November that year. As one might expect, Alex was rather snooty about the idea of playing it.
16 Dec 94
Power Rangers was the kids' TV series of the year and the spin-off toys were a must-have Christmas present.
17 Dec 94
With the City thriving again Christmas parties were lavish and often held in London landmark locations.
22 Dec 94
It was a year when several banks which were once synonymous with the City of London found themselves in trouble. SG Warburg (subtly disguised as "Romburgs" in the strip) was taken over by the Swiss.
21 Feb 95
On the 26th of February the actions of a rogue trader called Nick Leeson caused Barings Bank to collapse.
28 Feb 95
And over at the Bank of England there was a widely publicised sex scandal involving senior personnel.
(The line was a bastardisation of the advertising strapline “The bank that likes to say ‘Yes’ “; the catchphrase used to promote the TSB in the 1980s).
23 Mar 95
"Smart badges" which track employees’ whereabouts were being mooted. Little did people realise the wide-ranging powers that compliance would one day acquire.
27 Apr 95
Executive remuneration levels on company boards was considered excessive back in 1995. If people had any idea how much more CEOs would be getting paid today (without any noticeable increase in ability)....
28 Apr 95
It seems unthinkable today that it was ever allowed, but smoking was beginning to be banned in offices.
04 May 95
Post-Apartheid South Africa was now open for business. Alex and Clive headed out there to pitch for deals, but had to tread carefully.
08 Jun 95
16 Jun 95
Barings had been brought down by the use of complex financial instruments called “derivatives”. That summer the Bank of England launched an official inquiry into what had happened.
26 Jul 95
During the summer the strip ran a fantasy story based on the best-selling book ‘The Coming War with Japan’.
August was always a quiet month for news in the City and a good time to run the more surreal material. These days the cartoonists merely take a holiday.
01 Aug 95
Dress down was still struggling to gain acceptance in the City.
12 Sep 95
The launch in the UK of the Disney Channel in October gave solace to people hankering for some simple old-fashioned entertainment.
28 Sep 95
It was the year of the Ladette.
31 Oct 95
Maybe it was the pressure of the job, but both Charles’ and Russell’s marriages broke up nearly simultaneously in 1995. It was a gruelling time, but they got some quite funny divorce jokes out of it.
01 Dec 95
The Christmas party season was a heavy one that year.
16 Dec 95
It was the year in which football was supposedly "coming home" at the Euro 96 championships held in England. Ultimately it was to go missing during a semi-final penalty shoot-out against the Germans.
21 Feb 96
The breakdown of the Northern Ireland peace talks caused the IRA to resume its bombing campaign in Docklands on February 9th.
22 Feb 96
The cult film of the year was Trainspotting about a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh. Alex naturally was disdainful.
27 Feb 96
Eurostar had been running a service through the newly-built Channel Tunnel for just over a year. Travelling on it was still novel experience for some people.
02 Mar 96
Health and safety at work was becoming more of a preoccupation in everyday office life.
20 Mar 96
Shockingly, lunch, which had traditionally occupied much of a banker's day, was now being curtailed to a mere hour in some establishments.
03 Apr 96
There was a new form of communication - electronic mail (or e-mail as it was commonly known). It brought its own perils.
11 Apr 96
Building societies began to demutualise, leading to big windfall pay-outs for customers and sowing the seeds of the next-but-one crisis.
16 Apr 96
Though we believe that we started the trend, mobile phone gags had now become a standard feature in all cartoonists' repertoire. The usual situation was a person using their mobile to inform someone in a loud voice that they were "on the train". Alex had a twist on this scenario.
27 Apr 96
Alex became a victim of executive crack-up and had to be taken away to a secluded establishment for a while.
24 May 96
Despite the impending threat of a Labour Government the "feel good" factor seemed to be returning to British businesses.
23 Aug 96
Information technology was increasingly becoming a part of everyone’s life including in the schoolroom.
26 Sep 96
Docklands and technology were the two hottest topics in the City. Occasionally they combined.
27 Sep 96
Alex had a new female boss called Jane. They soon became romantically entangled.
01 Nov 96
14 Nov 96
Anne Atkins, the Telegraph’s Agony Aunt was sent a spoof letter from someone signing herself "Penny" asking for advice after finding out that her banker husband Alex had been having an affair with his female boss. Mrs Atkins wrote a po-faced reply, which was published in the newspaper, failing to realise that she had been ‘punked’.
It turned out Jane had actually managed to take advantage of almost everyone in the entire department by the time she moved on to a new job that Christmas.
17 Dec 96
Smoking was now starting to be banned on many airline routes.
04 Jan 97
Mobile phones were still scarce enough that for a graduate to possess one was a status symbol. Or was it?
21 Jan 97
Time-stamped restaurant bills were now starting to appear. This posed problems for the traditional long, boozy, expense account lunch.
22 Jan 97
The so-called "Ring of Plastic", a series of security barriers intended to foil IRA bombing attempts had been installed round the City. However it brought its own issues.
04 Feb 97
The Five Nations (soon to be Six Nations) rugby games were always held around Valentine's Day. This was to provide the cartoon with a running theme: Clive trying to slip off to a match and Bridget finding him out.
12 Feb 97
Women in the City were having to juggle the responsibilities of their job and motherhood.
15 Mar 97
Following the collapse of Barings Bank the previous year, City bosses were becoming concerned about their traders covering up potentially huge losses resulting from complex financial instruments which almost no one understood.
26 Mar 97
Tony Blair’s New Labour swept to victory in the General Election of 1997.
09 May 97
10 May 97
Though email was now ubiquitous in banks some bosses preferred to rely on the old-fashioned channels of communication.
12 Jun 97
Summer internships as a job-creation scheme for the children of clients was already developed.
18 Jun 97
As the year 2000 approached the Millennium (aka Y2K) Bug which would supposedly cause all computerised systems to fail on January 1st 2000 was beginning to be talked about.
17 Jul 97
Alex was stalked by a mysterious assassin for some weeks who finally broke into his house and shot him.
14 Aug 97
Alex survived the assassination attempt, but woke up in hospital suffering from amnesia and was never able to identify his assailant. The crime remains unsolved to this day. We think it was Clive...
19 Sep 97
Scooters were the year's must-have lifestyle accessory.
17 Oct 97
After a real life story about a successful banker deciding to leave his job to become a priest, Alex had a dream about being headhunted by God.
28 Nov 97
The Christmas blockbuster movie of 1997 was James Cameron’s “Titanic”. In January Alex was a passenger on board the ill-fated liner in a fantasy story.
24 Jan 98
We were often accused of being too "wordy" in our cartoons. This golf cartoon was an exception.
07 Feb 98
The big corporate deal of the year was the merger between UBS and SBC (in the cartoon they became Megabank and Metrobank). Various sources were feeding us gossip from within the two warring Swiss banks.
This joke about more women being fired than men is an example of a real story that emerged from one of our moles. The Telegraph couldn’t run it (because it couldn’t be substantiated) but in the fictional world of Megabank and Metrobank it could be dutifully mocked. Senior executives within the real-life banks were apparently furious about these embarrassing revelations leaking out, but could neither sue us nor trace our sources.
25 Feb 98
Even in the late 90s there was already a perception that graduates were really swotty with straight As in all subjects at school. The threat to Alex’s old-school-tie generation from hyper-qualified young people was to become a theme of the strip over subsequent decades.
20 Mar 98
The "ScooterMan" joke was one of our most highly visible cartoons of all time due to its appearing in pub lavatories all over the UK in the company’s advertising. We never got paid for it. Other home driving services are available...
16 Apr 98
With less than a year to go until the EU's EMU policy launched a new currency - the Euro - arbitrage opportunities were set to become fewer.
22 Apr 98
This joke about the introduction of single-occupancy car lanes in Leeds got us into trouble with some regional readers who claimed it was “south-ist”.
13 May 98
With a World Cup added to the standard summer sporting calendar the corporate hospitality season was looking particularly attractive.
30 Jun 98
This technology seemed remarkable at the time. But this was in the dark ages before Facebook..
18 Jul 98
Mobiles were by now so ubiquitous that even we cartoonists had them. Bankers however had the swanky upmarket models that worked when you were abroad.
25 Jul 98
Many bankers had so much extra money at this time that they were looking for ways to invest it in ‘real world’ commerce. The first of several of Clive’s business ventures opened: a restaurant.
29 Aug 98
09 Sep 98
There was a new social phenomenon: the Cyber Café.
11 Sep 98
IT people were becoming important in the increasingly technological City, though this was not always appreciated by the older generation of management.
18 Sep 98
Life coaches were the trendy new thing from the USA; so of course Alex had to have one.
22 Sep 98
Markets were starting to look wobbly again. Following the 1997 Asian financial crisis Russia defaulted on its debts in the summer bringing down the star-studded Wall Street hedge fund LTCM.
The knock-on effect was felt in the City. Clive's restaurant went bust and redundancies were expected in banks.
06 Oct 98
The internet now allowed analysts’ research to be published online with obvious cost-saving benefits to the bank.
10 Oct 98
The EU 48 hour maximum working week directive came into force. Most City bankers 'opted’ to opt out. Or found themselves no longer City bankers…
29 Oct 98
Sexual harassment was now becoming a serious agenda in the City and the smallest unguarded comments to a woman could get a man reported to HR.
30 Oct 98
There were beginning to be fears about the health consequences of long-term mobile phone usage.
21 Nov 98
An employee in Alex’s department “went postal” and took several colleagues in the office hostage shortly before Christmas.
01 Dec 98
Christmas "e-cards" were becoming popular. Alex was quick to see their utility.
16 Dec 98
The launch of the Euro happened without a hiccup. Management was quick to take the credit for the smooth transition.
05 Jan 99
An early appearance for Philip the gay banker.
14 Jan 99
Not it now longer had to fret about the Euro, the City turned its mind to an alternative calamity supposedly threatening global systems : the Millennium Bug. IT geeks were in great demand.
06 Feb 99
A new word “dotcom” entered the language. Internet stocks were all the rage with outrageous valuations for virtual companies that didn’t make any physical product (or any money). It would happen all over again a decade later.
12 Feb 99
As the City headed towards the 21st Century there were fears that all the new technology would make traditional roles like stockbroking obsolete. This proved not to be the case. Stockbroking's demise would only come to pass many years later at the hands of compliance.
24 Feb 99
Russell was going through a mid-life crisis and had put his name down to run the New York Marathon that autumn. Marathon jokes began to appear in the strip. He eventually wrote a book about his experiences.
26 Feb 99
Alex had an affair with a colleague Amanda on a business trip.
04 Mar 99
Alex always obliged with a joke on Red Nose Day. The original artwork was auctioned for the charity.
12 Mar 99
There was much excitement about the impending Millennium. Saturday March 20th 1999 was deemed the ideal conception day for women who wanted to give birth on January 1st 2000. Penny had plans to do it. Alex had other ideas.
20 Mar 99
As Deutsche Bank moved to make itself the biggest bank in the world by taking over Bankers Trust, Alex's bank found itself in merger talks with the ruthlessly Teutonic Uberbank.
21 Apr 99
Trendy homework was being set by teachers requiring kids to use their imaginations to write stories rather than regurgitate facts. The ongoing conflict in the Former Yugoslavia was a theme.
15 May 99
Reality TV, which would soon occupy most mainstream TV airtime, was beginning to be fashionable. Alex's bank was the subject of a Fly on the Wall documentary.
19 May 99
Every year a ragtag band of anarchists, left wingers and environmentalists would stage a “Stop The City” march in the Square Mile. Alex was cynical about their naive attempts to disrupt the functioning of the capitalist system.
21 May 99
As the merger talks between Uberbank and Megabank continued (and some embarrassing revelations came out about Deutsche Bank's role in World War II) Alex and Clive found themselves imprisoned in Colditz for a summer fantasy story.
18 Jun 99
Following the failure of his restaurant Clive now went determinedly downmarket and opened a lap-dancing bar.
27 Jul 99
The excitement was growing ahead of August 11th, when the UK was due to witness its first total solar eclipse for over seventy years. In the event it was something of a disappointment with largely cloudy weather.
06 Aug 99
The dotcom frenzy was now reaching its apogee. Alex lost no time in capitalising on it.
15 Oct 99
The Rugby World Cup took place in England and foreign clients were looking for bogus business pretexts to fly over for it. But Alex was a stickler for procedure.
27 Oct 99
An early mention for the concept of “diversity” which was to become very big in the corporate world.
03 Dec 99
As the Millennium drew to a close Alex found himself increasingly usurped by a tech-savvy junior called Robin Thorne.