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Blankety Blank cheque book remembered

Peter Thomas, Managing Director, DLRT Limited muses on the return of this 1980s BBC TV family favourite and the part played by the ‘good old dependable cheque’ in its making.

The recent news that the ‘Blankety Blank’ game show was returning to our screens under the masterful Bradley Walsh brought back many great memories. Originally a firm family favourite on the BBC in the 1980’s under fellow Irishman, Sir Terry Wogan and again reprised under the always funny Les Dawson, the premise of the game was a fun quiz where a prize was a “Blankety Blank cheque book and pen”. As a family we sat and enjoyed it together, grandparents, parents, my siblings and I.

This was the heyday of cheques as a payment instrument in the UK. In 1990, over £3 billion cheques were written annually. Now, as we progress through 2021 new digital and online technologies are slowly replacing the humble paper cheque.

The cheque though as a payment instrument dates back to the 1600s in the UK and even further back in Italy. It has been a staple of worldwide payments since this time, being accepted as a mainstay of business transactions. There are still many people today using cheques whether they are small businesses, charities or individuals making ad hoc payments. It continues to be simple and easy to use. It is convenient and secure. In 2020, volumes of the ‘good old dependable’ cheque were still in excess of 188m. The introduction of Image Clearing back in 2017 in the UK breathed new life into the cheque allowing a reduction in the payment cycle to two days using an image of the cheques rather than the paper document to transfer payments via mobile phone or via desktop scanning equipment.

Over the last few years as newer payment methods become more prevalent, the place of the cheque has been somewhat side-lined as a legacy or old technology much the same as is happening now with cash. We will be the lesser for it as we remove physical methods to online alternatives. The tangible transaction, the physical action of making a payment by cheque or cash still has its place. Sometimes an alternative, or even a back-up, is a good thing particularly as we see increasing levels of cybercrime, hacking and banking IT blackouts.

In 2017, the footballer Neymar was bought by the football club Paris St Germain (PSG) using a rather large cheque payment for 222 million euros. When we raise money for charitable causes, we present a BIG cheque. Indeed, the return of the TV quiz show “Who wants to be a millionaire” hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, I believe was the lesser for it when they decided not to present a cheque, an act ‘mocked’ by Clarkson in the first episode. The suspense, the jeopardy of physically holding a cheque for a substantial amount and potentially losing it was replaced to appear more updated, but not sure it worked particularly for older viewers.

A lesser-known fact is that DLRT’s sister company, TALL Security Print produced the cheques used in the original “Who wants to be a Millionaire” hosted by Chris Tarrant, and many of those big cheques that continue to be presented today. TALL have also developed the innovative patented security algorithms that are securing the next generation cheque that is being imaged through the banking systems in the UK today. Recent statistics (Fraud the Facts 2020) show that cheque fraud as a percentage is a fraction of that of other payment instruments at just 1pc and is in fact reducing due to the introduction of bank-recommended image survivable security features (ISFs) on cheques.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic when people were working remotely, TALL have been hard at work developing new and highly successful payment options to support our customers. The TALL Send-A Cheque™ service, for instance, allows businesses large and small to remotely make payments using TALL Group as a bureau and hosting service. Whether they are making refunds, paying dividends or paying suppliers, this service reduces administration and drives efficiencies but still uses the ‘good old dependable’ cheque as the payment method.

As banks continue to close branches on the high street, the introduction of remote deposit capture solutions (RDC) negates the need for corporate and business customers to take cheques to the bank. Instead, they can image in real time thus maximising treasury control and cash management.

The cheque then still has its place. It continues to be more than a ‘prop’ for popular game shows. Under the Bills of Exchange Act, it is still a means of payment used by many. People should be allowed the choice to continue to make their own decision if they wish to make and accept cheque or in fact cash.

I am very hopeful that the producers and Mr Walsh recognise the continued significance of the humble cheque, its history and how robust it remains. The ‘Blankety Blank Cheque book and pen’ were as much part of that show as Terry Wogan’s fancy microphone.


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