Fifty years ago today, on 12 April 1972, NBC Chair Fred Wood ended the annual General Managers’ conference with a press launch to introduce the new ‘Greyhound-style’ National inter-city express network to the public, with the new corporate identity at its heart.
FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY… The second, and final, day of the General Manager conference started with an open forum – taking the whole morning – on “The management style of the National Bus Company”, led by eminent professor of management Roland Smith. The NBC’s senior staff had spent the previous day listening to an introduction to the organising principles for the new Central Activities Group, which saw local companies acting as contractors, providing express and coach tours under the National brand. They weren’t happy. The change meant the removal of their own company brands and fleetnames from the industry’s most prestigious services. Over the coming months they would press for a compromise.
But for now, the stage was Wood’s and he used it to set out his vision for the new National-branded inter-city coach network. In the interview below, Wood gets his points across. In fact the journalist seems to get the impression that all of the country’s coaches are about to be replaced. The references to old, traditional practices and sweeping away the traditional colours of the operating companies must have confirmed the General Managers’ worst fears about the loss of autonomy and identity for their companies. But that battle lay ahead.
Wood gave a series of interviews in Leicester to the national newspapers and to the specialist press. Journalists were shown the prototype White Coach and National branding. This interview with Wood, by the London Evening News’ Iain Macaskill, gives an impression of the image of the industry Wood was aiming to make.
Super-bus challenges the train – Evening News, 12 April 1972. Iain Macaskill
‘Half-price’ super-bus challenges the train.
By Iain Macaskill, Evening News, 12 April 1972
Today, as rail travellers endure increasing chaos, Mr. Frederick Wood says he is in a position to make his dream come true interlinked motorway express buses which will face the railways with half-price competition. They will be equal to the world-famous Greyhound Services in the United States.
MR. FREDERICK WOOD rarely travels by bus. As a company chairman he is accustomed to the luxuries of a highly-polished, executive-class car.
Yet he is giving the British bus – the original motorised form of public transport – a new lease of life.
Until a year ago he had no real interest in the transport industry. He was comfortably seated behind a mahogany desk in the top executive suite of a chemical company. The idea even of riding in a bus was utterly remote.
Not so today. His high-speed talk about the British bus Is a temptation to clamber on to the nearest one to sample its delights.
For this latest whizz-kid in the transport world is performing a revolution which he hopes will put the long-distance coach way out in front of both inter-city rail and air services in the popularity stakes. To start all this by the end of the year – and see it through within five years.
How can he possibly make the bus, at present the bottom of the public transport league table, a money-making machine?
It all began a year ago when Mr. Wood was summoned to see Mr. John Peyton, Minister of Transport, and asked if he would like a top job in transport. Mr Wood said ‘Yes”, became a member of the board of the National Bus Company instantly, and its chairman in January this year. And it was then that the mammoth task of filling the depleted coffers of an ailing bus industry really began.
As a “commercial and marketing man” Mr Wood, 45, found many faults. The whole structure of the NBC was “disorganised”.
There was a conglomeration of companies all under the same umbrella and running multi-coloured buses in various parts of the country in their own traditional way.
In the south from Portsmouth to Margate, the Maidstone and District, Southdown, East Kent and the London Country buses were operating. Further north there were United, Midland Red and others, all of them still largely operating the same system of management which they had 30 years ago.
Now, it is all to be changed. “My first aim is to get the whole lot operating under one flag”, said Mr. Wood.
The first step will be to have a fleet of American style inter-city Greyhound coaches competing with British Rail and air traffic. “Air traffic is out as far as transport in this country in the future is concerned because the journeys are so relatively short between major centres. And most of our fares on inter-city services will be about half of British Rail fares, with little difference in the times.”
And, of course, the new luxury coaches, which will replace the 4000 express coaches at present operated by the multitude of regional companies will be in the new splendid white livery with the name ‘National’ in red and blue letters. Motorways will speed up the present timetables which were designed for the ordinary A class roads.
The irritation of buying two different tickets if you have to change the colour of a bus on a long journey will be dispensed with.
And there will also be a more secure future for the local bus services throughout the country, which regularly come under the threat of the axe. Success on the inter-city routes will mean cash for improvements rather than cutbacks on services for the country dweller.
As Mr. Wood enthused: “Air and rail transport are inflexible, but the bus is the most flexible and versatile form of moving people about en masse. And this is going to be the thing in the future.”
To prove it he quoted examples. London to Bristol in 2½ hours. Return fare £2.50. By rail the cost is £4.10 return with a single journey time of two hours.
“But don’t forget that the bus takes you from city centre to city centre, not from station to station” added Mr. Wood.
He means business. But when did you ever last look forward to having a long distance trip on a bus – even if it did cost less? That is the real battle Mr. Wood has to win.
There’s more to follow on the design and launch of the NBC Corporate Identity. Do you have memories of the adoption and roll-out of the NBC Corporate Identity? If so get in touch using the form on this page, or the contact page here: https://nationalbusmanual.com/contact/
The NBC Corporate Identity was launched fifty years ago in 1972. It was the product of a series of political, commercial and design decisions. In this post, we look at the timeline of events and the context which gave the Identity its purpose.
25 October 1968
Barbara Castle’s Transport Act gets Royal Assent, legislating to set up the National Bus Company, instead of her original plan for regional transport corporations. Taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity to bring the bulk of the English and Welsh bus industry into public ownership, the creation of NBC offered a relatively straightforward route to establishing a national body to help to coordinate public transport.
1 January 1969
National Bus Company formed, merging the bus and coach businesses of the nationalised Transport Holding Company and British Electric Traction.
NBC makes attempts to adopt common marketing and a house style for coach liveries and publicity, using the modern-looking Microgramma typeface.
19 June 1970
Heath government elected, determined to make NBC a commercial body, rather than the coordinating public authority envisaged by Castle. John Peyton appointed Minister of Transport.
Peyton approaches Frederick Wood, chair of chemicals business Croda International, to become NBC’s chair. Wood accepts.
Wood asks designer Norman Wilson, architect of Croda’s corporate identity, to work with him to develop a corporate identity vision for NBC.
Wilson – with his talent for letterforms – draws the iconic ‘N-and-shadow’ National arrow symbol one evening over dinner and formalises it into an 8×8 grid. With Wood’s approval and vision of a uniform national ‘silver coach’ express service, Wilson expands on the symbol to develop a framework for the identity.
1 January 1972
Wood takes up the Chair of NBC, along with a new Board. Outlines his thinking on the express network and NBC’s identity, inspired by the silver coaches of Greyhound’s iconic brand in the US. Dissuaded from a plain-chrome livery for practical reasons, the idea of the White Coach is born.
Wilson is invited to set out his thoughts to the NBC Board, using display boards to set out the concept of the National symbol, the white/red/blue corporate colours, the white coach and consistent typography. Wilson is appointed design consultant to the Board.
3 February 1972
The Corporate Identity project is announced internally in a letter to General Managers – “NBC has asked a Design Consultant to advise on all matters relating to a corporate identity for the N.B.C Organisation” suggesting it will be rolled out within six months.
Wood decides to mark the end of his first 100 days at April’s annual General Managers’ conference for the bosses of NBC’s subsidiary companies, at which he will outline his plans.
First week April, 1972
With preparations for the General Managers’ conference going down to the wire, at the start of April 1972 Wilson makes the trek from Manchester to Lowestoft, in a car packed with red & blue vinyls. He prepares the ‘prototype’ White Coach at the Eastern Coach Works, assisted by respected ECW coachpainter Alan ‘Casey’ Crisp.
More to follow. Do you have memories of the adoption and roll-out of the NBC Corporate Identity? If so get in touch using the form on this page, or the contact page here: https://nationalbusmanual.com/contact/
Portraits of Frederick Wood and Norman Wilson: NBC. Portrait of John Peyton: National Portrait Gallery. Extracts from NBC correspondence and photograph of NBC’s General Managers in 1969 courtesy of The Bus Archive.
Vision, compromise and change in the first edition of the Corporate Identity Manual
The NBC Corporate Identity developed from a series of discussions between incoming NBC chair Freddie Wood, and leading graphic designer Norman Wilson. Wood had been chief executive of Croda International, and had employed Wilson for many years to modernise the company’s image, undertaking a comprehensive rebranding in a clean, modern style, encompassing the Croda’s symbol, marketing, packaging and vehicles. Wood was impressed with Wilson, and the two got on well.
Wood had spent part of his early 20s in the United States, and the American way of doing business fascinated him. He was particularly struck by the extensive network of silver Greyhound coaches which he had used to criss-cross the US during his stay, offering a consistent reliable service and strong uniform branding. So when Wood was asked by the newly-elected Heath government in 1971 to take the role of chair of the relatively new National Bus Company, with the objective of making it a more commercial organisation, he was immediately struck by two thoughts. First, the Greyhound proposition of a uniform national coach network. And second, the need to ask for Wilson’s design advice in shifting the image of the long-distance coach, and the wider industry.
Wilson was actually brought on board by Wood in 1971, before his chairmanship had been formally agreed. It was in this period that Wilson had the epiphany of the ‘N-and-shadow’ arrow symbol. Once appointed, Wood wasted no time in formalising the appointment of Norman Wilson as corporate design adviser to the NBC Board. There was a formal pitch to the Board early in 1972 using design boards explaining the National symbol, graphics and the white coach in preliminary version of the corporate identity. These will form the basis of a section in the NBC Corporate Identity book. It is not clear whether other design businesses were invited to bid – but Wilson’s appointment was announced to the business and its operating companies in a letter from the company secretary to the General Managers of the local subsidiaries in February 1972, stating simply that NBC was appointing a design consultant “to advise on all matters relating to a corporate identity for the NBC Organisation” – and cautioning against overstocking on existing designs of stationery which might soon become redundant.
After being persuaded that – because of production techniques and climate – a silver coach in the style of Greyhound would not last well in Britain, Wilson and Wood wanted the coaches to be purely white, with the National branding of the NBC symbol and the NATIONAL logotype in red and blue. Operating companies were to be solely suppliers to NBC’s Central Activities Group, which took responsibility for the National coach network. Local company identities were not to appear on the white coaches at all, except in the tiny mandatory ‘legal lettering’ identifying the owner at the bottom of the bodyside There was a degree of scepticism, and even push-back against the idea of a uniform corporate identity, particularly from operating companies whose local liveries in some cases could be traced back to the start of motor coaches at the beginning of the 20th century.
Wood was resolute in his determination to apply a uniform white livery. He had been dissuaded from adopting a silver livery, US-style, on the grounds that that bodysides would corrode. When operators next objected to all-over white on the grounds that they would show dirt, Wilson retorted, in characteristically blunt fashion, that “they’ll just have to wash them more often then, won’t they?”
With the overall colour beyond doubt, the use of local fleetnames became the next area of controversy and compromise. The first trial application of the NBC white livery, on an Eastern Counties coach at the Eastern Coach Works in Lowestoft, had omitted the local company’s fleetname, showing only the National brand. General Managers of NBC’s operating subsidiaries were horrified, complaining that their local identities and pride in the service would be lost, and that coach users would be confused by multiple identical-looking coaches and would find it harder to locate their service.
Wood and Wilson relented, marginally, in response to the latter argument and a compromise was attempted. First, a local fleetname was applied as a trial to the Eastern Counties coach used in the initial trial application of the identity, using Wilson’s bespoke National lettering, but at a height barely larger than the legal lettering and in a very light grey. It was almost invisible, and the General Managers were not placated.
Wilson therefore adopted a different, more visible approach for the initial roll-out of the Corporate Identity. Local company fleetnames were applied on National coaches above the wheel arch, set in Wilson’s new National lettering, at the slightly larger letter height and in a more legible dark grey. They were further emphasised by a bold underlining, the line being the same height as the letters giving an overall height of 3½ inches, in the colour adopted by the local company for its buses. This was codified in the first edition of the Corporate Identity Manual of May 1972.
So Eastern Counties and United coaches had a small fleetname underlined in their corporate red; as did Standerwick, a coach-only business which adopted the bus colour of its parent company Ribble. Crossville, Southdown and Eastern National coaches meanwhile appeared with fleetnames underlined in green. Other non-bus coaching businesses were given latitude, so even though their historic colours were eliminated, Royal Blue used a blue line on their National coaches, while Black and White used black.
The result was a bit more colour and variation of appearance than Wilson had intended, and served to differentiate the coaches to some degree. It did not however last long. The small fleetnames and coloured bands were considered both untidy, and were too small to serve the purpose of making vehicles identifiable to customers. Wilson developed and implemented a tidier approach, more consistent with the uniform look he and Wood aimed for, while also going some way to placate the General Managers. From November 1972 a revised livery was adopted, overruling the instructions in the first Corporate Identity Manual issued in May, just a few months earlier. Regardless of the company colour, local operating company names were now to appear in National-red letters 3⁵/₈ inches tall without incorporating a coloured band, displayed more prominently between the wheel arch and the windows. A letter of 9 November 1972 to General Managers from Ron Whitehouse, NBC’s Group Public Relations Officer, formalised the change of approach: “a revision to the specification regarding the size of company name. The name of the operating company should appear over the front wheels in corporate style lettering 3⁵/₈ inches high in National red.”.
This gave much more prominence to the local businesses, but in a style which fitted more consistently with the overall uniformity of the National ‘white coach’. It was this look, rolled out widely through 1973, that was to become the standard for the next two decades, and which was reflected in the 1976 second edition of the NBC Corporate Identity Manual.
At the start of 1972, in the early development of the Corporate Identity, Wood and Wilson focussed largely on the design and implementation of the white coach as the iconic representation of NBC on the roads, and the most urgent commercial challenge to address. Thoughts turned only later in the year to the application of the identity and roll-out to local buses and mixed-use coaches. In the next Corporate Identity Blog, we will look at the early implementation of the Corporate Identity to local buses, how this was described in the first Manual, teething troubles and oddities in the early roll-out.
Photographs from the Bernard Watkin collection appear by kind permission of the Eastern Transport Collection Society. Many thanks to The Bus Archive for access to NBC records and correspondence. This article draws on conversations with Jean Horsfall, John Oldfield and Anthony Dawson – to whom many thanks.
Did you experience the early years of the NBC Corporate Identity? Please post any comments or suggestions using the box below.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.