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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.