Fernandel, BNC runner

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The Vaudeville star, Fernandel - BNP Paribas Historical Collections, Copyright B.Roland Rights Reserved

The Vaudeville star, Fernandel - BNP Paribas Historical Collections, Copyright B.Roland Rights Reserved

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In 1915, the young Fernandel, later to become a vaudeville star, worked for a brief period at the Marseilles branch of the Banque Nationale de credit.

A budding actor and singer

Fernand Joseph Désiré Contandin, better known as Fernandel, was born in 1903 in Marseilles. The whole family shared the passion of his father, Denis Contandin, a modest office worker during the week, who was an actor and café-concert singer on Sundays. Fernand regularly accompanied his father to his shows, and began to tread the boards at the tender age of five. In 1910, he sang a comic repertoire at La Scala in Marseilles to great acclaim and also won a number of singing contests. He sang Polin’s famous songs – Mademoiselle Rose and Ah! Je t’aime tant! (“Oh, I love you so!”).

Memories of the bank

In 1915, his father was sent to the front, and the young Fernand had to go out and find work. He started at Banque Nationale de crédit. The actor later recalled: “In 1915, I started at the Banque Nationale de Crédit, in rue Saint-Ferréol, as a bank messenger. I was the ‘errand boy’ at 25 francs a month. It was my older brother Marcel who got me the job. The manager was Mr Gatineau. Twelve years old, a little squib, a long face, not that handsome but bright-eyed and with my ears permanently pricked up. I was the one who announced the customers who came to see the manager. I used to pull faces behind their backs. One day, one of them gave me a cigarette. I lit up, but forgot that I was still smoking when the next customer arrived. I went into the manager’s office blowing smoke out of my nose. He fired me on the spot! He was a bit sensitive.”

Nevertheless, Fernand Contandin received a small amount of compensation for being let go. But more important was the fact that at the BNC he made a lifelong friend, Jean Manse, who would become his brother-in-law and future colleague.

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