It is rare for an everyday tale of British banking folk to find an echo in a Hollywood sword-and-sandal epic movie - but such a day was yesterday.

Cut to the Spartacus scene: "Which one of you is Spartacus?"

"I am Spartacus!"

"No! I am Spartacus!"

Et al, ad nauseam, to coin a Latin aside.

So it was, when a hapless Royal Bank of Scotland press officer offered to brief a journalist writing about the tenth anniversary of internet banking.

On being asked which was the first bank to offer internet banking, the press officer replied that, indeed, the Royal Bank had been the first to offer its customers the unique service.

And with the speed of e-mail came the responses.

"No! I think you'll find we were," said the Nationwide.

"No! I think you'll find we were," said Bank of Scotland.

(Actually, Bank of Scotland went one step further and assured us that they had an internet banking service - before the internet.) A spokesman for Royal Bank said: "We actually were the first high street bank to serve our customers online. It was June 1997, and it has proved a revolution in our banking offering.

"Today, the value of our joint Royal Bank and Nat West transactions is over £50bn a year, and the annual number of transactions is through the 60 million barrier."

Nationwide Building Society would have none of it, and issued a statement saying: "We have received some inquiries from journalists who have been confused by Royal Bank of Scotland's news release claiming to have been the first bank to provide an internet banking service.

"In order to avoid any confusion, Nationwide Building Society was the first UK provider to launch an internet banking service on May 27, 1997. Royal Bank of Scotland launched its online banking service in June 1997.

"In 1997, just over 13,000 customers registered for Nationwide's internet bank. Over the last decade, this figure has steadily increased to over three million people and this growth is set to continue."

However, under interrogation, a Nationwide spokeswoman later admitted that while Nationwide stuck by its assertion to be the first internet banking provider, perhaps Royal Bank had a case to claim to be the first bank - as opposed to building society - to do so.

Enter Bank of Scotland. A spokesman, from the Olympian heights of The Mound, declaimed: "We had internet banking before the internet. Well, what was effectively internet banking.

"In 1986 we introduced technology that enabled our customers to access their accounts on a television screen, through their telephone line. We developed that, and in the late nineties it became Hobs' - Home and Office Banking Service."

As to which was truly the first bank with an internet banking service, well, the Bank of Scotland man did concede it was probably Royal Bank.

So, again life was seen to imitate art. Just as the Roman centurion finally established there was only one Spartacus, so the Royal Bank secured its position in banking history. The only difference being, all the Spartacuses were crucified, and Royal Bank turned in an annual profit of £8.2bn.