On the Buses ~ Early days
It seems to have been the mainstay of my early life, that somehow, in one place or another, at sometime or other, I always seem to have been on a bus, or trying to catch one, or to have just missed one.
Being a Leicestershire lad, the colours of those buses were mainly of two sorts: the deep crimson of the "Friendly Midland Red", and the even deeper maroon and cream, of Leicester City Transport. For the first few years of my life in the county, my boyhood passenger experience was largely of the former.
Mum and Dad were from Coalville and Coleorton, and so it was that area that I first got to know well. Dad also had relatives in Leicester and so the occasional visit to that city made for a change of scene - and livery. This was the term that I discovered, much later in life, was the correct way to describe the paint job on coachwork; whether on a humble van, tram, train, or even a jumbo jet. But for me, as for most kids then, journeys largely meant buses, and every bus journey was an adventure, no matter what the colour of the bus.
I cannot recall a time when I was NOT aware of the smart, gold logo, and of how the name had larger letters at the beginning and at the end.
Equally smart was the City Transport crest, a five-petal cream flower on a red shield, with its red lion supporters, and some funny, foreign words I didn't understand, all on the shiny, deep maroon background body colour of the whole bus.
I would be a much older schoolboy before I learnt that the flower is a cinque-foil, and the words are the city's motto - Semper Eadem - meaning Always the Same. But I knew nothing then of the history behind those colours and logos. It would be years before I understood the significance of the City Transport's 'Corporation' colours, and the coincidence of the colours of the coaches on the trains of the LMS. Or that the Midland Red was properly the 'BMMO', as it confusingly appeared in all their timetables. But, the 'Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company' was rather a mouthful, for anyone, let alone an eight-year-old.
The Friendly Midland Red had my vote in those latent days of the mid-1950s through to the early 60s, not least because of the thoughtful notice displayed on the platform, positioned to catch everyone's eye just before alighting. Nobody ever "got off" a bus in those days; one 'alighted.' And just before one alighted, this notice hit you between the eyes, right above the doors. It simply asked, in large, gold letters on dark red:
Have You Forgotten Anything ?
The question mark was especially large, so large if it had fallen off and hit you on the head, it would have hurt. My mother always seemed to think that it was there just for her, to remind her as to whether she had forgotten us, that is, myself and my little brother. She often threatened to 'forget' us - or wished she could. Well, she did occasionally mislay us. She lost me in Woolworth's in Gallowtree Gate on one occasion! I shared a mug of tea and a biscuit with a very nice police sergeant in a big white building at the top end of Charles Street until, like the 5-year-old piece of lost property I was, I was reclaimed.
That notice on the platform of all those Red buses haunts me still. It only occurs now that perhaps mum really was tempted to 'lose' us on a Midland Red bus, or any bus, if only for a night or two. I could at least have had a night in the depot. And she could always reclaim us. If not, well, I knew the routes, so I'd find my own way home! Leicester Transport buses merely had an official notice warning about the financial perils of spitting on the floor, and reminding folks that no more than five were allowed to stand in the gangway.
Another reason the Midland seemed nicer to us kids was that they were warmer. And I should think so too, with those nice, big, folding platform doors. Leicester Transport buses didn't have platform doors. They didn't have any doors! They didn't seem to mind how cold their passengers got, or if they sometimes accidentally fell off. Or so it seemed to a young lad.
GOING TO GRANDMA'S
Leicester to Coalville
For some reason, journeys to and from Coalville always seem to have been winter ones in my memory. If it was raining or drizzling when leaving St Margaret's, it would be sure to be snowing by the time we reached Markfield. Of course, I know now that this was because that latter place was much higher up, "on the Forest." Indeed, almost as soon as one left the city, after traversing Sanvey Gate, under those hugely imposing girders of the Great Central Railway, across the amusingly named Frog Island (where I never saw a single frog), one seemed to be climbing all the way. The climb proper commenced at Groby Road/Fosse Road corner, and then Groby Road just went up and up and up. Then it was up and down all the way to the Field Head - but generally up. After that, there were still ups and downs all the way to Coalville - but generally down.
Leicester Transport buses seemed to be somehow noisier, whereas the Midland Red seemed to have a nice, soothing whine to their engines, almost a song-like drone that a little boy could fall asleep to. But I never fell asleep because every journey was an adventure. But not every bus journey was on the Midland Red or the maroon Leicester Transport.
Dad was then in the RAF, at Grantham, in the 1950s, and so we invariably travelled to and fro into Leicester on a deep green and cream bus, a most odd-looking bus, belonging to another company with a mouthful of a name, the "Lincolnshire Road Car Company." An odd name as well, because it was most definitely a bus, not a car. It would be nearly another twenty years before I knew that the term 'car' was a hangover from the days of the tram car. But, they did have queer looking buses, and with very odd seating arrangements upstairs. Odd to me, of course, but not to any native of Lincolnshire or East Anglia, or anywhere else where Bristol Lodekkas were king. In 1950s rural England, if it were a country bus, and painted green, it was usually a Bristol - and more often than not, a Lodekka.
GRANTHAM to LEICESTER
26 miles of peculiar names
The up and down rolling journey from Grantham into Leicester was yet another adventure, and to both my parents, probably a great embarrassment, for my brother and I drove that Service 25 all the way, fighting to be first upstairs for the front right-hand seat over the driver. Imagination made for great steering wheels in those days, and we had one each! The names of places on that journey seem now to chime on the bells of memory: Harlaxton, Denton, and Croxton Kerrial. An odd name that last one, and they never said it properly. The conductor always put on a right posh accent and announced it as 'Crowson' Kerrial. Besides, what was wrong with the 'x'? We used to wait a few minutes there, and if we were lucky, we'd see someone drawing water from the huge village pump right by the bus stop. No small pump, that. It could have filled a railway engine! I wonder if it's still there. If you looked back, as you climbed away steeply from the village towards Melton, a clear day would reveal the misty silhouette of Belvoir Castle atop its distant hill; the return journey view was even better.
The next stop was Waltham on the Wolds, and then almost all downhill into Melton Mowbray. A funny county, this place of my heritage. Such long-winded names, and often spelt incorrectly, that is, to an impressionable eight-year-old trying to get to grips with his own language. There were so many letters that were just ignored. Melton nearly always seemed to be holdng a market, which caused no end of extra hold-ups and muttered curses from our Dad. He never liked markets, but I think Mum wouldn't have minded hopping off (sorry - alighting) for a quick look round.
It was a still a little up and down after Melton, through Kirby Bellars. "Look, there's another one of those posh, long names." Presently we were down to a far more gentle drop into Syston. In winter, and sometimes spring, the whole of the valley that dropped away down to the right of the Leicester road would be awash with flood water - an extended River Wreake - and miles and miles of submerged fields, only tree and hedge tops showing under a pale reflection of a watery sky. It always seemed wet, and damp, about now - "Yes," my mother would say, "we're coming into Leicester alright!" It was somewhere near here, just before Syston, that I have a very distant memory of seeing two smoking steam engines in a field - one at one end, and one at the other. I would be over forty before I realised that what I had witnessed were the end days of steam-ploughing, drawing the plough on a long cable up and down the field between two smoking engines. The day of the horse was numbered even then.
The roads were busier now, many more cars, and lots of lorries and vans. And of course, the occasional bus. Syston gave way to Thurmaston, and before we knew it, we seemed to be flying down our first real dual-carriageway. We weren't used to those in Lincolnshire! Even the A1 wasn't then duelled everywhere. 'MEL-ton Turn', shouted the conductor, as we made more and more stops, and now there were buses everywhere. 'BEL-grave Road Station,' he'd shout, and finally, a few minutes later, we'd turn into St Margaret's, where there were more buses than you could shake a stick at. And joy of joys, most of them were red! There, reluctantly, we small boys had to alight from our green bus, but only to go on another bus. And another minor question bedevilled a small boy; if it was called St Margaret's, why did everyone seem to insist on calling it Sandiacre Street.
SO MANY CHOICES
Red buses - Brown buses - Blue Buses
Which bus we caught next would depend on which relative we were going to visit first. If it were Dad's city relatives, then it would often be a cold and noisy maroon and cream bus of the Corporation - with no doors! If we were going on to Coalville, to our maternal grandparents, "over 'ome," as Mum said, it would be a warm Midland Red. In which case, it was literally off one bus and on to another. With a bit of luck our bus would be already in, and we wouldn't be left waiting by those long, modern tubular-concrete bus shelters. Draughty, mum called them. Huh! They seemed to be an improvement on everywhere else I'd been, especially those that had NO bus shelters at all. Grantham's bus station was nothing to write home about. You could run about in St Margaret's shelters; the echo of boyish shouts and laughter was tremendous in those concrete tunnels. In retrospect, they were like long miniature aircraft hangars, and veritable wind tunnels on a bad day.
But if we were to go and see Mum's sister first, at Newbold Verdon - there's another posh name again - we would sometimes have to catch a bus of a much different colour. Even if the name of the bus was a right contradiction in terms - 'Brown's Blue' - as if it couldn't seem to make its mind up as to what colour it wanted to be. But that wasn't often. Usually, it meant the longest traipse of my young life, right across the city. And this often at the trot because connections were always tight, down to somewhere called "The Newarkes," sometimes to catch not a Brown's Blue but another Midland Red - down near the canal. And at sometime, I recall Newbold buses leaving from 'Western Boulevard,' practically IN the canal. God help us lads if we missed it. Stupid arrangement, mum cursed. They were ALL Midland Red buses, why couldn't they ALL depart from the same damned place!
It was just the same if we were going to Dad's Grandma's, right out at Great Glen. We practically had to run all the way up Charles Street to Northampton Square. I used to think I'd ran all the way to Northampton itself! And I don't dare guess what it was like for my brother - his legs were shorter than mine - he was only four. A funny term that, to 'catch' a bus. But one learnt as one got older, that it was entirely appropriate. You did have to catch the damned things, sometimes by stepping out into the road and trying to get hold of it with both arms! Or so it seemed. For the unwary intending passenger, an approaching bus took some stopping at times. One never felt as if it stopped willingly. One got the impression from the look of the driver that it was something of a chore to stop and pick up passengers. Leicester Transport buses seemed even less willing to stop and to allow one to alight. For they didn't always stop - not properly, wheels motionless. It still moved, just, and one had to be very nimble before that blessed great bell clanged and it was out of sight! And you with it - but only if you were very quick!
Occasionally, though rarely, if we had missed the bus to Coalville, or connections were difficult, it would involve an even longer run - right up Granby Street, to London Road Station. We were going on the train - wonderful! I never seemed to have time to look at all the posters on that great bridge across the platforms - we always seemed to be running. And those long, wide stairs down to the platforms themselves - absolute murder if one's mother had recently bought yet another baby brother, who rode in total luxury in a push-chair, being pushed at near-light speeds. Being the eldest, and the tallest, I had to carry half of him and his chair, sideways on, with mum holding on to her bags as well, as we fairly tripped and skipped down to our now-moving train. We were always late! But the train journey - in contrast to the bus - wll now, that was another treat!
TO COALVILLE AGAIN
and more crazy names
But as often as not, we would be going on to 'Co'ville', as my mother called her birthplace, so once into St Margaret's, it was all aboard the 669, showing Ashby de la Zouch. Crumbs! Some of these names are unbelievable. Do they get any dafter! All my life, it seems I've been a bit of a collector of names, and there's no better place to see names of all kinds - odd names, queer names, rude names even, than on bus destination blinds. Rude? No? Then what about GriffyDAM! That was rude, wasn't it? It was in the 1950s. If I ever so much as breathed the word, 'damn', on it's own, in a sentence not connected to water, and in my parent's hearing, I got my ear well and truly clipped. And why were they called blinds, anyway?
Having rushed all of the 100 yards from where the Grantham Service 25 dropped us, to the right stand where the Ashby 669 departed from (or was there a 665 just to Coalville?), we would often sit at least a quarter of an hour atop a freezing cold red double-decker. Atop, because us lads still wanted to drive, and freezing because the engine had been stopped for at least an hour and the engine is what made the heaters work.
Of course, regulars on that route would know that we were waiting for the crew to finish their tea. Just when we all thought we would have to get off and go home to bed, a likely couple of chaps would emerge from the central canteen, shaking the drops out of large, white enamel mugs. Eventually, we'd feel the bus move and groan on its springs. The cab door would be heard to open - and then shut with a hollow bang. We'd hear the conductor remove his ticket machine from his tin box and stow it in some secret cubby hole under the stairs. At last, movement! "Are we going now, Mum?" The engine coughs, coughs again, and reluctantly fires. Another moment, a shout perhaps to a late passenger - an increase in revs from the engine. The driver is ready. Then " burp-burp " goes the buzzer. We hear the doors whine shut. The revs drop to a rough tick-over, the bus jolts slightly as it clunks into gear, and we slowly, slowly start to move, almost in a series of little lurches. We not so much moved, as lurched, from one little bit of the road to another. Hurray! At last - we're off.
Off we set, left into Sanvey Gate, right into Northgates, over Frog Island, out through the traffic and slowly on towards the massive Groby Road junction. How did the driver know which way to go to get there? Up, up, up Groby Road, past the Fever Hospital, and then Gilroes. Conveniently placed for a cemetery I always thought, that is, after Mum explained just what the Fever Hospital was for. The engine and gearbox would whine and grind its way slowly - it always seemed to be slowly - up yet another hill.
First Groby, then, colder and colder, we approach Markfield and the Field Head. The windows would be well steamed up by now. We'd make a circle with our sleeve and elbow in the condensation as it got harder and harder to see out. The bus lurches into the lay-by, and the doors open to drop someone off. There's a sudden temperature drop at the front upstairs. And we wait - wait for about 5 minutes. Brrr!! Then, moving again, slowly, oh so slowly, on to The Flying Horse - another pub. Another lay-by. Another wait. We wait again. "That's what we could do with," opines Mum, looking at the name over the pub, "it'd be quicker than this blasted bus!" The great mass of Bardon Hill looms in the mist on the right, with its huge radio masts on top, and if we were lucky, we'd get caught at the railway crossing just down from another pub, 'The Birch Tree'. Held up again - by dozens of wagons that went on for ever, trundling out of Bardon Quarry loaded with fresh stone. Being lads, we'd drive everyone else upstairs totally nuts as we counted them. Mum always told us that we'd come by there one day, and Bardon Hill would be gone.
Speeding up now, we'd glide and whine down Bardon Road and on into Coalville, stopping to let folks off here and there along the way, to drop off (whoops! I mean, alight) just inside Ashby Road, almost outside the fish and chip shop opposite the Clock Tower. We would alight there only if we were going to mum's family down Highfield Street. But if we were going to dad's family first, we'd stay aboard and go on to Coleorton Cross Roads, the bus itself going on to Ashby. If we were really lucky, our bus would be a slightly different number, and go a different way, right down Coleorton Moor itself to where we really wanted to be, dropped off near the Angel Inn - but only "by request" - if you please - and if we were really lucky and the driver knew us, he'd drop us right outside grandad and grandma's cottage.
If we were bound for Highfield Street and our other grandad, Grandad Holt, once again, time was of the essence. Oh no! Time for another mad dash with push-chair and brothers and bags n' all. This time to rocket down Belvoir Road to Marlborough Square to catch a single-deck bus for Standard Hill - another Midland Red. 'Catch' again being the operative word here. If we missed it, it could be because we'd been caught at yet another railway crossing. This time it was the spur that led from the main Leicester to Coalville line down into the depths of Snibston Pit; but, as often as not, the crossing gates on Belvoir Road would be open to us and to traffic, even if there was a great big snivelling, steaming monster waiting just beyond the gates to pull a long train of coal wagons away to the boilers of the world. "Er, is it coming to get me, Mum?" I'd say, pausing a moment to look in self-inflicted terror and wonder at the blackened monster (only a tank engine!) spewing steam and water everywhere.
"Stop messing about, an' urry up, or we'll miss another blasted bus!" would be my mother's answer, as my arm would be almost wrenched out my shoulder. But we usually missed it, and had to walk. Woe betide Grandma if she hadn't got the kettle on by the time we rounded the bend in Highfield Street, up by the Co-op. It was usually gone tea-time - and raining. I always used to wonder why women in those days used to soak their feet when they were already wet.
OH, TO BE IN COLEORTON
or down the pit
To go on to Coleorton, on the 667 or 669, would involve two more small parts to our adventure. Locally, it was pronounced C'lorton. If anyone asked a conductor for a ticket to Cole-orton, he would have been met with a blank gaze - Foreigner! Though, historically, the two parts of the name did use to be written separately. And yes, it was one of the first places in the county where coal would be dug, hence the name, so close to the surface that it didn't need to be mined in the modern sense. They could almost collect it in buckets. But first, we would have to pass the Midland Red Bus Depot, just down Ashby Road and just before the pit. It seemed there were nearly as many buses in there as there were in Sandiacre Street in Leicester. Some of them were right old bangers 'n all. Occasionally we might see one actually being washed, but usually they were all asleep. Then, we'd pass the Pit, Snibston Pit, known locally as Snibby. If we were lucky, we'd see the pithead wheels turning. Sometimes, there'd be dozens and dozens of grimy-faced miners pouring out the pit gates, and across the busy road, going I knew not where.
I never knew, until only recently, where all these men were actually going. An elderly uncle recently enshrined the scene in verse, and explained to me how the men all had to pay for the building of the pit-head baths themselves - out of their own wages! Also, how the Coal Board had been too mean to grant any land within the pit premises; as a result, making it necessary for the several-times-daily mad dash across Ashby Road for each finishing shift to get a little clean before going home. The verses are worthy of including here.
Snibston Colliery ~ Coalville,
But on with the journey --
On the Buses
A Temporary Job?
I have always counted myself a very fortunate chap. Fortunate in that my career as a busman, such as it was, started at a time when it may be said that we were just seeing the last glowing embers of a dying age. That sounds as if it were long, long ago. But it was not so very long ago, even if it was in the last century. And this is how it appeared to me at the time.
The dying age to which I was a first-hand witness was that of the now-lost principle of mass public transport affordable for all. The heyday of the bus conductor was all but numbered. Bus design would soon be turned on its head giving a whole new look. I learnt my trade on buses that had the engine in the proper place - at the front! In the mid to late 1960's, there were still plenty of staff in all industries who had served in the forces during the war. Men who had fought and suffered, who had known and dispensed discipline, and who still had pride in whatever they did. The public were still basically a decent, honest folk, the majority of which, would no sooner diddle a corporation bus conductor or the corporation than fly in the air. Traffic was getting worse, and in some cities, almost at a stranglehold. But new technology was coming through to win the battle against the motorcar and the even newer battles against the vandals and late-night troublemakers.
In general, there was an air of quiet optimism, which in retrospect, we can see was greatly misplaced. The comfortable and seemingly secure industry that I came to know so well was, not so many years later, to undergo a shake-up that can now only be described as wholesale rape. A strong and emotive phrase to use, but when one thinks of the countless people who have been hurt, financially and socially, by that industry's sole concern with short-term profit, it is a term I feel justified in using. But I was never known for holding back in my condemnation of the dismantling of an essential public service that still had so much to give - and is needed ever more now.
I suppose it could be said that buses were 'in my blood,' almost a genetic sort of inheritance that I was in some way predestined for. But such an idea only now occurs in retrospect, that wistful act of looking back and wondering at what might have been. If buses seemed to be 'in my blood,' then so to was coal-mining. So why didn't I become a miner? A lot of what I know now, I didn't know then, back in the mid-sixties, as a lanky youth, just out of school with only one aim in life. I knew that one grandfather had been a miner, but it would be nearly thirty years before I discovered that that was also true at one time of my other grandfather. And the family pedigree for transport, if it can be called that, was in fact rooted in trains and trams, not buses.
Curiously, I did not become even remotely interested in trams for a long, long while, again, almost thirty years and long after they were consigned to the museum and historic postcards. I did have an uncle who was a conductor on the Midland Red at Coalville, and as a small boy, I had even lived in a bus for a while - albeit a magnificent six-wheel trolleybus - ex-Bradford, I think. This bus was my home for a couple of years during my father's time in the RAF. Married quarters were in short supply in the early 1950s, and some personnel were allowed to buy their own caravan, which the RAF would site on camp, all connected to water and mains electricity. My dad simply bought this old green trolleybus, and converted it into a home. I recall it being fun to live in and comfortable.
So, if it was my destiny to become a busman, how was it that it all occurred purely by accident, almost on a whim? I was very given to whims in those days. My one aim in life was the result of another whim: to be a sailor. Not just any sailor; not a merchant sailor or any old tar, but a Royal Navy sailor. I had set my heart on going to sea, on joining the Royal Navy, since the age of about 12 or 13. Buses could not have been further from my thoughts. I still muse on how it could come about that I could fail the medical for the Royal Navy on account of having had rheumatic fever aged 11 (and consequently a suspected dicky heart), yet later pass a medical to drive a bus full of 80 trusting Leicester passengers. Reasons are still beyond me. But I did. They must have been desperate.
And indeed they were! For those not familiar with those times, the mid-to-late sixties in the English Midlands was a time of plenty for most people. Jobs were so abundant that there was simply no excuse not to work. Since starting work as a shoe salesman in the Coalville Co-op, I had had no less than 10 jobs, not counting the last one which didn't count because it was a fraud - more on that later. Youngsters like me simply walked from one job to another, as if we were changing shirts, with an ease and aplomb that today's youth may find hard to credit. The Midland dole queues were made up largely of a mixture of people who couldn't work, because of some illness or disability, and those who simply would not work for any number of reasons, usually bone idleness.
It was different, of course, in other parts of the country, where there were serious shortages of real jobs, but this was definitely not the case then in my native Leicester and Coalville. It had been bad, 30 years before in the 1930s, but a young fit lad like me had no excuse, non at all, not to work, in 1965. Had there been one, I'd have found it. For those that wanted a job, all you needed was a late edition of the Leicester Mercury , and the world was your oyster - jobs galore, in almost every industry. Boot and Shoe manufacture and retailing, knitwear and hosiery, printing and machine tools, heavy and light engineering, of every sort. Just about everything except shipbuilding and deep-sea fishing! And yes, if you wanted to travel just 10 or 12 miles out of Leicester, there was mining too, and just at a time when that industry was getting both safer and very hi-tech.
So what with trams in the family past, and buses in the family present, dad was keen that I didn't get any more involved with buses than with mining. He was very put out when the very first job I lighted on in the paper, and suggested I applied for, was as a 'battery-hand' in the Midland Red depot in Ashby Road. In fact, he went almost ballistic, to use a modern term. Wouldn't allow it. "No son of mine is going to work humping blooming great bus batteries around. Forget it." So I went to work, not in overalls, but in a suit and collar and tie, two days after my 15th birthday, at the Coalville Co-operative selling shoes instead. Not much of an improvement, but at least it was clean - and safe. And thereby buses were put out of my mind. And would remain so for just about the next three years.
From the Coalville Co-op to Leicester Co-op, to Timpsons Shoes and Benson's Shoes, to Marshalls & Snelgroves and thence Lewis' and on to Simpkin & James, I nurtured some forlorn dream of pursuing a career in shop management. Shoes, soft furnishings, art and graphics work, food and produce, I tried them all. And jobs all found in the pages of the Leicester Mercury , including the one as a photographer's assistant that turned out to be a total three-week fraudulent con. That was my last job before the buses, except, it wasn't a job, if you see what I mean. Today it would have been a police matter, but then, the conmen themselves disappeared back into the woodwork of London, owing hundreds in wages and hotel fees, and now't more was said. I was well taken in. Moreover, my mother would throw a duck fit if I went home without a job at all. And so, now finding myself out of work that day, and ambling dejectedly in the general direction of the dole office that sunny October morning, it was in Humberstone Gate that I espied the faded notice in the little front-office window of Leicester City Transport: "Conductors Wanted." It was faded because it had been there a long time, perhaps 30 years, because conductors were always wanted; the pay and conditions were so poor that staff were traditionally hard to come by in the first place, and even harder to keep for any length of time. Having just turned 18 only eight weeks previously, and with no idea of the real pitfalls of the job, but a sort of fondness for buses, in I went - like a lamb to the slaughter! Well, it was only going to be a temporary job, to tide me over. Just till something else turned up. Isn't that how we all started?
From One Job To Another
Just what was it that made me walk through the City Transport's Humberstone Gate front office door on that sunny day in October of 1968. I've often thought back and tried to recall the moment. Memory is often more driven by retrospect, and coloured by the ensuing experience, than by pure recall - and so it may be in this case. And I conclude it was pure fate. Chance. Had I walked through the city a different way, and not past that office, my life almost certainly, would have taken a different course. But I do vaguely remember the feeling of being such an utter bloody idiot to have given up a perfectly good job in a shop (where indeed my future wife still worked) for a spurious job that had turned out to be a fraudulent con. In addition, one effect would be the inevitable tongue-lashing from my mother the moment I walked into the house, just turned 18, and now designated as unemployed. I had to get a job, must get a job, and and be quick about it. I just dare not go home without one. Besides, I actually fancied working on the buses. I had a hazy idea that it would involve shifts, but didn't really know what this would entail back then. So the answer to the question, what made me stop, and walk through that door? Simply because I just happened to be walking past. I only then had a vague notion of my family history's involvement with trams, and it didn't seem like fate at the time. Unexplainable, it just happened that way, as chance often does.
The uniformed inspector behind the enquiry desk looked as most bus inspectors did in those days - like a policeman. He directed me upstairs to where I would please fill out an application form and sit a small test of writing, and adding up. To my intense surprise, knowing my own dislike of the latter, I passed. I could write for England, but couldn't add up for gum drops - but I did it that day. It was a simple task, such as if I sold 480 tickets at a penny each, how much would I have taken, and similarly for 3d, and then a tanner, and so on. Normally, columns of figures misted my eyes over, but I had been working in shops, and the adding up had been done mainly on tills, but I'd had some recent practice. And the inspector seemed pleased too - but he would! Fresh, green platform staff were hard to get, and they didn't come much fresher and greener than me! Having ascertained that I was available for an almost immediate start, I was given clear instructions; report to the Leicester City Transport conducting school at Abbey Park Road Depot the following Monday, at 9 a.m. sharp. Don't be late, lad. Thinking back, I can almost see him in my mind's eye, rubbing his hands as I left the office. A lamb to the slaughter indeed!
A LATE START!
The start day in question happened to be Trafalgar Day, 21st October, an historic red-letter day for a lad keen on the Navy, and just as significant a day for me too. I crossed the city from Saffron Lane, having paid my fare on a Corporation bus for very the last time, and arrived at Abbey Park Road, breathless, at 9.15 a.m, already fifteen minutes late, and the class already started. This was a bad omen, one that seemed to plague the rest of my time on buses, until I acquired a really reliable alarm device, known as a wife! Getting up of a morning had never been my strong point, and now there would be times when it would be a real bind. When I had first told my mother I'd been and got a job as a conductor on the buses, she almost had a fit with laughing. Not the response I had expected, though strong words were said regarding the idiocy of leaving a safe job in a shop for the fraudulent job that paid nothing at all. For mum knew, as mums of lads know everywhere, how their sons are prone to lying a-bed of a morning. I'd had trouble with 8am starts in a shop, so she didn't give a hoot for my chances as a busman.
Many members of the public in those days held a common belief about people in jobs in the public eye such as milkmen and busmen. A belief that they were all cheerful, early risers who just threw themselves into their work at the crack of dawn or the rising of the lark. Nothing could be further from the truth with me. I was neither a natural early riser, nor all that cheerful much before lunchtime. In our times, when the day of the conductor seems so long ago, it has become fashionable to bemoan their passing with the assumption that all were efficient, cheerful and honest collectors of the corporation's dues. Always ready with a joke, and a ready arm to collect up some struggling young mother and her waifs from the pavement. I know I was honest, I hope I was mostly cheerful, but as for the cheerful early rising bit, and much of the rest, I was to turn out to be less than average, and a lot less than perfect. There would be many times when my feelings for the job were more of a love-hate relationship.
The training school inspector was an Inspector Johnson; one of the old school of professional busmen who knew his job inside out and taught it thoroughly. No stone was left unturned, no rule of the road, or of the Passenger Transport Act of 1932, was left uncovered. This is what I meant in my opening when I said that I was fortunate to have caught the last of the old days. Of course, I didn't realise or appreciate this fact then. If I had, I would have taken lots and lots of photographs. The likes of me had yet to learn the job before we could be any judge of how much it would change in the future, or what indeed constituted 'the old days.' I refrain from referring to them as the 'good' old days. The shifts were longer, the pay poorer, and the buses a darned sight colder, but people seemed to have been happier. Inspector Johnson left us all in no doubt that this was an honourable and skilful job, and if done correctly, could be justifiably considered a career for those who wanted to make it so. Contrary to what today's bus companies would have you believe - they say they can't afford to give training like that anymore! And so they don't. And it's my belief that the same can be said of the rail industry.
It was, in a way, like joining the army. This impression was emphasised even more on all of us when we were taken later the same day, and after the usual formalities of filling in varying forms for this and that, down to the basement stores. Here, we were each kitted out with our uniforms, including the little chrome, lapel numerals that designated our 'conductor number.' These were similar to the old police force 'dog-collar numerals,' and by these numbers, we would all henceforth be known. And of course, the part of any uniform that adds the final touch and denotes servitude - the peaked cap. The uniform as a whole consisted of black trousers and tunic, with silver 'Staybright' buttons, and the black polished peaked cap on which was the full crest of the city in silver Staybright with its red shield. All this was to be worn with a white collar and shirt and a suitably dark tie. The black tunic, with its two breast pockets, reinforced the military look about it. At a distance, it would be easy to mistake a tall well-built, bus conductor - minus his cash bag and ticket machine - for a policeman wearing a peaked cap.
Of course, the smart outfit smacked of the armed services, from which bus operators had traditionally taken many of their staff. In the 1950s, there were so many ex-forces personnel about that had served during the war that it would have been hard not to employ an ex-serviceman. This was the way they liked it; military trained people were reliable, punctual, and used to discipline. They only had to train them for the job, not how to read and write, say please, thank you and sir, or how to get up in the morning and arrive on time for a shift. Moreover, up to the late 1950s, there had also been National Service, which had only come to an end some ten years before I started on the buses. Even so, a surprising number of staff had military backgrounds. Many still in their 40s and 50s had seen service during the war. There were even more Korean War and Suez veterans. The most dedicated amongst them quickly gained promotion to Inspector. Many of those older staff were just coming up for retirement having joined the buses in 1945/6 following 'demob' after the war. So, I was now Conductor Haywood, No 12, a surprisingly low number for a rookie, considering some of the others were in the four and five hundreds. All conductors were allocated even numbers: all drivers odd. I seemed to be in exalted company. Everything in the whole setup seemed to be meticulously worked out to the last detail. I was suitably impressed. In truth, had I but known it, the whole job was already going to the dogs. Some would say it started the very day I joined.
About a dozen of us spent the next several days in the upstairs classroom of the conducting school at Abbey Park Road. Tickets, the machines that issued them, waybills, cash handling and paying in, overtime slips, how to read a timetable or a running board, the 1932 Passenger Transport Act in its entirety; all this became familiar in very short order. And, above all else, there was a huge emphasis on safety, first for our passengers, and then for ourselves. In another set of nearby rooms off the same corridor was the driving school. Both schools overlooked the depot yard at the front of the mighty bus garage which nightly held hundreds of vehicles, and all just facing the main gates to Abbey Park. On the left, as one entered these exalted premises, was the smart, two-tier square block of 1930s offices, designed in a tasteful art-deco style and grandeur that befitted the Head Office of a proud Corporation Transport Service. One whose pedigree went back to before the turn of the century, and said all there was to be said about civic pride. Like the Town Hall itself, it exuded efficiency and authority, and dripped discipline in the same manner as any HQ buildings of a regiment of the line. Having to go and see anyone in that Head Office only meant one of two things - either a new uniform or part thereof from the basement, or a gigantic rollicking of nerve-racking order, resulting in massive loss of pay (bonus) or the job itself.
Any town or city that had such a service, its own fleet of public vehicles, painted in its own corporation livery and sporting the corporation coat-of-arms, showed them off with great pride. Such bus operations, provided purely by city and borough councils and paid for by the public rate, were known by the rather funereal descriptive noun of 'undertakings.' Thus the City of Leicester could be said to have its own transport undertaking. These were distinct from the privately operated companies, also undertakings but of a much more modest nature, who operated solely to make a profit. It was considered unseemly, and I think in fact illegal, for a local authority to own a private profit-making company in the full modern sense of the word. But a transport undertaking's prime reason to exist was not to make a profit, but to provide a service to the ratepayers, to move the people of the city and help to create that city's wealth. Of course, they strived to at least cover their costs, but should profits be made, these were returned to council coffers to help lower the general rate charged to its citizens.
In the heady days immediately after the Second World War, public transport usage all over the country reached its highest peak, and most corporation bus services returned a healthy profit to the general rate fund. By the sixties and seventies, car ownership, TVs, and other home entertainment, saw most undertakings losing vast amounts of money, both in work journeys and leisure, and therefore having to be subsidised out of the general rate precept, as it was called. The other advantage of such an organisation was that it could never go bust, that is, unless the town council itself went bust, and there were many who considered that no government would ever allow that to happen.
A Corporation bus was in the vanguard of the public eye, a daily and constant reminder to citizens of how well, or how badly, their rates were being spent. The General Manager's name, in small legal lettering on the nearside lower panel of every bus, showed just who and where to write to if there was even a glimmer of a cause for complaint. The name of Mr. L. H. Smith was thus subconsciously known to thousands of adults and children alike all over the city, as well as permanently fixed upon the minds of all staff. I don't think I ever met him personally, unless he happened to board my bus on occasion and show me his gorgeously enamelled City Crest key fob that he, the Lord Mayor, and all city councillors had, in order to travel free on the very bus service for which they had responsibility. I certainly wouldn't have known our General Manager by sight.
Our Corporation colours were originally a rich maroon and cream. Smart and classy when freshly painted, as on a new bus, but after a year or two, a dirty brown and off-white. Many other towns had similar colours, such as Edinburgh, and Salford. I later realised that these were also the colours, or livery as a colour scheme was called, of the old London, Midland & Scottish Railway, the LMS, a line on which the City of Leicester sat neatly astride. Their carriages were of the same maroon, with windows picked out in the same smart cream.
In order to try and brighten the image of the town in the brave new world of the early 1960s, and to shake off the dreary past of the defunct tram system and the drab war years, Leicester's colours had been totally reversed, to mostly the rich cream, with two maroon bands, one each around the bottom of each set of windows. There had once been three, but the topmost band had only recently been dropped, thus making each bus seem all the more modern in appearance - very light and bright, even if it was a clapped out 1947 model. This was the general appearance of the fleet when I joined the service.
Inspector Johnson was a brilliant man, and a most able teacher. He knew which student of each class would make the grade, which were serious about the job, and which were just mucking about and would quit within the month. He seemed to take to me. He endeared himself to me on the first day - on hearing my name - by tentatively asking if I had any relatives previously on Leicester buses. Because he remembered my great grandfather with affection and respect. But, it seems, not so his son, of whom Inspector Johnson tactfully said nothing more to me. My tram-driver grandfather had stirred things somewhat with his extreme, left-wing, political views during the war, and brought shame on the family, and much more so on his own father, the late and beloved inspector. The word in the family was that young-Arthur was forced to leave the trams on account of his political activities. His dad, James, (Jim) Haywood had died long before I was born, so I only heard of him by repute. A greatly admired man, it seems. But Inspector Johnson just gave this feeling that he thought that I would make a busman, and so in due course, after the required two week's training, those who survived all passed out of the school to be allocated our first duties on the road. And by gum, were we keen to get started! So much so that I would have done those first few days for nothing, but we were also getting paid - the incredible sum to me of £12-something! On passing-out and being fully fledged, this would rise to over £14 - nearly double what I'd been on as a cheese salesman at Simpkin & James.
TICKET MACHINES - and DUMMYS
and how to fall about
We learnt all about our Ultimate Ticket Machines, bells and stopping procedures; had waybills, paying-in slips, fares and stages and timetables up to the eyeballs; were thrown up the length of the training bus in numerous emergency stop exercises just to see what it feels like for the poor passenger. It was also to teach us how to fall, what there was around to catch hold of, and just to get used to the feeling of being a small bit of matter inside an erratically moving machine that would stop on a sixpence with no warning. It was back to basic school physics and the laws of motion. The emergency stops were also just as much a training exercise for new drivers to learn to make a controlled emergency stop; it was done just prior to taking their test. With most of the fleet out during the day and the garage nearly empty, the driver-training vehicle would be driven by luckless trainees round and round, into the garage by one opening and out through another and back in again, right foot hovering near the brake pedal. And ever watchful for just that moment when a hidden driving instructor would jump out from around a corner, carrying a shabbily dressed and very floppy shop dummy, attired in an old 'demob' suit and hat, and throw said dummy right in front of the bus to make it stop.
And by heck, stop we did. Woe betide any driver that ran over that dummy! This type of training was considered useful to tie in with the conducting side of things as well, and the various training chiefs arranged it all to happen for drivers and conductors on the same day. When the driving instructors signalled that they were ready, the whole conducting class would troop out of the classroom like kids on an outing, down the stairs to the yard to board the training vehicle. We were not all allowed to sit. Five of us, taking it in turns for the pleasure, would be made to stand in the aisle, shoulder to shoulder, the others sitting, to simulate a standing load of passengers going home after a hard day's work. We gained 'hands-on' experience before the phrase had ever been invented, by finding ourselves writhing about on the floor with our heavy ticket machines curled around our necks one way, and our leather cash-bags curled around our necks the other. And later, when it happened for real, we'd also learn that our cash bags usually emptied their contents all over the deck. Sometimes, we were curled around each other's necks, but those being innocent days, no-one thought anything of it. We were, in effect, being given our first sea-legs. Sometimes it hurt, and so we learnt to hang on. This was 'training" - to learn what it felt like.
We learnt to stand on the platform with knees slightly bent, thus absorbing road shocks and allowing us to neatly fill in our waybills as the bus went along. This was to the amazement of both old ladies and small boys alike. Most new conductors naturally wanted a brand new cash bag. Who wanted someone else's left-offs? But if Inspector Johnson's advice were to be taken, then plump for an old and battered one. It was easier on the shoulders with straps that were already supple and bedded in, and it didn't wreck your shoulders, or take the skin off the back of one's knuckles for the first few months, as you rooted about in the rock-hard bag for those elusive tanners and threepenny bits. Luckily, on that occasion, I took his advice. Other conductors either gave it up after a couple of weeks, or could be heard at home into the wee small hours, pounding their unforgiving fresh cowhide bags into bloodless submission with a heavy hammer. But a year or two later, my own bag went defunct when the stitching gave way. I had no choice this time - like it or not - I got a new one. And yes, it hurt. The old adage of a stitch in time really is true, far better to look after the tools of one's trade.
ON THE ROAD
Then the great day came - we were to be let loose on the unsuspecting public of the city. Well, not quite loose, as we would each have a guiding hand in the form of a training conductor. We were all allocated to a hapless man's shift, a different one each day, to iron us out for our first week on the road. My first training conductor was a mild-mannered man called Bert Chambers, an old sweat, and why he or anyone would volunteer to take on the hassles of teaching someone else the job, when it is far easier to just get on with it oneself, could only be guessed at. It wasn't for the pay - they were not paid for this. I naturally made all the right mistakes in all the right places, but Bert soon put me to rights.
My very first service was a 24 Saffron Lane, home territory to me; I was then still living with mum on Saffron Lane Estate, just off Windley Road. I had started the shift at about 9 o'clock and had done two or three runs back and forth, from the terminus behind the Town Hall in Bowling Green Street, to Southfields Library, when it came to nearly dinner time. Imagine my pleasure, my pride, my intense gratification mingled liberally with embarrassment, when who should jump aboard to go home for lunch but my girlfriend from Simpkins & James. She sat smiling, nay grinning, shyly, on the long seat at the back and gave me her sixpence. I, under Bert's watchful eye, gave her a ticket . . for 6d. Fares were such, even then, that even a poorly paid shop girl could afford to go home for her lunch! I only learnt recently that she, long since now my wife, has that ticket still, tucked away in an old tobacco tin along with other mementos like cinema and theatre tickets. Old softies like us did that sort of thing then.
So now I was 'on the road,' albeit still training. Whenever a busman leaves the depot or canteen to go and do a shift, or even just one run, he was said to be on the road. I was able to put into practice all that I had learnt, or most of it. There were many things we were warned against, such as smoking on the platform, or worse, smoking inside the bus. I was a heavy smoker then, twenty a day anyway, as well as, would you believe, the occasional pipe! Then there was the crime of sitting inside the bus, on the long back seat, to ring the bus off, or sounding the bell when starting from a stop, a heinous crime with grave implications for safety, the safety of intending passengers. And of course, being found to be keeping two waybills, well, this really was a hanging offence, as it was one of the commonest forms of 'fiddling the bag.' It worked with one waybill for the inspector to inspect when he unexpectedly climbed aboard, and one for oneself showing actual ticket sales, and just how much to pinch out of the bag before cashing up at the end of the day. It was the equivalent of keeping two sets of books in business. If a conductor made a mistake when writing on his waybill, his record of each journey and all tickets sold and total value thereof, he must neatly cross it out and enter the correct figures. On no account was he to start a new waybill, whatever mess the original one was in. If the original waybill was irredeemably damaged, it must be returned along with the new one. Most certainly a sackable offence, on the spot, to keep two waybills. No appeal, no tribunal.
THE FOUR DEADLY SINS
And so we quickly learnt the four deadly sins of a bus conductor. In ascending order of seriousness according to LCT scripture: smoking on the platform, being late for duty and missing a shift plus not letting them know by phoning in, dragging a passenger who had caught your bus and wouldn't let go of it, and, top of the bill, two waybills or anything that smacked of fiddling the public purse. This latter was far more serious than dragging a passenger. We were the lowest form of civil servants, in fact, 'public servants,' and reminded of it every day by some sour ratepayer or lemon face who had just missed the previous bus or thought the fares too high.
Admittedly, many bus staff were unsuited to the job, and shouldn't have been let anywhere near a bus or the paying public. But I felt I was admirably suited to it, and liked to do my job well, and took grave exception to any criticism of either myself or the service. In short, I would argue with them; another sin, arguing with a customer when they are always right - even when they are wrong. See! I still can't help it. Many of those I argued the toss with were selfish, well-off toffs who'd never done a hard day's manual work in their lives, who thought I should serve them for nothing, and so I was never going to win. They could always have the last laugh - at my head on a Corporation silver platter. They were mostly beyond understanding simple time-tables, and the basic logic of how a bus service ran. In fact, ordinary working folk seemed to have a better understanding of how the system worked, and were generally more forgiving when it did go wrong. They seemed to be able to make the system work for them, not against them.
Being on the alert when ringing the bus off was just one part of the extensive platform procedure embedded in the minds of all conductors and drivers, for it affected them too. It came as a shock to learn that the conductor was always deemed to be in charge of the bus. If anything major went wrong, it was the 'dukky's' head that was on the block. He must always have a clear view of the platform when starting his driver from a stop, with the regulation two bells - DING DING!! The driver was forbidden to start or move the bus an inch without that signal, not even for one bell. That was the rule. But - read on.
The drivers all had instruction on the location and dangers of the dozen or so low bridges sprinkled all around the city, but it was the conductor's responsibility to ensure accurate route keeping, and so we had to be taken to the big wall map in the garage and become familiar with those same low bridges ourselves. If the driver did take a wrong turn and stray from the route and end up decapitating his bus under a low bridge, the conductor would have to have a first-rate excuse as to why he shouldn't be summarily dismissed as well. If a wrong turn was made, and easily done it was too, then the conductor would stop the bus, by the emergency stop procedure - repeated and urgent ringing of the bell. If necessary, he was to go and converse with his driver, agree on how to get back to where they went wrong, and reverse the bus safely into a side road, before picking up the route without missing out a single stop! Sometimes this was easier said than done. That was the theory: in practice, common sense was called for, especially in being aware of all the dangers.
The conductor was also in charge of filling the bus radiator with water when taking it out of the depot to start a service. It was his job to get the hose, or more often a watering-can, find a tap, and fill the rad whilst the driver kept up gentle revs on the throttle to keep the circulation going to prevent air locks. Again, if a bus ran out of water and steamed-up, and an engine seized as a result, there would be an inquisition as to who failed to do what. In practice, the old buses were very leaky, and many would use a lot of water. Steaming-up was a regular occurrence; as often as once a week at times in summer, and frequently provided passengers with a welcome diversion to a boring day. Also it was some consternation to the older ones who could remember steam lorries and buses before the First World War, and knew how easily they could blow up! A bus hurtling down the road with a well-brewed radiator spewing enough steam up the windscreen to necessitate the use of the wipers on a hot sunny day is still an amusing sight to me. Kids used to love it. But then, I've never really grown up.
My first week on the road was a revelation in so many ways, and the last time for years that I would enjoy a reasonable starting and finishing time to my day. That week, working those training duties from roughly 8.30 a.m. to about 4 or 5 p.m., and then off home, totally exhausted, gave no preparation for the odd hours I would now keep, for the real work was about to start. Early shifts, some very early, started at 5.15 or 5.30am. Very early shifts would be the bane of my life for ever it seemed now. It was easy to become a busman and provided you did your job reasonably well, it was easy to stay as one. In later years, I would find how hard it would be to leave the job, after being typecast, almost as an actor would be.
Before I leave the subject of training, a little more on Inspector Johnson (if I have his name wrong, someone please advise me ). He had a brilliant memory as well as a good, wry sense of humour. There was no fiddle or trick he hadn't heard of, and his mathematical mind for working out the odds when backing horses was something to behold. Perhaps it was his way of warning likely gamblers amongst us, but he showed that he was well aware of the temptation to use the bag money to finance trips to the bookies for those so foolishly inclined. We, that class of late October 1968, spent almost the whole of one afternoon talking about, and being instructed in, horse-racing, though myself not being really knowledgeable or that interested, I contributed little. He truly was an amazing man, shown more so in the ensuing weeks, when he would jump on any one of our buses on the road, just to keep a fatherly eye on us. He would appear, literally out of the blue. You'd set off from a stop, look up again, and there he was, on the platform, appearing like the genie in the bottle, smiling mischievously through his moustache. He didn't just know where any one of us would be at any given time; he knew what bit of duty we would be doing next, or tomorrow, and when our days off would be. I reckoned he knew what we had for breakfast. He had every timetable of every route in his head, as well as all the duties and duty numbers. Talk about organised! I've not come across his like since. By his firm but fatherly manner, most liked him, therefore, most remembered his warnings and took heed of his advice. He was a first-rate tutor, bar none. And I can say without fear or favour, you don't get training like that anymore - anywhere.
THE BEST TICKET MACHINE IN THE WORLD
Unless you're an Almex, Gibson or Setright fan
A few words about our ticket machines. An enquiry via this website asking for my memories of the machines we used prompted me to add these paragraphs, given that fare collection equipment is now historic, and has nearly as many devotees and interest groups as the buses themselves. So here are a few memories of those at Leicester Corporation, as well as later at East Yorkshire Motor Services, and later still at Hull City Transport.
Ultimate - the name of my constant companion for about four years. A marvellous bit of kit, and its virtues were fully extolled right from the training school onwards. Training inspectors and older staff of the same generation would have their own memories of the limitations of earlier machines, and so these Ultimates were to them like modern day computers are to us - something to be revered. If one were to be put in my hands now, I think I could still open and load it with fresh tickets. In fact, as far as I know, most Coporation transport undertakings used them.
I thought those 5-lever Ultimates were the thing, the standard, until I went on a day trip to Northampton and saw that they had 7-lever machines! By crikey, I bet they were heavy. Mine was bad enough - it made the shoulders ache rotten until you got used to them. Of course, the cash bag did the same for the other shoulder, so at least when we walked a bit stooped, we were in balance. At the other end of the scale, I also recall being open-mouthed at the smallest Ultimate I ever saw, a tiddly 2-lever machine - used to take fares in the cliff-top lift at Shanklin on the Ise of Wight. They were wierd little things. I don't think the little man who operated the lift at the time could have carried mine!
Prior to my time, in the late 1960's, I'm guessing that they had some sort of Bell Punch, hangovers from the days of the trams. The cylindrical machines that some might remember in use in Leicester at the same time, with a side handle to wind the ticket out, are the "Setright" machines of the Midland Red - also later used by me on East Yorkshire when I came to live in these parts. I don't ever recall Setrights being used by LCT. They were good, and some would say just the job for long runs with higher fares - but very prone to complications. I never had the same fondness for them as for the Ultimate.
Pushing down each leaver would issue one ticket, and there were five rolls of pre-printed tickets installed. Thus for a 2d fare, a single ticket would be issued, but pressing a little button under the lever at the same time as pushing the lever down issued a double ticket, thus giving a 4d ticket. The five levers theoretically gave a range of ten separate fares. The other thing of course was that they were incredibly fast. I could get round the lower saloon and get all my fares in between leaving the Clock Tower and getting to British Shoe on Belgrave Road. Or just about get them all in from Gallowtree Gate to London Road Station, the first fare stage. Not so easy with a Setright, but the journeys operated by the Midland Red and other rural operators tended to be longer. Going up London Road from Northampton Square, even with a full bus, I should imagine a Midland Red conductor would have until the city boundary at Stoneygate in which to get round his bus and get all his fares in. Probably had to be quicker down Aylestone Road and Saffron Lane, where they operated a joint service with LCT, the well-loved and popular L8 and L10.
There was a variation on the Ultimate, for One-Man Operators - the Solomatic, much heavier than ours. Mounted on a pedestal in the cab, they were heavy beasts. My memories there are of drivers carrying their huge Solomatics about the town centre, to and from their barriers, in a large green canvas bag, in which they also had to pack away their takings in bags of loose coin. That's why most LCT one-manners were shortish men with very stocky shoulders. Another place they could be frequently seen was at the top end of Abbey Park Road, on crew changeovers on the Outer Circle. Drivers used to walk over the river and canal bridge to and from the depot, hauling their oversized canvas bags some quarter of a mile or so each way.
After the Solomatics, I can only presume they went over to something like the Wayfarer, or another product from Bell Punch, as did most large town operators. As well as the driver having a machine in the cab, LCT did experiment with a self-service machine, quite a large bit of kit fitted on the luggage rack behind the platform doors. The exact fare was dropped into the hopper on the top, a large green button on the top was pressed and the "Videmat" actually printed a ticket with a photocopy facsimile of the coins used - I still have some somewhere. Any inspector that was ticket checking had to add up the row of coins printed on the ticket to determine the fare paid. They were a novelty, and didn't last, so it can only be presumed that they were not deemed a success.
If a passenger paid his shilling in ha'pennies, it was a heck of a long ticket, believe me. When they went wrong, it was hilarious. They frightened elderly passengers half to death. The machine itself, on the rack, was taller than some elderly passengers, and a bit intimidating. I saw several that nearly had a heart-attack when the machine went beserk and threw out rolls of plain paper directly at them. One old guy, short in stature and not seeing the button on top, asked the driver how to use it. He put his money in the top, as told, pressed the button as told, and was then jokingly told to be careful or a hand would come out of the returned coins slot below and grab him by his nethers. But the joke was misplaced - he hit the button, and the machine just happened to misbehave and went mad. The old fellah nearly fainted. Videmats were prone to the vibrations and bumps and jolts of Leicester's poor roads, and no doubt the delicate internal electrics were affected. Yes, the roads were poor even then. And not so much improved since the Romans left.
Come to think, there was another machine used later by me on EYMS, the dreaded Almex. This was a round, barrel-shaped machine, with prices put up on red slides, and a lever at the side to issue the ticket. I don't ever recall seeing those at LCT. Like the Setright, they were for multiple fares of over a shilling, and up until I left LCT in 1972, the highest ticket we had was just one shilling, or 5p as it became. The Setright and Almex, and other of the same ilk, could do all the individual units of fare from a penny to a pound, whereas the most an UItimate could reasonably issue was around ten separate fares by virtue of the double tickets. My nightmare memory of the Almex was later, in Hull, trying to open my ticket box after accidentally running over one with the front wheel of my bus. It smashed the machine to smithereens, and nearly got myself the sack. Those flimsy ticket boxes, usually made out of off-cuts of aluminium bus body panels, were no protection against an idiot like me. Don't ask me just how I came to put my ticket box down by the front of my bus, but gassing with another driver had something to do with it. Poor memory and being in a hurry did the rest.
The Setright had a double dial on the top; an inner dial for pounds and the outer for pennies. Earlier than that, they must have been really complicated. My memory, perhaps faulty, is that they were just set up for shillings and pence. Come to think, a pound for a bus fare back then would have taken you to London and back on the Midland Red's new M1 Express Service, so I imagine they only went up to 19/11d. And I suppose, like us, had they needed more than a pound, they would have simply issued a double ticket.
And the Gibson I mentioned? Never used by me, and most of you readers will have encountered or used them on London Transport. They must have been a fast machine for busy city services or they wouldn't have lasted so long and been so popular with crews. But for myself, I was aware of them, and just looked in amazement at their speed in use when I did encounter them, and again, only in London as I remember. But I can well understand the nostalgic fondness for these iconic machines, that go so well together in the memory, along with the beloved Routemaster.
Back to the wonderful Ultimate. The pre-paid tickets were colour-coded by price, on rolls of a 100, for which we had to sign, so each roll was worth the face value of the total number of tickets. Penny tickets were red, one-shilling almost white. I think 2d were green, etc. At a penny each, 1d, therefore a hundred pennies, divided by 12, made a roll actually worth just over 8/-, or 40p today. Likewise, a roll of one-shilling tickets was a hundred shillings, or £5. We knew not to lose them. Every one had to be accounted for, or sold and the cash paid in. The total value of a full stock of tickets in a conductor's ticket box, including the ones in his machine, could be well over £20, even then. Unthinkable now, that we walked about town, day or night, to and from our buses, with those rolls and our cash takings, quite safely and with never a thought about security or theft.
One of my best "Ultimate" memories is of travelling home after a middle shift one dark, wet and windy night, about 8.30pm, on a 49 down Aylestone Road. It illustrates the risk to your wages and the value of these innocuous looking ticket rolls. I sat on the back seat, and the young new conductor, an Indian or Pakistani chap, had opened his machine and was trying to load a new 1/- roll as we bounced along, balancing himself on the platform. He either slipped or lost his grip, but this roll of tickets slipped out of his hand before he got it properly into the machine, and rolled off the platform at about 40mph. He threw his hands up in dismay, and for a few seconds, I had the gut feeling that he wasn't going to do anything about it. I insisted he stop the bus, quick, but he was either in shock or mesmirised by the sight of the stream of tickets rapidly disappearing into the dark behind us. I rang the emergency bell - three bells, repeatedly. The the driver dutifully pulled us up down the slope, just under Aylestone Road railway bridge, just before the gasworks. The roll had left the platform as we passed the stop at the top of Saffron Lane! We spent the next ten minutes in the pouring rain, tracing the length of the roll back up the dark and badly lit road, winding loop after loop of wet and soggy tickets over my arm. He didn't have to pay for them in the end, as I put a report in the next day supporting what had happened. But if he'd been on his own, and left them, that would have been £5 down the pan - the equivalent then of a quarter of a week's wages. A nightmare to me, and I couldn't let it happen to him.
Had they been penny tickets, well, even I might have just left them and let him take the hit - I think. Would I have stopped my own bus for the sake of eight bob. Yes, I think I would. I stopped mine once for half a crown, thirty pennies, that had rolled off my platform and under someone's private gate. And yes, I did get it back. Even my driver agreed that would have been like turning our backs on five cups of tea - a step too far.
Then and Now
and the political bit
The good citizens of that fair city still have
no idea what they really had, and later lost, when it all dissolved in
an air of quick profits and sell-outs, sell-offs, and grubby land deals
when the whole corporation transport system and ethos was dismantled
and almost made illegal in the mid-80s. Visitors from other operations
around Europe had for years beaten a track to Leicester's doors to see
their innovative close-circuit camera and two-way radio system for
helping to regulate the service and mitigate the worst effects of
growing traffic congestion. Leicester pioneered Park n' Ride, quieter
engines, bus lanes, all just then coming being introduced and now
commonplace, along with the ingenious little black box devices in the
cab for changing traffic lights in the bus' favour; all these
innovations were just starting to be installed. All was set for
Leicester to be amongst the leaders in the world for advances in public
transport, and then - Wallop!! All sacrificed on the altar of pure
profit and very little else. A corporation monopoly was deemed to be
Buses 1 | Buses 2 | Buses 3 | Buses 4 | Buses 5
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