Design: Peter Pickard (UK)
For much of the 20th century, Midland Bank was one of the Big Four banks in the UK – the others being Barclays, Lloyds and National Westminster. Despite its size, it had a reputation as a friendly bank and innovated the concept of retail banking in Britain. It was the self-titled “Listening Bank”.
In 1965, Midland Bank launched a logo that was to become an ever-present symbol on the UK High Street for more than three decades. The logo was designed by Peter Pickard and consisted of a stylised prancing ‘Griffin’ – surrounded by a circle of 22 golden coins (or guineas), that represented the amalgamation of 22 banks.
The Griffin was an appropriate visual metaphor for a bank. Since medieval times, this mythical beast has represented strength and vigilance. Possessing a lion’s body and the head and wings of an eagle, the griffin combined the qualities of the king of beasts and the king of the birds. It was also seen as a guardian of treasure; reputed to be able to discover and hoard gold. On launch, the bank aired a series of memorable TV adverts entitled ‘Money Talks’ directed by the legendary designer Robert Brownjohn.
By the 1980s, after a spate of unsuccessful flirtations abroad, Midland Bank refocused on its core domestic banking business and rejuvenated its corporate image. In 1986, the bank unveiled a restyled Griffin, designed by Chong Huang Tay of Wolff Olins.
In 1993, the Midland Group was bought by HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), one of the world’s largest financial services organisations. By April 1997, Midland Bank had adopted its parent’s brand name. The ubiquitous gold-on-blue Griffin was ruthlessly slain and replaced with the red and white hexagon symbol of HSBC (the red ‘bow-tie’, designed by Henry Steiner).
The replacement of local banking brands, such as Midland and Abbey National, by global ones might meet with approval in the boardroom, but in the High Street, these new brands are sometimes perceived as soulless, generic and distant. In the bid to go international, the designs are often neutralised and sadly lacking in personality, or local character. As Marcel Knobil, chairman of Superbrand, said, “I think it has been difficult to maintain the sense of warmth that the Griffin had. The Griffin was a chat over the fence, whereas HSBC is more a chat over the Atlantic.”