Dave Fishwick attends the world premiere of Netflix’s ‘Bank of Dave’
A working-class kid who dropped out of school with no grades and became a billionaire? “Crazy”. A decade-long struggle to establish Britain’s first homegrown new bank in over 120 years? “Crazy”.
A Hollywood movie about his life, created by one of the writers behind Mission: Impossible and starring James Bond’s Rory Kinnear as him, with Def Leppard making a cameo? “Absolutely crazy!”
However, the story of Burnley’s hero Dave is available for all to watch on Netflix, with the Bank Of Dave movie already on its way to becoming a number one hit on the streaming channel.
Dave, 51, can still remember the moment he got the phone call from Mission: Impossible writer Piers Ashworth, who was looking for a quintessential British story that could mirror the success of his most recent hit, Fisherman’s Friends.
Dave’s story had already been told in documentary form on Channel 4, but Piers wanted to give it a cinematic makeover.
“Piers had been having dinner with the host of the documentary series about me and told him my story; how I left school at 16, became a construction worker, and now I was building my own bank across the street,” she explains.
“So Piers watched the shows, read my book, and then called me to say, ‘My name is Piers and I want to do a story about your life.’
“I said, ‘Then you’d better go to Burnley, right?’ It was crazy. So she came to Burnley and explained what he wanted to do. I asked him if it could be filmed in the places where we did business and where everything happened, he agreed, and that was it.
While the story centers on Dave’s battle, a human dynamo of a man positively bubbling with energy, to be recognized as a banker by the establishment, his rags-to-riches story is just as fascinating. Born and raised in Burnley, his parents were poor but hard workers: his father worked two jobs, mending looms and working on farms, while his mother was a weaver.
Bond star Rory Kinnear (left) plays Dave Fishwick in the film.
He grew up in a small house with an outside bathroom and was told at school that he was “either going to be a bum, or a loser, or both.”
Having left school at 16, he was an unhappy construction worker when he had what still amounts to a damaskine moment in a fish and chip shop.
“I ordered some food and then I realized the price was 37p and I only had 34p in my pocket,” he recalls.
“I told the lady, ‘Sorry, I don’t have enough pennies, I just took some chips off.’ So, she took some fries and put them in the bin.
“I thought that was very bad and I also realized that I no longer wanted to be poor. I knew I needed to get into the business and do something with my life.”
Always obsessed with cars, Dave began cleaning and selling old vehicles that were partially traded in by local dealerships. He soon had enough money to open his own garage and one day someone brought in a dirty truck. He cleaned it up, made an even bigger profit than he did on cars, and soon moved on to vans and then minibuses. In time, he owned the country’s largest minibus dealership while investing his profits in property.
He had fulfilled his ambition; he was not only not poor, he was rich, very rich. Dave is now estimated to be worth around £500 million.
His next bizarre banking idea happened by accident. In 2008, after the financial crisis, banks stopped lending money to small businesses so that the people who bought their minibuses could no longer afford them.
“I thought if I believed in these people and the product they were buying, which of course I did while selling to them, I could start lending them money,” he recalls.
“And that was what happened. And you know what? They refunded my money and I realized that this banking nonsense is not that difficult and that it could help other companies. So I opened what is called a community lending operation (Burnley Savings And Loans) – from the beginning I wanted to make a difference for my community. My first plan was to open a bank. I went to London to meet one of the bank bosses. He asked me: “Where are you from?” When I said Burnley, that clearly put him off. He wasn’t impressed by my school or what my parents did for a living, that really put him off.
“Then he said to me: ‘So you haven’t been to Oxford or Cambridge and you don’t have the right parents.’ I replied: ‘Wow! What do you mean by correct parents? And he said: ‘People who have been in the Banking Association.’
“I realized that unless you are part of the club you have no chance. No wonder a new High Street bank hasn’t opened for over 120 years.
“But I thought, I’m going to do it anyway. And that’s how it all started. I got the lawyers involved and have been fighting for the cause ever since.”
Dave Fishwick took on the establishment to set up Britain’s first local bank in 120 years.
For many Britons, it’s a cause worth fighting for. Traditional banks have been closing High Street branches and cutting lending for years. It was announced yesterday that another 40 local branches will be lost as Lloyds and Halifax announced further closures.
Officially, Dave’s community bank, which offers higher interest rates for loans and savings than traditional banks, still cannot be called a bank and is legally called Burnley Savings and Loans. It started lending in 2008 and launched its “bank” in 2011, before applying for a banking license, which was turned down.
The 2012 documentary series showed his efforts, including a call for Parliament to reform the banking system, but his fight continues. In all matters, his company acts like a bank: with loans, savings, and credit cards. For Dave, the main difference is an official role that would allow him to call it a bank.
He’s a lot of fun to be around, attractive and warm, but there’s also toughness there. His battles against the banks are perhaps much fiercer than those shown in the film.
“I don’t like bankers with passion,” he tells me. “There are people who go hungry every day in Britain, but they have just raised the bankers bonus rate by millions of pounds again. I would love to inspire other people to challenge the banking system. I only have Burnley Savings and Loans, because I also run other businesses, but I would love it even if this film inspired one or more people to do what I did.”
So far, his bank has loaned over £30m to the people of Burnley, with all the proceeds going to local causes.
But the film is much more than a story about Dave’s fight against the banking world. It is also about the little man versus the establishment. Dave was delighted when Rory Kinnear was cast as him, laughing, “He looks more like me than I do!” He continues: “He showed up at my door and the first thing he said was ‘Dave, meet Dave!’ He had been working with a voice coach and a movement coach, he watched all my documentaries and had all my manners. He was seriously crazy.
“Rory is amazing; a suitable actor. He’s in Bond, and the cool thing is if he ever needs to take a day off, we’re so alike he could fill in!
Meanwhile, Dave was able to obtain a personal favor by getting his friend, Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville, to play the dastardly scion of the banking establishment, Sir Charles. The couple met at a Bafta ceremony where it turned out that Hugh was a huge fan.
“I’ll never forget I was at the Bafta ceremony for one of my documentaries and I saw this man coming towards me,” Dave recalls.
“My wife and I have seen him in a ton of movies and he kept getting closer and closer until he stopped next to us and said, ‘Excuse me Dave, my name is Hugh, would you really mind if I took a picture with you? ?’ And I was like, ‘Of course not, I’m a big fan.’
“He’s a huge movie star, but he’s also very kind and genuine. So when they were casting for the role of the banker, I said, ‘Hugh would be brilliant, call him. And he said he would love to be in it.
Def Leppard meanwhile, after being pitched the story, came up with the idea of a northern community coming together and spent a day filming a segment where they acted to help the Dave in the movie.
The real Dave was on set to see it happen. “They were singing Pour Some Sugar On Me and there was Rory, with all my mannerisms, on stage with them singing,” he smiles.
“And I met them and took a picture with them. And I remember thinking: ‘How does a guy from Burnley who sells buses end up on stage with Def Leppard?’ If nothing else happens in my life, that’s great; My life has reached its peak.”
Beyond the crazy
- Dave’s Bank is on Netflix now.
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