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Design Developing the Manual East Kent Eastern Counties Norman Wilson Trent

A Manchester modernist

Norman Wilson’s pioneering Manchester design practice brought striking modernist graphics to industrial Britain – including the once-ubiquitous NBC Corporate Identity

Just published…. issue 44 of The Modernist magazine includes an article by Richard Price on the career, influences and graphic design work of Norman Wilson. Wilson’s work for Croda International drew him to the attention of Sir Fred Wood who, on his appointment as NBC chair in 1971, appointed Wilson to develop a new corporate identity.

Norman Wilson’s designs for the National Bus Company corporate identity, in the modernist 44.

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. This article and the research behind it help to correct that.

It is Wilson’s NBC Corporate Identity Manual of 1972 and 1976, which formalised the identity he developed over the course of 1971-72, that this project has been launched to reissue.

Norman Wilson’s work for Croda International, from the modernist 44 ‘LAYOUT’, September 2022.

Wilson’s work extended beyond the bus industry. The article looks at how his designs brought modernism to parts of industrial Britain – for the chemicals industry, the relaunch of famous northern restaurant chain UCP, and his work teaching and inspiring a new generation of commercial graphic designers. Much of his work demonstrates his skill for creatively combining colour, striking photography and innovative letterforms to produce a visually-striking design. Edward Pond, a friend and collaborator (and later the founder of the Paperchase chain) described Wilson as “a typographer in the true sense of the word”.

The Modernist is available for £8 from: https://the-modernist.org/collections/the-modernist-magazine/products/the-modernist-magazine-issue-44-layout, and read more about Wilson’s work and influences here.

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.

You can read more about our research to date on designer Norman Wilson and his influences here.

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

For their help and support with this article, thanks to Jean Horsfall, Adrian, Stuart and Joan Wilson, John Oldfield and Anthony Dawson; to Jeremy Parrett at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Col-lections for access to the Norman Wilson archive; to The Bus Archive and Eastern Transport Collection Society; to Nick Job for digitisation of the National symbol and typeface; to Martyn Cummins for re-drawn NBC manual diagrams; and to Croda International and National Express for use of their graphics. Double N is the registered trade mark of National Express Limited.

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Buses Crosville Eastern Counties NBC50 Norman Wilson

A radical new look for local buses

Fifty years ago today, on 19 July 1972, NBC announced their plan to launch a new identity for local buses across England and Wales. Modernism was coming up your street.

On this day, 19 July, in 1972, NBC decided on its approach to bus liveries.  NBC HQ had been experimenting with different approaches and colours since April, when it was announced that Alder Valley and Crosville would be taking part in trials to identify new, standard colours for local buses across England and Wales. 

NBC’s red and green bus liveries, designed in 1972 by Norman Wilson, combined standardised bright shades of the ‘traditional’ bus colours, a striking monochrome version of Wilson’s NBC N-and-shadow arrow symbol, and local company names in his National lettering. The white band intended by Wilson was initially omitted on some types of vehicle, but widely adopted later. Picture: Martyn Cummins/Richard Price; typeface digitised by Nick Job.

This was not a complete surprise.  In his speech, launching the corporate identity and its first application to express coaches, chairman Fred Wood told General Managers that: “the great bulk of our business (say 85%) is still in stage-carriage. We must therefore continue to maintain pressure in this main area. … The traditional liveries and names will continue although we expect to propose a linkage via a common emblem for all NBC companies. … The livery of the Express Coach which you will see shortly is only one expression of the new corporate identity programme which will eventually permeate all the visual aspects of NBC.” 

Though the identity acknowledged the preponderance of reds and greens in bus companies across the country, Wood’s emphasis on ‘retaining traditional colours’ was rather misleading, and understated the form and radicalism of the emerging design.

Wood’s design adviser, Norman Wilson had been working on the design of the bus livery since the start of the year, and though the striking and commercially-important roll-out of the ‘white coach’ took precedence, the visible impact of the new identity for local buses across shopping streets, rural roads, factories and housing estates was to be much more pervasive.

Modernism coming up your street: Wilson’s identity drew inspiration from the Swiss school of graphic design and the earlier Bauhaus. Picture: Eastern Counties’ LN544 climbs Orford Hill in Norwich on its way to Eaton in 1974. Picture: Bernard Watkin, courtesy of the Eastern Transport Collection Society.

We will look in more detail in a future blog at Wilson’s design influences for applying the identity to buses, but it combined his three key elements: bold, uniform colours, his distinctive typeface, and a striking monochrome version of his NBC symbol, wordlessly conveying the nature of the business, all drawn together in a grid-based layout which brought a sense of uniformity and modernity across disparate companies and an enormous variety of vehicle types.

The purpose, as well as reminding people of the scale of NBC itself, was to project the sense of a welcoming, modern and reliable service to users and staff alike. It was an attempt to arrest the large modal shift from the local bus to the private car, a trend which was accelerating in the late 1960s and early 1970s, eating into the company’s core business, and eroding the commercial viability of public transport.

Norman Wilson and NBC’s commercial team trialled the red version of the new identity for local buses at subsidiary Alder Valley’s Reading depot, where variations were applied to a range of double- and single-deck buses. A bus in the earlier colours can just be seen in the background, illustrating the contrast with new ‘poppy red’. Picture: Norman Wilson, from the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections.

From May, Wilson lifted his experimental designs from the page and onto vehicles. Replacing the huge variety of traditional local colours, two new standard shades of red and green were adopted – each company generally adopting the new version of its previous colour for continuity – and minimal decoration in the form of bright white lines, with a common layout applied to buses across the country. Wilson and NBC HQ staff worked with Alder Valley’s Reading depot to trial the red livery; and with Crosville to experiment with the layout and different shades of green.

Though local company general managers had seen this coming, the move was highly controversial across the industry. Following the loss of the identity and management of their prestigious coach services, subsumed into the new ‘National’ express network of uniform white coaches, the extension of the new corporate identity would see the independent public profile of companies eroded further.

Experiments with the green version of the local bus identity were carried out in May and June 1972 with NBC’s subsidiary in north Wales and Merseyside, Crosville. In this picture, the identity has been applied to a new Leyland National in a darker green than was ultimately selected. Without the traditional body mouldings to guide coach-painters, it was decided initially not to apply a mid-height white relief line to this type of vehicle. The fact that the green illustrated here was much darker than the ‘leaf green’ ultimately chosen didn’t stop NBC’s publicity department from using this picture extensively in advertising in the following years. Picture: Norman Wilson, from the Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections.

NBC’s Chief Marketing Officer Ron Whitehouse set out the approach in a letter from NBC HQ to General Managers on 19 July 1972:

“I write to advise you that, following discussion with regional directors, the Chairman and Chief Executive have decided upon a standard method of applying corporate identity to stage carriage buses together with rationalisation of livery colours.

“The corporate symbol and companies name (brief trading title) in corporate lettering is to be applied to buses in a common way throughout the group. Detailed specifications have been prepared and are in the course of printing. Copies will be sent to you shortly. Transfers are to be prepared centrally… There will be three livery colours only (with certain temporary exemptions) being – Red (BS series 2660 ref. 0-005); Green (BS series 381C, ref. 218), White (National W1) for relief (waistbands, symbols and titles). Creams will be discontinued.

Pages from the first edition of the NBC corporate identity manual of 1972, issued shortly after the 19 July letter. Source: NBC/The Bus Archive.

“The exemptions for the time being may be ‘blue’ bus fleets, and Regional Directors will be talking with Chief General Managers regarding the future of this colour.

“Other exemptions might be the livery of fleets of vehicles operated in partnership with local authorities. However, all exemptions must be approved by Regional Director[s] in consultation with the Chief Executive.

“The desire is to see the symbol and corporate lettering applied to fleets within three months. Consequently, there has to be an interim application to existing deliveries of new transfers (in, say, cream to match current practice) followed by the adoption of standard colours at normal repaint stage.  New bus intake will be painted in the new standard colours.”

This led to an interim phase in which Wilson’s new National lettering and NBC symbol were applied onto existing old-fashioned liveries.  Though these generally appeared in white, in many cases the modern typography and symbol were applied in a cream colour to blend in with the existing cream relief decoration which had been applied traditionally by many companies.  This blunted the modernising impact of the change, and was steadily phased out.

The application of the NBC and lettering in traditional cream to match the existing liveries undermined the modernising intent of the corporate identity, and was short-lived. Alder Valley’s Dennis Loline no 835 is in Aldershot in June 1974. Picture: Richard Price Collection.

In future blogs we will look at Norman Wilson’s approach to designing the local bus identity, the curious decision to eliminate the existing corporate blue colour from the bus livery;  and the challenges of a rapid roll-out. 

If you have recollections of the roll-out of the new livery, how it was managed, or remember your initial reaction to it, please let us know.  We’d be happy to include these in a future blog, and perhaps in the Manual book itself. Get in touch using the form on this page, or the contact page here: https://nationalbusmanual.com/contact/

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Applying the identity Coaches Eastern Counties Freddie Wood National Bus Company NBC50

Operating under one flag: a super-bus to challenge the trains

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.

Freddie Wood, NBC chair, at wheel of Eastern Counties’ RE858 – the prototype ‘white coach’, during the press launch of the National identity, express network and the ‘white coach’, Leicester, 12 April 1972. Source: NBC, The Bus Archive.

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.

Freddie Wood, NBC chair, at the press launch of the National identity, express network and the ‘white coach’, Leicester, 12 April 1972. The National symbol always points to the right – though after the launch this was changed for the nearside on veichles, to avoid it pointing backwards as shown here. Source: London Evening News, The Bus Archive.

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.

COFFERS

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”.

COMPANIES

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.

COACHES

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.”

The first prototype ‘white coach’ prepared by Norman Wilson at Lowestoft‘s Eastern Coach Works in the week before the General Managers’ Conference in Leicester. It was revealed to General Managers Conference on the forecourt their hotel on 10 April, and was shown to the press two days later. The coach is Eastern Counties’ RE858. Photo: NBC.

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.

COUNTRY

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.”  

COSTS

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/

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Design Eastern Counties Freddie Wood Greenslades Grey Cars National Bus Company Norman Wilson Royal Blue

Fifty years ago: a Corporate Identity timeline

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.

1969-1970

NBC makes attempts to adopt common marketing and a house style for coach liveries and publicity, using the modern-looking Microgramma typeface.

National Bus Company coaches from subsidiaries Royal Blue, Greenslades and Grey Cars in the 1969 ‘house style’, using a band of colour as the background to the fleetname set in the typeface Microgramma. Photo: Tony Whitehead, NBC.

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.

Summer 1971

Peyton approaches Frederick Wood, chair of chemicals business Croda International, to become NBC’s chair. Wood accepts.

Autumn 1971

Wood asks designer Norman Wilson, architect of Croda’s corporate identity, to work with him to develop a corporate identity vision for NBC.

Winter 1971

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.

January 1972

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.

February 1972

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.

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Applying the identity Black & White Coaches Crosville Design Eastern Counties Eastern National Everall Freddie Wood Mascot Norman Wilson North Western Rhondda Royal Blue Southdown Standerwick Tilling United Counties Western Welsh

The rise of the white coach

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.

NBC Chair Freddie Wood (left, later Sir Freddie); and design consultant Norman Wilson (right). Photo: NBC.

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.

An iconic 1954 Scenicruiser, manufactured for Greyhound Lines by General Motors. Greyhound’s uniform branding created a strong image of a consistent and reliable national network across the United States. Photo: Greyhound Lines publicity department, in the Hemmings.com collection.
Greyhound Lines’ publicity emphasised the consistency and reliability of a uniform national network for business and pleasure travel across the United States. Source: Greyhound Lines.

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.

A public announcement was made in May 1972, with that month’s Design Journal reporting that “Norman Wilson, Manchester based design consultants, have been retained by the National Bus Company to design a visual identity programme for vehicles, signing, stationery and related graphics.”

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.

From the 1972 Corporate Identity Manual: Wilson and Wood’s intended National White Coach livery. The branding is purely National, with no local company fleetname, to give the sense of a single uniform national entity. Tillings Transport’s PWC 341K was the second White Coach. In the original concept presented to the NBC board, the National symbol always pointed to the right: consequently it pointed backwards on the nearside of coaches. This was replicated in the first two trial applications to vehicles, with the result that this illustration made it into the first edition of the Manual. The coach also carries a fleet number plate – in red for Eastern National’s Southend Prittlewell depot which maintained a large part of the Tilling coach fleet. This too was inconsistent with the manual’s instructions to use steel-grey lettering, transfers of which were set in Futura and supplied to each operating company. Photo: NBC, The Bus Archive.

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.

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. Consistent with the initial presentation to the NBC Board, his ‘double-N’ symbol is pointing to the rear on the nearside of the coach in this trial application of the new identity to Eastern Counties’ RE858. This was altered in the 1972 Corporate Identity Manual, which specified that it should 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.
Wilson’s first response to demands from operating companies’ General Managers that a local fleetname should be applied was perhaps deliberately obtuse. He added tiny light-grey lettering to first ‘white coach’ – Eastern Counties’ RE858 – at about the same size as the legal lettering and ‘fuel’, ‘oil’ labels, albeit in his heavier National lettering. This achieved his objective of interfering as little as possible with the uniformity of appearance which he and Freddie Wood sought – but with lettering so small as to be almost unreadable at any distance. General Managers were not placated. The picture shows Eastern Counties Bristol RE Plaxton-bodied coach RE858 at Cheltenham early in 1972. Photo: Richard Price collection.
A similar experiment was conducted with Eastern National’s Plaxton-bodied Bristol RE number 425, seen here in Southend in 1972: a tiny fleetname in grey National Alphabet lettering was placed underneath the window behind the cab. Photo: Bernard Watkin, Eastern Transport Collection Society.

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.

From the May 1972 Corporate Identity Manual, drawn up by Norman Wilson and colleagues, this diagram shows the ‘compromise’ initial NBC standard white coach livery, with small operating company fleetnames underlined in the company colour – in this case Royal Blue’s royal blue – with an overall height of 3½ inches. The vehicle used for illustration is a Plaxton Panarama Elite II. Source: NBC, The Bus Archive.
Wilson’s design of fleetnames had a neat logic, consistent with his approach to corporate identity. It combined two of the main elements of the NBC identity, using the National Alphabet for the local company’s name, and at the same height as the lettering, a block of the NBC corporate colour identified with the operating company, usually that adopted for local buses. See our previous blog article to read about Norman Wilson’s view of the key elements of corporate identity.
Royal Blue’s ECW-bodied Bristol RE number 2387 is seen in Newbury in 1973. Instead of adopting the green colour of its parent Western National, Royal Blue chose to underline its fleetname in blue – along with the National symbol and logotype, this is the only blue remaining of the company’s trademark livery. Photo: Richard Price Collection

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.

North Western’s Leyland Leopard SJA 404K is seen in Stockport in 1972 on an express service from London to Manchester via Birmingham, with a small fleetname underlined in National red.
Eastern Counties’ CB845 – a Duple-bodied Bedford VAM70 at Great Yarmouth in 1972 – illustrating both the small operating company fleetname, underlined in poppy red, and displayed in the illuminated panel; and also the challenges of fitting the key elements of the new Corporate Identity around decorative chrome bodywork. Norman Wilson’s team were supplied by coachbuilders with hundreds of coach drawings as they tried to get a reasonably uniform application of the new identity across a huge variety of vehicles. (Photo: Bernard Watkin, Eastern Transport Collection Society).
Uniquely, Black & White Motorways, having no standard bus colour, adopted black underlining for its fleetname. Here Black & White coach DDG 260C – a Duple Commander-bodied Leyland Leopard – shows off the early version of the white coach identity, in Cheltenham in 1973.
Standerwick – the coaching branch of Ribble – operated the largest coaches of the era, a fleet of thirty Bristol VRLL double-decker coaches – providing an express service between Manchester, Birmingham and London making full use of the new national motorway network. Standerwick’s fleetname is underlined in the Ribble bus colour of poppy red, in a vast expanse of white. Photo: Tony Whitehouse, NBC Publicity.
Southdown’s Leyland Leopard LCD 232F in February 1973, with a small fleetname underlined in National green, and a small ‘National’ logotype in the illuminated panel at the front. Photo: Richard Price Collection.
Eastern Counties’ Bristol MW coach LS830 shown in April 1974 in the early National livery, with local fleetname underlined in poppy red. In the bus shortage of the early 1970s, front-line express coach LS830 has been pressed into service on a local Norwich city route. The clock tower of Norwich City Hall towers over the Bell Hotel in the background. (Photo: Bernard Watkin, Eastern Transport Collection Society).
From the 1972 Corporate Identity Manual: these two illustrations show the appropriate positions of the NATIONAL logotype and the operating company fleetnames on two Bristol RE coaches with different decorative bodyside mouldings. Norman Wilson’s team worked through hundreds of coach body designs to work out how to get a consistent application of the new identity across a huge variety of different vehicles. Both United Counties and Crosville fleetnames would have been underlined with a bar in NBC green, the bus colour used by both companies. Source: NBC, The Bus Archive.

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.

By the end of 1974, Eastern Counties had rebranded coach Bedford Duple-bodied CB845 to their Mascot National subsidiary by applying the new fleetname revised standard red 3⁵/₈ inch fleetname style, but without removing the 3½ inch Eastern Counties fleetname and band in the previous style. It is seen here on a relief service in Norwich in December 1974. Photo: Bernard Watkin, Eastern Transport Collection Society.
Ron Whitehouse’s letter of November Sept 1972 specified a number of alternations to the initial white coach livery set out in the Corporate Identity Manual issued in May of that year. The revised operating company fleetnames – or ‘company identifiers’ – were enlarged to 3⁵/₈ inches, in Wilson’s National lettering, and were set in poppy red, regardless of the company colour. This gave a greater uniformity to the National coach fleet. Preserved Eastern Counties Bristol RE coach RLE747 illustrates the revised style of local company fleetname. Photo: Richard Price.
Futura was the typeface used in Norman Wilson’s initial work on the NBC corporate identity late in 1971. A thickened version of a heavy weight of Futura was used in the mock-ups shown to the NBC Board at the start of 1972. Before the early trials on vehicles in April, however, Wilson had switched to Akzidenz-Grotesk, on which he based his National lettering, using a thickened version of a heavy weight as the base and incorporating elements of Futura. For most signage, standard Akzidenz-Grotesk was adopted and is specified in the 1972 Manual. Nevertheless, Futura was retained on vehicles throughout NBC for labelling, fleet numbers and the ‘legal lettering’ to show ownership, and is still widely used for these purposes today. Though the Manual specified only ‘lettering in steel-grey’, NBC supplied all companies with standard labels and lettering transfers set in Futura. Photo: Richard Price.
In the revised white coach livery, with larger NBC-red operating company fleetnames: Western Welsh’s coach 172, a Plaxton Panorama-bodied Leyland Leopard, at subsidiary Rhondda Transport’s Porth depot in April 1978. This standard version of the NBC livery endured for more than a decade. Photo: Richard Price Collection.
Uniformity was not quite achieved with the new approach. Interpretation was often needed to reflect the different shapes and mouldings of coach bodysides. The revised instructions were ambiguous on the precise positioning of the company name ‘above the wheel arch’ and local discretion was applied, bringing the occasional reprimand from NBC headquarters. This Everall Ford R226, seen at Marble Arch in 1976, unusually has the company name almost touching the wheel arch. Photo: Richard Price Collection.

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.

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
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. The first Manual was developed during the course of 1972 and issued to local subsidiary companies in stages as Norman Wilson oversaw the development and initial roll-our, starting with the National ‘white coach’ network, followed by a new identity for local buses, and later a new standard livery for regional express ‘semi-coach’ or ‘dual purpose’ vehicles.

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 NBC HQ – was an ‘interim livery’ to help 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, with new NBC-typeface fleetnames and logos applied over the existing darker shades of red and green. Remarkably – given the later strict policing of the new corporate colours – cream NBC symbols and fleetnames were issued by NBC and 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 later 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.