Cote got me in as a director of something or other. Very good business for me – nothing to do except go down into the City once or twice a year to one of those hotel places – Cannon Street or Liverpool Street – and sit around a table where they have some very nice new blotting paper. Then Coote or some clever Johnny makes a speech simply bristling with figures, but fortunately you needn't listen to it – and I can tell you, you often get a jolly good lunch out of it.
The blotting paper has vanished, but to judge by the crop of catastrophes rocking the American and world economies in the twenty-first century, little else about life in the boardroom has changed since Agatha Christie wrote The Seven Dials Mystery in 1929.
Lord Boothby, the former Tory MP, described his experience with board service. “No effort of any kind is called for. You go to a meeting once a month, in a car supplied by the company. You look grave and sage. If you have five of them, it is total heaven, like having a permanent hot bath.”
This is not a new problem. In 1872, Anthony Trollope wrote in The Way We Behave: “The chairman of the Great South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway Company would never sit for more than half an hour. [The chairman] himself would speak a few slow words always indicative of triumph, everybody would agree to everything, somebody would sign something, ...