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updated: 3/17/2014 1:23 PM

Lawrence of Arabia offered 'quiet' role at Bank of England

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  • Actor Peter O'Toole in 1961 in the title role in the film "Lawrence of Arabia."

    Actor Peter O'Toole in 1961 in the title role in the film "Lawrence of Arabia."
    Associated Press/Columbia Pictures

By Fergal O’Brien\Bloomberg News

Lawrence of Arabia, the British officer known for his part in the Arab Revolt, almost ended up at the Bank of England as friends sought a "quiet post" for him away from the publicity surrounding his adventures, according to central bank archives.

Documents show the World War I veteran, whose real name was T. E. Lawrence, was offered the role of night watchman in 1928, the central bank said Saturday. There are also indications in the archives that Governor Montagu Norman wanted Lawrence as the bank's secretary seven years later.

"As Lawrence neared the end of his military service, his friends grew concerned that the energies of such a dynamic and unconventional man might be wasted in civilian service, and began looking for roles that would allow him to focus on his literary work," the BOE said. The job of watchman would have been "away from the glare of publicity which followed him, in which he might continue with his writing."

A second approach to Lawrence may have been made in 1935, the BOE said. According to private correspondence to Governor Leslie O'Brien in 1969, Norman was seeking an individual "with personality within and without the walls of the bank" for the position of secretary and approached Lawrence. The secretary at that time was in charge of administration and areas such as accounts at the central bank.

"This offer was never taken up, and there are no official records of it having been made, only private letters," the BOE said. Lawrence died in 1935 at the age of 46 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash.

Desert Gold

The links to the adventurer, portrayed by Peter O'Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, were revealed in an article in the BOE's Quarterly Bulletin about a planned exhibition from its vaults. The display in the central bank's museum will include a battered leather trunk that has become associated with Lawrence, though the bank acknowledges it has no supporting documentation.

Described as a "camel pack, leather with metal lining, for carrying gold over deserts," the absence of proof doesn't stop the BOE from encouraging speculation.

"Could this really be Lawrence of Arabia's saddle bag, lent to him by the bank for the transportation of gold during his wartime desert campaigns?" it said in the article. Director David Lean's biographical film "elevated Lawrence to legendary status, so perhaps it is little wonder that an object with such unclear provenance has been linked to the most famous British desert adventurer of all."

The exhibition starts on March 31. It will also include items such as a secret ballot box used by the bank's Court of Directors and a collection of unissued banknotes signed by "distinguished visitors" including one from 1842 by Prince Frederick of Prussia.

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