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Page last updated at 18:36 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008
The year Britain's bubble burst

Robert Peston
The face of the credit crunch? The BBC's Robert Peston

Happy Christmas? For many people the holiday season is more likely to be a fearful one as they worry about their finances and job security after a year of global economic turbulence.

The last 12 months have seen house prices tumble and repossessions rise, with banks needing billion-pound bailouts. Such has been the speed of the economic crisis that the notion of the credit crunch has been replaced by the very real prospect of a recession.

Throughout this period the country has looked to one man to keep them up to date on what is going on - the BBC's business editor Robert Peston.

Now, in The year Britain's bubble burst, Robert looks back across the twists and turns of the past 12 months to tell the untold story of the crisis and just how close we came to financial meltdown.

To report or not to report?

Speaking exclusively to key players, including Chancellor Alistair Darling, Financial Services Authority chief Hector Sants and leading bankers, he reveals what happened behind the scenes and particularly on one week in October when major banks stood on the brink of collapse.

People queuing outside branch of Northern Rock
A Robert Peston scoop triggered the first run on a UK bank since 1866

We learn more about the background of this man who says that he had never heard of a merchant bank until he was 20, but who now wields such influence that an MP on the Treasury select committee says that some "think that Robert Peston is the governor of the Bank of England".

Robert also talks frankly about his role in the crisis, answering critical questions about whether he made the situation worse.

Why? Because he became central to a debate on whether or not journalists should be allowed to reveal information which threatens national financial institutions after he delivered his first big scoop to the BBC's 10 O'clock News in September 2007.

In an exclusive report, he said that Northern Rock needed emergency funding from the Bank of England to keep going.


It was not Robert's first scoop - he had been a successful journalist for over 20 years - but it was his first scoop for the BBC and the effect was immediate.

The next morning queues of frightened savers and investors had gathered outside branches of Northern Rock, all trying to get their money out at the same time - the first run on a British bank since 1866.

Traders on New York Stock Exchange
Just how close did we come to financial Armageddon?

But as The year Britain's bubble burst reports, Northern Rock turned out to just be the curtain raiser - there were more scoops to come, and with each and every exclusive Robert's market power increased.

The crisis came to a head in October when three of Britain's biggest banks, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds TSB, held a meeting with Chancellor Alistair Darling in which they asked for billions of pounds in funding.

It was a discussion of the highest sensitivity, the kind of thing that the institutions involved would not want made public, but one journalist had learned of the meeting - Robert Peston.

The next morning, before the markets opened, he posted an entry on his influential blog Peston's Picks, reporting the meeting and in doing so set off a fresh bout of chaos in the City.

In The year that Britain's bubble burst Robert reports on what was happening behind the scenes in that momentous week which brought us to the brink of financial Armageddon and saw the government taking the unprecedented step of making £400bn available to eight British banks in a bid to stop the rot, and what its effect will be on us all.

Panorama: The year that Britain's bubble burst - Monday 22 December at 8.30pm on BBC One.

Panorama: Britain in the Red
Friday, 7 November 2008, 11:44 GMT |  Panorama


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