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Design Norman Wilson

Norman Wilson: building an image

“Design, unlike art, is not a means of self expression, but an attempt to solve a pre-determined problem in visual terms”

Norman Wilson (1931-1991), leading Manchester graphic designer of the 1970s, was the brains behind NBC’s corporate identity. Wilson had worked with the incoming NBC chair, Freddie Wood, since the early 1960s, and was responsible for creating a strong visual image for Croda International, the chemicals company at which Wood had been CEO. Wood believed that a uniform brand would help NBC to compete in the express coach market and unify the bus businesses. In the summer of 1971, before Wood had even taken up his new role as chair of the NBC Board, he called on Wilson to develop ideas for a comprehensive new identity. Wood’s vision appealed to Wilson, who favoured simple, bold modern design, with careful use of colour, lettering and imagery to create a strong impression.

From the Corporate Identity Manual, Norman Wilson’s design for the National ‘white coach’, at the heart of his NBC identity, prominently featuring his NBC symbol and logotype.

In the reissued Manual, we’ll look at Wilson’s design thinking, influences and how he worked, drawing on discussions with some of the people who knew him best. Across an industry with strong local traditions, there was scepticism and even resistance. To explain the thinking behind the changes to NBC’s staff, Norman Wilson wrote a piece in a 1973 edition of NBC News.

With thanks to the Bus Archive, here is Wilson’s explanation of what a corporate identity is, and why it matters. Wilson’s article addresses his critics in the industry head-on, challenging them to think of how design helps to address the industry’s problems rather than reacting emotionally against something radically new.

Perhaps not surprisingly, his article has a slightly disparaging tone in places, reflecting his frustration with the industry’s traditionalists – including some at NBC Board level – who favoured much greater local autonomy on design, operational and commercial decisions. Having failed to prevent the adoption of the identity and more centralised planning of the national network, local company directors adopted delaying tactics instead in an attempt to win concessions to autonomy.

But by 1973, with a few minor compromises, the low-level battle between traditionalists and modernists on NBC’s image had swung decisively in Wood and Wilson’s favour.

Please get in touch is you have recollections of the introduction of the NBC corporate identity, or of working with Norman Wilson and his design team. As with most documents of the era the wording is not exactly gender-neutral, so please make allowances.

Building an image, by Norman Wilson FSIAD

The adoption of a corporate identity at NBC must be the biggest event since, the company was formed. Certainly no other event has caused more comment, more change, more misunderstanding. Many readers have asked so many fundamental questions that we thought we would ask Norman Wilson to write this short article. Mr Wilson is the Manchester designer retained by NBC, who was responsible for the national coach livery, and the design of the symbol.

Designer Norman Wilson in 1973 (Source: NBC/Bus Archive)

An individual’s personality is identified by his actions and appearance on first contact with another person, and images formed by his visual appearance. The clothes worn can, and usually do express his personality. One can distinguish the extrovert from the introvert, the trendy from the tramp, the conservative from the revolutionary.

Companies and service organisations have the same problem of identity as individual people. They act in a particular way, and their ‘dress’, ie, public visual appearance, should amplify their character, or intended character. This ‘dress’ will of course only enhance the actual image which exists in the public mind due to the actions of that company.

Superb icing will not make a stale cake edible, and the organisation with an efficient looking image, and inefficient actions will produce a bad effect. The medium size company originally, of course, did have the image of the managing director or chairman, who could control the design of the visual activities of the company. He had the time to be involved in the design of his vehicles, letterheads, packaging, signing, etc.

With the growth of the monolithic institution, the purchasing and design approval of items became fragmented. The stationery had the personality stamp of the accountant; livery expressed the transport chief’s ideas; advertising the trendy ad manager’s attitude. A state is reached eventually where the large company image is dissipated into the sum total of various ideas and expressions.

The need, therefore, arises to establish what the identity is or should be, and to establish how to convey it in terms which adequately reflect it through all visual activities. A cumulative effect is produced which is inter-related and consciously organised.

From a 1974 NBC brochure, showcasing the bold, modern image Wilson developed for local seervices, based on the symbol, his distinctive lettering, and uniform use of a tightly controlled colour palette. (Source: NBC/Richard Price Collection)

This is known as a corporate identity, and can be a complex problem which the size and rapid change of modern technology. The commercial artists of yesteryear, who was originally mainly concerned with illustrating an advertisement or poster, has now become more conversant with marketing, selling, accountancy methods, computers, product design, architecture and interiors, finding that he emerges no longer as an artist, but as a designer in the visual communications industry.

The basic problem to any identity is the brand name. This should be used in a consistent style and colour or colours, so that eventually it is recognisable at a glance, almost avoiding the necessity to read it. If it is desirable to connect differing named companies, a symbol may solve the problem coupled with the same style of lettering throughout; and again with related use of colour.

When these basic factors have been agreed, the next problem is implementing the design throughout the organisation and maintaining it. New stationery, signing, promotional literature etc, should look as though it is the result of an organised, efficient, and more economic design policy instead of many different decisions by various people who are often emotionally biased in design decision. They may not like particular colours or forms of lettering without considering whether it solves the problem in totality, rather than in the individual case.

The designer cannot afford to be emotional, or to have favourite colours if he is to be objective.  Design, unlike art, is not a means of self expression, but an attempt to solve a pre-determined problem in visual terms.

Try considering design, not in terms of whether you like it, but try first to define the problem and then ask yourself whether the design solution answers that problem.

From the Graphic Standards section of the Manual, Wilson’s NBC symbol and lettering, making up the logotype, originally designed in 1971.

Norman Wilson FSIAD

Norman has practised from Manchester with three assistant designers for over 10 years [by 1973]. Previously, he had 10 years’ experience in advertising agencies.

A fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, he is also a visiting lecturer in visual communication at Manchester Polytechnic, college assessor for the SIAD, and on the Advisory Committee at Bolton College of Art.

His work has appeared in various design journals and has been exhibited in Europe and the USA. He is chairman of Furness Vale Community Association, and New Mills Old Prize Brass Band. He likes wine making but prefers drinking it.

Norman Wilson’s business card.
(Courtesy of Jean Horsfall)
Categories
Alder Valley Applying the identity Bristol Crosville Devon General East Kent East Midlands Hants & Dorset London Country Northern Potteries / PMT Ribble Southern Vectis Trent Welsh National West Riding Western National Yorkshire Traction

Innovating at the edges: the corporate identity and service vehicles

Local companies adapted the NBC corporate identity to service vehicles, producing some interesting (and occasionally wild) innovations.

Michael Hitchen, author of the leading book on the subject (see links at the end), presents a guest blog on the way NBC’s corporate identity guidelines were adapted (and widely ignored!) for local companies’ service vehicles.

Although the National Bus Company had existed since 1969 it would not be until 1972 that detailed Corporate identity instruction were issued. These included every facet of the organisation activities, including livery instruction on the Service Fleet, a mixed range of vehicles from vans, lorries, recovery vehicles, trainer vehicles and a range of miscellaneous types.

The 1975 NBC manual had only this to say on applying the corporate identity to service vehicles. Local company identities were not envisaged.

Reference to the appropriate page shows a medium size van as an example for the prescribed application. Unlike PSV vehicles where interpretation was relatively restricted, the Service Fleet was far more varied and the NBC allowed this one illustration to guide all other types of vehicle. This should have been straightforward as basically it was a variation on the Central Activities Group (CAG) coach livery, all-over white with red/blue NATIONAL lettering. Oddly, apart from the small legal lettering, there was no advice for the fleetname, which for CAG coaches initially had been a very small ‘company identifier’ underlined in the local company’s bus fleet colour, so if followed as per the manual, these vehicles would have been left anonymous across the NBC fleet.

Image 1 Trent A30 AEC Militant, as per corporate guidance, apart from the inclusion of Trent in red.

While that was the official guidance, in practice each fleet choose its own interpretation. A few did follow guidelines to a certain extent: Trent was a good example of compliance, with white applied to most of its ancillary fleet apart from its tree-lopper, which received all over yellow.

Image 2 Trent A55, again in the mid-1970s Trent followed the manual, A55 was a Bristol LD Driver training vehicle.

Ribble followed for its Trainers and some Breakdown lorries. East Kent and Alder Valley also had white vans, though Alder Valley replaced NATIONAL with its fleet name, as did Oxford South Midland.

The rest of the fleet contained a huge variety, rule of thumb was the use of the fleets base colour, ie Grass Green or Poppy Red, though I have no evidence of NBC Blue being used on Service Vehicles.

Image 3 Hants & Dorset 9092, apart from the corporate fleet name, Hants & Dorset applied carried this livery over in 1972, with a recruitment message along with the lettering stating the bus’s use.

Variation of this application depended on the company, Crosville choose unrelieved Green on its vans and lorries and a dual-purpose livery for its recovery vehicles including it impressive AEC Matador Heavy Recovery Vehicle. National Welsh treated its vans in dual-purpose red/white but used yellow for its Recovery and training vehicles. South Wales often used red or yellow but with no fleet name. With these vehicles, variation was the running theme across the corporate NBC! The livery of Training vehicles depended on the fleet, Western National, Maidstone, Hants & Dorset, Eastern Counties use all over yellow, with variations on lettering; Eastern National and latterly Bristol, had used all over dark blue, Crosville applied a broad white band between the decks, as did Lincolnshire.

Image 4 Bristol W160, after years of using cream with an orange band, Bristol adopted the same livery for trainers as Eastern National.
Image 5 PMT T466. Potteries trainer T466 display the unique non-standard blue in use in the mid-1970s, letter it used yellow.

Occasionally this lack of strict abidance would see the discreet way of continuing pre-corporate practices, initially Bristol applied Orange/Cream to much of its SV fleet, Southern Vectis applied underlined gold serif fleet names on its dual-purpose liveried van for a time and West Yorkshire perpetuated its use of non-standard green to the majority of it service fleet (apart from Trainers) throughout the 1970s!          

Image 6 East Midlands T2. For its small fleet of trainers East Midland was another company to adopt a unique non-standard livery, this time a shade of dark red
Image 7 Northern T431. Northern General was unique with the NBC in using yellow for its service buses, where they were in cooperation with Tyne & Wear PTE, therefore it changed to green for it Training vehicles, to avoid confusion with its buses. This photo illustrates the reasoning for this colour!

It would not be possible to list the huge variety of interpretation that companies used, many changing within the corporate period! As time progressed particularly into the 1980s livery guidance changed as well, yellow became the standard livery for Heavy Recovery lorries, possibly because of legislation, vans could be seen carrying adverts to promote commercial activities, and vans could be seen in standard factory colours, possibly a cost saving measure, or just white as they where meant to be from the start!        

Image 8 West Riding A20. West Riding applied cream and black to its trainers, along with some bespoke signwriting which would have attracted the disapproval of NBC’s central projects team. Yorkshire Traction did also use similar livery for some of its training fleet.
Image 9 Yorkshire Traction T8, in the mid-1970s YTC changed to this distinct Red, White and Blue livery for its driver trainers, latterly this livery could be found on some West Riding/Yorkshire trainers.
Image 10 National Welsh E8. The Western Welsh group favoured all over yellow for its recovery and training fleet from 1972 onwards, Bristol MW E8 is typical of its application.
Image 11 Bristol W144. Bristol had used Orange/Cream prior to 1972 and perpetuated this into the corporate era for a number of service vehicles, though this Bristol MW conversion has white in place of the cream.
Image 12 West Yorkshire 4044. West Yorkshire a Poppy Red company continued using green for the majority of its service fleet throughout the 1970s. Bradford’s’ attractive recovery vehicle 4044 survives in preservation in this livery. 

Image 13 London Country RF79. LCBS converted three AEC RFs into Towing vehicles, all receiving variations on the yellow and grey livery. LCBS was formerly part of London Transport, which used grey for many service vehicles.
Image 14 Crosville 59A. After 1972 Crosville used only NBC green (some with white) for all its service vehicle, only in the 1980s did other colours appear, AEC Matador 59A, seen here, eventually received all over yellow.
Image 15. Western National RV8.  Western National group, including Devon General, used all-over yellow from 1972 for all its heavy recovery lorries, AEC Matador RV8, looks superb with its company-built bodywork.
Image 16. Southern Vectis 011. Southern Vectis Bedford CF van number 011 clearly show the use of pre-corporate lettering applied to the fleet’s vans in the 1970s.
Image 17. National Welsh E1075. Yet more variety, Ford Escort Mk2 van carries white with a red roof. Later the company painted its small vans in a version of dual-purpose livery.
Image 18. Crosville G759. For other duties companies adopted bespoke liveries, Crosville’s Information bus G759 a Seddon Pennine, gained and orange and red stripe to the NBC green, other companies ‘MAP’ buses received a range of bespoke liveries. 
National Bus Company Service Vehicles 1972-1986 by [Michael Hitchen]

Many thanks to Michael Hitchen for providing this guest blog, including the photographs from his own collection. Michael is an authority on NBC’s liveries, and his book on NBC’s service vehicles is available from Amberley Books here: National Bus Company Service Vehicles 1972-1986 – Amberley Publishing ; and also from Amazon in hard copy or Kindle format.

Categories
Advertising and publicity Eastern Counties Eastern National Lincolnshire

Imposters in poppy red and leaf green

NBC’s televised corporate identity spectacular for Norwich Union left a bus fleet in disguise

In 1974, NBC did their insurers a favour. Following their contract negotiation to insure vehicles across the whole company, NBC agreed to help Norwich Union to stage a spectacular advert for television. Produced by advertising agency McCann-Erickson, it featured buses from across the company’s local subsidiaries, showing off the new corporate identity green and red bus liveries, and then forming up into the outline of the insurer’s logo, based on the shape of Norwich cathedral. It’s not clear whose idea the advert was, so perhaps it was just a coincidence that the underwriters for the NBC’s policy occupied part of Norwich Union’s headquarters building with a perfect aerial view of Norwich’s busy Surrey Street Bus Station.

Our tidied-up version of NBC’s advert for Norwich Union, filmed on Sunday, 6 October 1974 at Norwich Airport.

David Slater tracked down a reference to the event in Buses magazine: “Several Bristol RLs, LHs and Leyland Nationals were used for filming a Norwich Union advert at Norwich Airport on 6 October 1974. A total of 50 buses were used, some of which were disguised as members of other NBC fleets such as Alder Valley, Hants and Dorset, United”. In fact, 39 vehicles are visible in the film, 20 red and 19 green. Eastern Counties provided the red buses, while neighbouring Lincolnshire and Eastern National supplied the green vehicles.

We recently tidied up the advert to restore the colours, sharpen it up, and provide a more contemporary (1971!) soundtrack. Taking a closer look at the sharper images, some of the red bus fleetnames show signs of having been stuck over something else. Look at the ‘Yorkshire’ illustration for example, where on close inspection the join is pretty clear.

Several members of the Eastern Transport Collection Society have memories of Eastern Counties’ supplying the red buses for the event. Norman Steels remembers that a number of Norwich drivers including Clive Sansby were involved in ferrying vehicles to the airport, and then in the elaborately choreographed bus manoeuvres for the advert itself. All drivers were required to wear their newly-issued NBC corporate identity uniforms for the occasion, and you can make out the octagonal drivers’ hats in the interior shots.

Eastern Counties drivers sporting brand new corporate identity uniforms, with Bristol LHS LH696. On the left is Peter Fish of Cromer depot, Norwich’s Tony Tate is third from the left, and to his right, Tony Frost and Micky Dogget. Photo courtesy of Tony Tate, possibly taken by Clive Sansby.

As well as six Norwich drivers, Eastern Counties drew in drivers on Sunday extra-overtime rates from Cromer, King’s Lynn and Ipswich, and having driven them across the Fens, Lincolnshire drivers took charge of many of the green buses. Eastern National’s Alan Tebbit remembers that their Chelmsford depot provided six Leyland Nationals, with Bristol REs from Colchester, Clacton, Harwich and Kelvedon, meeting up outside Colchester before travelling in convoy to Norwich, led by Alan in a Leyland National.

Tony Tate, who joined Eastern Counties as a conductor in 1962, was the driver of the lead vehicle, a red Bristol RE, in the advert. Under and arrangement with the Transport and General Workers’ Union, Tony remembers that all of the ‘performing’ drivers participating in the film were compelled to join Equity, the actors’ union, for the day.

The film shaping up into the Norwich Union logo was actually done backwards. An article located by Adrian Tupper in his archive of National Bus News explains that “good as the National drivers are, it would have been asking too much to expect them to tear around the airfield and form themselves into a perfect shape. So the crucial part of the action was shot in reverse. In other words, the symbol was built first, and the buses driven out of it, one by one.”

Tony’s role was certainly hair-raising. “There was a cameraman laying on the runway with his camera, and I was told to drive straight at him” he recalls. “The director told me ‘drive straight at the camera’, and not to turn until he waved his arm. I had to drive at speed, and I must have been only 10 feet away when he waved for me to turn. You can see in the film, I had to pull hard on the steering, and that was a real sharp turn to avoid him!”

Tony recalls a long day at the airport, though crews were well looked after with first class catering, a substantial cooked breakfast and a big roast lunch. As National Bus News put it: “Two days’ shooting… fifty buses… a full crew and a helicopter. It all adds up to thirty seconds of TV film. It’s not easy. But if you’ve seen the end result, we think you’ll agree that it was worth it.”

Chris Dugdell recalls that it was much talked about at the time – and that ironically, even though the company’s RL734 is one of two buses actually identifiable in the film (along with Lincolnshire’s brand new LH 1033), the name ‘Eastern Counties’ does not actually appear in the advert at all!

Article in National Bus News, March 1975, courtesy of Adrian Tupper.

Categories
The Manual Project

An update on the NBC Manual project

An update for November: manual pages, archive work, and some big news on the design of the NBC corporate identity.

First, thanks a lot to everyone who has helped and contributed, as well as to everyone who has signed up to the mailing list or followed on Twitter and Facebook. It’s great that there is so much interest in this project, both from the transport and design communities.

What’s in the manual?

I’m pleased to say that most of the manual’s pages have been tracked down and are ready to copy and reproduce. There are still some mysteries: with the help of the Bus Archive we are trying to iron these out as far as possible before we go to print. The manual was issued as a ringbound volume, with pages added and updated over time. The updates didn’t happen consistently, so each copy of the manual seems to have slightly different pages. There are also whole sections which we believe were prepared but never issued, and we are trying to track those down.

NBC Corporate Identity Manual: sheet 2.3: the National identifier

The target is to produce as definitive a reproduction as possible, so when lockdown ends, we will be searching through the NBC’s records at the Bus Archive and at the National Archive in Kew to avoid missing anything important from the final publication. This archive work, and some research on the design (see below) means we have not yet set a target date for publication, but most of the things we need are now nearly in place.

What’ll be in the book?

The manual itself is around 90 pages – much smaller than its British Rail counterpart, but no less engrossing. So our plan is to include other interesting material in the book, telling the story of the corporate identity from early thinking and rationale, through the design and pitching process, to application and roll-out – and then to the impact it had on staff and users.

The NBC Corporate Identity Manual binder, with Wallace Henning’s reissued British Rail manual.

You’ve already seen on the blog contributions from legendary Northern coachpainter Michael McCalla, from Eastern Counties driver and preservationist Sydney Eade, and from Trevor Shore on his daredevil adventures at Hants and Dorset. The book will feature more interviews and recollections from people who were involved and worked with the NBC identity – some of which we’ll also share on the blog.

Big news: meet the designers

For me, one of the most intriguing parts of the project has been finding put how the NBC identity developed and what influenced it. After a lot of detective work, I’m delighted to say that for the first time in 50 years, we’ll be able to cast some light on the development of the designs.

I’m very pleased to say that – with the help of Nick Job of the BR Double Arrow project – we’ve tracked down the two designers who worked with Norman Wilson on the very earliest work on the NBC identity, and consolidated it into the Manual. They’ve kindly agreed to talk to me about the development of the identity, their and Norman Wilson’s influences, and how they worked with NBC. The book (and the blog) will bring you their recollections of the initial work on the project, the graphic design influences that inspired and shaped the National logo and identity and their pitches to NBC chair Freddie Wood.

NBC’s 1972 Annual Report showcased the new corporate identity. Both were designed by Norman Wilson Associates.

We’ll also look at the challenges of scaling up their work to cover almost an entire industry – everything from stationery, paper cups and tie-clips, to some of the biggest vehicles on the road. And yes: the secrets of the NBC’s bespoke typeface will finally be unlocked. There’s a lot of material to work through, so I’ll write more on this in the coming months.

Help and support

I’m really pleased to have been able to draw on advice and support from some design and transport stalwarts: Ray Stenning of Best Impressions (whose National Bus Company Album I’ve owned for nearly 40 years); Philip Kirk, Director of the Bus Archive; Nick Job, designer and mastermind of the Double Arrow website, chronicling the development of the British Rail corporate identity; and Wallace Henning, the powerhouse behind the immaculate reproduction of the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual itself. Thanks to all of them. It’s a real pleasure to be able to work with such committed, interesting, good people.

Can you help?

If you have recollections you’d like to share – from your experience in the industry, from applying it in NBC service or in preservation, from operations or paintwork in the depots, from some of the adaptations made as the identity evolved through the MAP process and the development of National Express – please get in touch. We’re always happy to publish the best on the blog, and they could well make it into the book!

If you have stories or pictures you’d like to share please drop us a line at nbc [at] nationalbusmanual [dot] com, through Twitter at @busmanual, or our Facebook page.

Thanks for all your help and support.

Richard Price

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Categories
Applying the identity Gateshead Northern Sunderland District Tynemouth Tyneside Venture

Poppy yellow

Northern General went beyond the usual red and green, stretching NBC’s corporate identity in the streets of the north east with a vibrant mix of colours.

The NBC years are remembered for their uniformity, with leaf green and poppy red dominating bus fleets across almost all of England and Wales.  They are remembered with a mix of fondness for bold modernity thrust upon cities, towns and villages still shaking off the decay of the post-war years, and resentment from those with strong attachments to the variety of semi-independent bus companies with their roots in the local community. 

Northern Routemaster 2087 with hastily added NBC style fleetnames while still in BET Red, seen here at Hartlepool bus station. (Photo: Michael Mccalla)

While leaf green and poppy red dominated, there were a few parts of the NBC empire which were able to go their own way. Perhaps the most striking of these was Northern. There, managers connived with the new Passenger Transport Executive to strike out in an independent approach. The Tyne and Wear PTE had taken over municipal bus services across much of the north east of England – notably in Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead – and its own modernisation applied a livery of bright ‘cadmium yellow’ and cream, derived from the colours which had previously adorned Newcastle Corporation’s trams, trolleys and buses. Northern aimed to break away from the uniform red bus livery it had applied across its buses, suggesting initially to adopt the same Tyne and Wear PTE colours on its routes mainly within the PTE area.

As custodians of the corporate identity, NBC headquarters initially objected strongly. But at the same time NBC was trying to shape a new relationship with the PTEs as powerful arbiters – and major funders – of urban transport, including issuing subsidies and service contracts to NBC itself.  So a compromise was struck.  Northern could apply a yellow livery to the fleet for its urban routes, but not the PTE’s yellow.  It had to be an NBC yellow livery, using the yellow specified in the Corporate Identity Manual, generally reserved for auxiliary and training vehicles.  In all other respects the livery was to follow the manual – from the shape of the white bands to the position of the company identifiers, though these (and initially the NBC logo) were uniquely displayed in red, particularly striking on a yellow background.  

Northern Routemaster 3071, recently painted into NBC yellow, accompanied by a Leyland Atlantean in poppy red, outside its home depot of Park Lane, Sunderland, early 1970s. (Michael Mccalla)

To liven things up even more, Sunderland and District Omnibus – which had been a subsidiary of Northern General since 1931– had retained a separate identity with a blue livery, initially continuing to use its existing non-NBC dark blue. During a transition, Sunderland buses ran in their blue colours with a white band, with National-style company identifiers and double arrow applied.

Sunderland’s Roe-bodied Leyland Atlantean 3174, in Sunderland and District’s blue and white livery, with NBC symbol and rebranded to Northern.

Sunderland District Park Royal bodied Atlantean 171M is seen leaving Park Lane bus station, Sunderland, in its dark blue livery, painted to NBC corporate identity configuration. Photo: Michael Mccalla

So during the early 1970s, Northern General’s buses were divided into red, yellow and blue fleets; and branded with separate NBC fleetnames for the metropolitan areas of Sunderland, Gateshead, Tyneside and Tynemouth. Venture Transport, based on the Consett area and taken over by Northern in the 1970s, also initially retained its own identity in NBC corporate style, adopting poppy red. Northern’s other subsidiary – Wakefields – was phased out as a separate company in 1969, prior to the NBC corporate identity period.

Venture’s Alexander-bodied Leyland Leopard no 295 in the standard NBC dual-purpose livery, departing Newcastle’s Marlborough Crescent bus station. Photo: Michael Mccalla.
Tynemouth adopted NBC red as its main livery colour, but like the rest of Northern General, used yellow for services mainly within the urban PTE area. This is Tynemouth 2863 at North Shields on a service to Tynemouth, a former United Lodekka FLF. Photo: Michael Mccalla

All this made life much more interesting for depot staff than their NBC counterparts elsewhere, and nowhere more so than in the paintshop.  Michael Mccalla was a coachpainter at Northern’s Bensham works between the 1970s and 1990s. His job was applying the company’s multiple liveries, while sticking to the rules set out in the NBC Manual.  Fortunately for all of us, he also kept a photographic record of a lot of his work.

“The first vehicle I worked on and helped paint as an apprentice coachpainter at Northern Central Works, Bensham, was Sunderland District’s Leyland Leopard 346”, recalls Michael, “in an NBC-style livery but using Sunderland’s old ‘Midnight Blue’, a much darker shade than NBC’s own approved blue”.  

Michael’s first vehicle: Sunderland District’s 36’ Leyland Leopard 346, freshly painted by Michael Mccalla and colleagues at Northern’s Bensham works, in around 1971. Photo: Michael Mccalla.

“It looked great at the time.” says Michael, “The problems came later. The blue was a nightmare to paint over when Poppy Red and Yellow were introduced.” Along with the other Northern subsidiary companies, Sunderland and District lost its identity in January 1975, requiring the whole dark-blue fleet to be gradually repainted, though many were rebranded ‘Northern’ and stayed in blue for many years. There were also transfers to other NBC operating companies: Eastern Counties (see photo) was one of the companies faced with the tricky challenge of painting a standard livery over hard-to-cover midnight blue.

Eastern Counties bore the brunt of the challenging dark-blue-to-poppy-red repaint on the transfer of Bristol VR series 1 NGM 174G, which started life at Central SMT and was one of the vehicles involved in the complicated swaps of VRs and Lodekkas between the NBC and SBG in 1974. The bus arrived in Norwich as Eastern Counties VR319 – but not before a brief stay on Tyneside where Northern’s Michael Mccalla started to paint it into the NBC version of Sunderland’s midnight blue livery. Here it is awaiting its next repaint into poppy red at Eastern Counties’ Main Works, Cremorne Lane, Norwich. (Photo: Tim Moore’s collection)

But when they were reliveried into Northern’s standard Poppy red, or urban yellow, they were very striking on the streets of the north east.  Michael was responsible for a number of the repaints, as well as painting Northern’s red Leyland Nationals into urban-area NBC yellow. “I must admit when newly painted these did look decent” Michael remembers. 

Northern MK1 National 4609 in NBC Yellow livery complete with white relief. Photo: Michael Mccalla.
Recently re-branded from Gateshead, and with the post-1976 NBC symbol in a white panel, Northern’s Roe-bodied Leyland Atlantean no 0191 is seen on a cross-Tyne service in Newcastle. (Photo: Michael Mccalla)

Uniquely, the yellow livery featured company identifiers in dark red. As for all operating companies, company identifiers were supplied from NBC headquarters, using the bespoke National typeface, as photographic negatives, which were enlarged and reproduced locally. These were issued with the Corporate Identity Manual, with pages including wallets to hold the negatives, along with ‘sign-out/sign-in’ sheets to keep track of them. The use of pre-prepared negatives avoided any risk of the wrong typeface being used, and avoided inconsistent letter spacing. Northern General’s copies were unusual in coming with negatives for the many different fleetnames in use – Tyneside, Tynemouth, Sunderland & District, Gateshead, Venture, and Northern itself.

From the Corporate Identity Manual itself: each operating company’s copy of the Manual included wallets for photographic negatives of the ‘National symbol’ (the double-N arrow) and the relevant local ‘company identifiers’ (the fleetnames). Photo: Matt Harrison.

Like its buses, Northern General’s coaches came in a variety of liveries, with PTE, urban and non-urban dual-purpose, and full-coach National variants. There were even some variants that shouldn’t really have happened – such as the Bristol RE in a unique PTE dual-purpose livery. Michael Mccalla recalls: “I managed to get away with painting Bristol RE 4882 into Tyne and Wear PTE livery when it should have been all-over yellow. But this is what happens when the foreman is on holiday and you’re put in charge”.

For an era when public transport on the roads came in green, red or white in most of England and Wales, Northern’s flexible take on the NBC corporate identity added some colour and variety to the streets of the north east.

Special thanks to Northern coachpainter Michael Mccalla for his help with this article, and for providing the fascinating pictures of Northern’s colourful vehicles – many of them his own handiwork.

Former Venture Alexander bodied AEC Y-Type 266 seen straight out the paintshop in NBC yellow at the High Spen depot. 266 has Northern company identifiers in red, but with the later style of red-and-blue NBC logo on a white panel, introduced from 1976.  Photo: Michael Mccalla. 
At Heworth bus station, ECW-bodied Bristol RE no 4882, shortly after Michael Mccalla’s rogue repaint into a dual-purpose version of TWPTE’s cadmium yellow. Photo (and livery): Michael Mccalla.
One of only two white National coaches carrying the Sunderland name, this is Plaxton-bodied Bristol RE no 122L, in Sunderland. Photo: Michael Mccalla.
Leyland PD2 no 1763 was the only one of its type to be painted in NBC poppy red, seen here at Chester le Street depot in the early 1970. Photo: Michael Mccalla
Venture Transport’s Leyland National 167M, later Northern’s 4501, in NBC poppy red without white bands, in around 1972.  Photo: Geoff Coxon.
The NBC-blue version of Northern’s distinctive liveries has featured in preservation. Leyland Olympian 3653, seen here at an enthusiasts’ event, appears in a lighter shade than the ‘midnight blue’ used on Sunderland and Northern vehicles in the 1970s, though closer to the ‘authorised’ colour used by other NBC subsidiaries. Many former Sunderland buses were rebranded ‘Northern’ in the mid-1970s when Northern General’s sub-brands were phased out. As a relatively new bus, new to Northern in 1985, 3653 would not have worn this precise livery, with the pre-1976 monochrome double-arrow, in service – but wears it well in preservation nonetheless. Photo: Martin Isles, showbus.com
Categories
Applying the identity Bristol Design East Kent London Country Staff

National uniformity

As part of its comprehensive rebranding, NBC’s corporate identity extended to what its staff wore.

The NBC Corporate Identity Manual is best known for its uniform bus and coach liveries. But it was also intended to address standardisation of a wide range of other aspects of NBC’s presentation to its customers, including clothing and uniforms.

NBCs constituent companies had started experimenting with uniforms as part of their coach branding – in this example, East Kent adopted bright orange uniforms for coach hostesses with a cut and cap reflecting fashions of the era during the late 1960s. The driver on the other hand sports a contrasting very traditional uniform.

Section 7 of the NBC Corporate Identity Manual dealt with “uniforms and related items” such as cap and jacket badges.  But there is some mystery over section 7. We believe it was drafted – indeed NBC put a lot of work into uniform design – but may not have been issued: curiously the copies of the Manual we have seen omit it. We’ll be digging deeper into this over the coming months to make sure that a reissued corporate identity manual includes as much of the issued material as we can source. Please get in touch if you can help.

NBC’s constituent companies inevitably had a variety of styles, many unchanged  since the 1950s.  With a few exceptions – notably innovations in the coach market to reflect the speed and modernity of the emerging national motorway network – uniforms tended to be very traditional with heavy wear-resistant fabrics in black or dark blues, round peaked caps and occasionally traditional braid to indicate seniority.  Coach crews often sported light-coloured overalls and matching caps.  But – as with liveries – there tended to be substantial variation between local companies.

NBC’s corporate identity sought to do away with all that, and to introduce a standard look for crews and bus station staff. Crews and staff were to be the human face of the business, so their attire needed to reflect the modernity the business aimed to project. NBC and Norman Wilson’s team wanted staff to project the company’s modern image as much as the vehicles, and investigated overseas practice as well as drawing inspiration from constituent companies’ innovations in the coach market.

Bus crew uniforms saw a radical change. Adopting a much more modern look, Wilson and his team adopted a sleek modern-cut in a blue-grey serge, with a similar lightweight version for summer. The cut of the uniform for women was very similar, but with a simpler cap. In this NBC publicity shot, a crew poses next to an AEC Regent in the new corporate colours, with a driver in a contrasting traditional uniform.

Out went dark colours, and in came lighter blue-grey suits with a relatively modern cut, greater comfort and incorporating larger pockets to assist with carrying paperwork. Out went the traditional round peaked caps and in came a modern, Germanic-looking octagonal cap in the same shade of blue-grey, sporting a smart metal ‘double-N’ arrow badge.

Two London Country staff pose for a publicity shoot in 1972. The uniform for men incorporated a radically different octagonal cap design, almost unseen in Britain but more common in northern mainland Europe. For women, a cleaner-cut pillbox hat was adopted.

Office and counter staff at bus stations counted among them many more women than the drivers and crews. Various uniforms were created for women over the years, typically in brighter hues of the corporate colours, with styles evolving with fashion more than the men’s uniforms.

A Bristol Omnibus Company driver wears his octagonal crew cap, during a driving demonstration for the NBC training film ‘They don’t grow on trees’, made in 1979.
The women’s coach uniform came used various combinations of the corporate colours – here is an early variant in corporate blue and lined in red.

Whereas the changes in bus liveries are well documented, pictures of the changing uniforms through the NBC period are relatively few and far between. If you have any photos you’d be happy for us to use to illustrate the evolving staff attire for bus and coach crews and for bus station staff, do let us know. We’ll add any photos and stories in the coming weeks.

NBC’s corporate identity picked up on the best of its constituents’ designs – shown here, an early coach hostess uniform, similar to the East Kent National Travel version above, but in the NBC colours.

While the men’s uniform changed relatively little until the 1980s, women’s uniforms were more regularly updated as styles changed. This version shows a variant of the bus station staff uniform from the early 1980s.
Coach staff saw more change during the NBC period than their bus counterparts. Here we see the male and female uniforms adopted in the early 1980s for National Express drivers and crew.

Categories
Applying the identity Buses Devon General Hants & Dorset Western National

Cream on the side: the transition to the new identity

Rapid roll-out of the new identity led to some odd compromises

Nearly a year passed between the introduction of the NBC corporate identity and the launch of Norman Wilson’s fully-fledged Corporate Identity Manual. Wilson had been clear-minded on the importance of consistency from the start. However NBC chairman Fred Wood saw advantages in getting staff and passengers to identify with the new uniformity of presentation and service to the public, as a way of beginning to change the culture and perception of the NBC and its subsidiaries.

NBC’s objective was to use its new corporate identify to achieve rapid and radical change in public perceptions of bus and coach travel.

Across publicity and advertising, and things like timetable leaflets, company names began to appear in Wilson’s new bespoke NBC typeface – with the words “Associated with the National Bus Company” added as a strapline. This needed to be matched by the main projection of NBC’s identity into the high streets and housing estates of England and Wales – the buses themselves.

The solution was to start applying the strikingly modern NBC logo and fleetnames ahead of making other changes. This could be done faster than waiting for a full repaint into the new colours of poppy red or leaf green with white, or even the halfway house of painting white bands over cream and black lining and using the existing base livery, for example the darker Tilling red or green. But a strange consequence was that the modern fleetnames were for a time applied in a more traditional cream colour, as part of the existing colour schemes, rather than the clean, modern white of the new corporate identity.

Hants & Dorset Lodekka KMT 608, fleet number 401, in Salisbury late in 1972. Tilling-red and cream with cream NBC fleetnames, and National Bus corporate identity advertising. The blue dot over the yellow fleet number shows that it is a Salisbury depot bus.

Hants & Dorset were quick to get into the spirit of the new corporate identity – if not its precise application. The picture below shows an attempt to match the bus to the new NBC identity shown on the bus’s advertising panel. The differences between advertising illustration and application are pretty obvious now, but probably weren’t to the casual observer, so the early brand application probably did the trick. By 1972, former Wilts & Dorset Lodekka KMR608, had been absorbed into the Hants & Dorset fleet as their no 401. It retained the Tilling red of Wilts & Dorset, which was extended over the black lining, and gained cream-coloured NBC-style fleetnames and double-N arrow to match its cream band.

A Devon General Guy Arab in Exeter Corporation green and magnolia, with NBC fleetnames in white, at Exeter bus depot in 1973.

Devon General’s main livery was red, in spite of being a subsidiary of green-liveried Western National. In 1970 it took over the buses of Exeter Corporation Transport, and once the corporate identity was initiated in 1972 this Guy Arab retained its Exeter ‘green and magnolia’ livery but gained while NBC-style Devon General fleetnames. It contrasts with Exeter vehicles in the background which Devon General had already repainted into NBC poppy red and white.

Something has gone wrong with the rebranding of Western National’s no. 1923 seen here at Weymouth in 1973. 1923 retains Tilling green livery, and though the black lining has been painted over and cream replaced with white, the NBC-style fleetnames and logo have been applied in cream.

Western National’s 1923, Lodekka UOD 477, at Weymouth in 1973.

Categories
Buses Hants & Dorset Preservation

Flaming poppy red

How a bus station blaze led to a great example of the corporate identity in preservation

Trevor Shore MBE, founder of Dekkabus in Poole, was a conductor for Hants & Dorset based in Bournemouth in 1975 when the NBC identity roll-out was being completed. 

Trevor recalls “We had two semi-automatic Bristol Lodekka FLF’s in the fleet at the time. In June of 1976 Bournemouth bus station burnt down.

“As an 18 year-old lad I was out and about in town looking for females, but hearing the station was on fire I rushed to help. The fire was in the underground coach station, but the floor of the bus station above was starting to shift in places. Although I only held a full car licence, I drove three buses out of the station while it was alight, the last one being FLF no 1254, KRU224F.

Hants and Dorset Lodekka 1254, restored to NBC poppy red. Photo: Dekkabus.

“Two friends bought it on retirement from Hants and Dorset in 1981. They had it for over 30 years then sold it on. When it came up for sale again in 2015, I purchased it. 1254 was the last Hants and Dorset double-decker to be repainted from green to red in 1975. Restoration involved replacing all of the window rubbers, a full exterior refurbishment into NBC Poppy Red and a class 6 MOT.

Close up of the NBC fleetname on poppy red and double-arrow, in red and blue on a white box.

“With Dekkabus, I’m proud to have put her back in service as a heritage vehicle, serving the same town where she spent all her working life. Having saved her once in 1976, it was fitting to save her again four decades later.”

Hants and Dorset Lodekka 1254, restored to NBC poppy red. Photo: Dekkabus.

If like me, you’re wondering how Bournemouth had a coach station underneath its bus station, this photo of the fairly unique layout will help. The 1959 bus station replaced an elegant 1930s art deco building. Though damaged in July 1976, Hants & Dorset’s head office remained there, and the open air section continued to see partial use until 1980. It was demolished in 1982.

Bournemouth’s bus station in the early 1970s. Source: Bournemouth Daily Echo.

Read more about Trevor’s rescue mission here —> https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/14664258.pictures-teenager-who-drove-bus-out-of-burning-station-in-1976-rescues-it-again-40-years-later/

Hants and Dorset Lodekka 1254. Photo: Dekkabus

Thanks to Trevor Shore and Dekkabus for use of the photos of 1254. Copyright of the photos is theirs.

Categories
Applying the identity Buses Eastern Counties

New for old

Interim colours and a half-way house in 1972

For most of the lifetime of the corporate identity, its application was strictly policed by NBC from its London headquarters in New Street Square. But initially there was no manual. The identity and rules for applying it developed over the course of 1972 and 1973, as Norman Wilson oversaw the development and initial roll-our by NBC’s subsidiary companies, before being formalised in the Manual.

There were some differences in the rules in the very early days, as well as various interpretations and mishaps, mostly stamped out quickly by HQ.  These included overuse of white bands where local staff felt the main blocks of unrelieved green or red gave larger buses a drab look, and attempts to replicate the cream and black lining from the traditional liveries with additional white bands, particularly on double-deck vehicles. 

A more common occurrence – initially sanctioned by Wilson and HQ – was the ‘interim livery’, where to accelerate the roll-out of the new identity, buses not due for a full repaint into the new corporate colours would simply have white or cream ‘thick’ bands painted over the original cream and black waistbands and applying the new NBC-typeface fleetnames and logos over the existing darker shades of red and green.  Remarkably – given the later strict policing of the new corporate colours – cream NBC logos and fleetnames were used by many operators, to match the cream waistbands of the traditional liveries.

This was stamped out later in 1972. As Norman Wilson said in the Manual, “It is of vital importance to the overall maintenance of the National Bus Company image that colour schemes and usages are strictly followed.  The use of red, per se, is not the same thing as the use of the correct red.”

Though initially approved, this half-way solution undermined the all-important consistency of the new Corporate Identity, so was frowned upon by HQ, and had largely disappeared within a year.

Eastern Counties’ Bristol MW LM944 at Ipswich in 1972 illustrates the ‘half-way’ rebrand. Its cream and black lining has been replaced with an NBC white stripe, but it retains its darker Tilling red. Photo: Michael Woolnough, Eastern Transport Collection, provided by Sydney Eade.

Sydney Eade was a conductor working at Lowestoft for Eastern Counties in 1972 when the new livery started to be rolled out, and remembers the early mixed livery attempts, as illustrated by Bristol MW LM944 at Ipswich, “just after ‘conversion’ to NBC livery by painting put the cream band and black lining in ‘fat white’. The old fleetname has vanished but the new double ‘N’ white one has not yet been employed.”

Eastern Counties Bristol RLs at Lowestoft in 1972. On the right, RL522 and RL520 were the last to be delivered from the town’s Eastern Coach Works in Tilling Red livery. RL734 is also in Tilling Red, but has faded, and has had the white band treatment. Photo: Sydney Eade.

Sydney, an active preservationist with the Eastern Transport Collection Society since its early days, remembers the arrival of the first repainted NBC red Bristol Lodekka to arrive at Lowestoft – possibly LFS86 or 87. “I got to work on it on the first day of service”, he says. “I thought it was amazingly smart and gave the bus a new life, and I had no feelings of regret that Tilling red was on the way out at the time.”

Thanks to Sydney Eade for permission to use the photos of Eastern Counties vehicles on this page.

Categories
Design Developing the Manual Norman Wilson

Norman Wilson Associates

Can you help us to tell the story of Norman Wilson and the NBC Corporate Identity?

In 1972, Sir Fred Wood was appointed chair of the National Bus Company, with a mandate to take a more commercial approach to the corporation’s management, with a business-oriented focus on halting the decline in NBC’s market share and financial performance in both coach and bus markets. Wood had been impressed by his experience of Greyhound Coaches during his time in the US, with its consistent ‘pan-continental’ branding. As part of his new approach to turning around NBC’s fortunes, he called for a root-and-branch rebranding of coach and bus operations.

Before even taking up his role as NBC Chair, late in 1971 Fred Wood approached Manchester-based designer Norman Wilson – who had worked with him at his family business, Croda – to develop a new corporate identity. It is Wilson’s NBC Corporate Identity Manual, which formalised the identity he developed over the course of 1971-72, that this project has been launched to reissue.

Norman Wilson, designer of the NBC Corporate Identity, applies his NATIONAL lettering to the very first ‘white coach’ at Eastern Coach Works (ECW), Lowestoft, April 1972. His ‘double-N’ arrow seems to be pointing in the wrong direction in this trial application of the new identity to Eastern Counties’ RE858: normally it would point in the direction of travel on either side of the vehicle. Behind Wilson, assisting with the application, is ECW’s Alan ‘Casey’ Crisp, described by Eastern Counties’ Stephen Milne as “the best coach painter I ever knew – the best at lining-out and an excellent sign-writer.” Casey spent his entire working life at ECW, retiring at 65, three years before the Coachworks closed in 1987.

But unlike the development of British Rail’s corporate identity, remarkably little is documented on Wilson, his business Norman Wilson Associates, their influences or the creative process.

Can you help us to fill the gap? Were you involved, or did you work with Norman Wilson, or know of Norman Wilson Associates’ work for NBC or elsewhere? If so, please do get in touch with us using our contact form.

Help us to tell the full story of the NBC Corporate Identity.