We use HSBC and I haven't had any problems with them. Then again we don't pay in cheques very often and never pay in cash so I can't say what they would be like for a business that needed those services. We pay very little in charges as we're almost always under their threshold for the number of transactions. Ours is a basic account for people who don't need counter services but it's ideal for our consultancy companies. I still have a business manager who has been quite helpful. I think there is an upper threshold on turnover to qualify for this account but we turn over in excess of £250k and they haven't stopped us yet!
We did have dealing with Santander a few years ago. Unless they have changed dramatically I couldn't with any integrity recommend them. It took them nine months to actually sort out cards and PINs that worked and you can't deal with branches you have to talk to the call centres who seem to delight in passing you from pillar to post.
I've heard good things about Barclays from other business owners.
Most of the banks will offer you a fee free period to start with.
I think the limit is about 20 cheques and about 50 electronic payments in a month. The fees are about 35p per item. I rarely get a bill of more than £5 purely because we tend to have larger clients who we bill large amounts. A typical invoice for us is £10-15k. My coaching clients pay for several sessions in one go so I don't have bitty cheques or cash to pay in.
They do change their deals periodically so it's worth popping in to see what they're offering now. They do call you in for a review periodically and, apart from trying to sell me their hideously overpriced professional indemnity insurance, they usually look to see if I can avoid any charges.
I don't think any banks are saints but I haven't had a problem. Lloyds TSB froze my personal account once when I paid a large dividend in (apparently for security reasons - although my company has my (not that common) surname in it) but that's a whole different story!!
We've got a Co-op Business Direct account - costs us £15 per month but no extra charges for paying cheques in / writing them etc. The only additional charges we pay are for foreign payments/bounced cheques etc. I presume there's a limit to the no. of free chqs paid in, but we've never hit it and in the past we'd be paying in hundreds per month (nowadays mostly its all done over t'internet). Its a postal account as we don't have a branch nearby.
We've not had any major problems with them so far (had the account 10 yrs), their business internet banking used to be rubbish but they've upgraded it and it now seems to work fine.