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Applying the identity Buses East Midland Green Line Mansfield District NBC50 Norman Wilson Trent West Riding Yorkshire Traction Yorkshire Woollen

A modernist summer on the buses

Fifty years ago, in August 1972, the new identity was being rolled out across England and Wales

It’s a miserable week of weather at the start of August, with low temperatures across Britain and the odd spell of torrential rain. In depots across England and Wales, managers, engineers are already embroiled in the business of changing their vehicles over from their long-established, traditional colours to the new Corporate Identity.

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.

Since instructions and diagrams were sent to the local operating companies in June, the first pages of the new Corporate Identity Manual have been supplemented with detailed instructions on how to apply the new liveries, paint specifications and the precise configuration of the new symbol and company names. On 11 August, Ron Whitehouse, Group Public Relations Officer, writes to the General Managers of the 40 or so subsidiary companies issuing additional pages for the manual, the first in a series of drawings showing how the new identity should be applied, including the precise position of the new symbol and lettering, across a range of typical vehicles from venerable double-deckers to the brand new single-deck Leyland National, designed and manufactured as a joint venture between NBC and Leyland Vehicles.

Coaches are the priority as NBC seeks to capitalise on the growing recognition of the new ‘white coach’ express network. For buses, each company has been encouraged to paint a number of vehicles as soon as possible to make sure there is momentum behind a public campaign planned for the Autumn.

Local operating companies have also been encouraged to apply the identity in interim form, applying the new symbol and distinctive lettering to buses their traditional liveries so that it will gain recognition before proper repainting can be done.

Local companies across England and Wales applied the new identity following the precise layout specified in the Corporate Identity Manual, the first loose-leaf pages of which appeared in June 1972, with additional detailed drawings and instructions following over the following weeks for companies to add in to their copy of the Manual. Yorkshire Woolen’s Fleetline 693 appears in the new identity after a repaint. The ‘Yorkshire’ company name at the front is a local addition, and not part of the NBC’s standard specification. Photo and copyright: I T Langhorn.

By and large it’s going well. Coaches are being repainted into white at a rapid rate, while buses are reappearing in poppy red and leaf green as they complete routine overhauls. But there are a few areas which need attention.

First, both Norman Wilson, the design consultant responsible for the new identity, and the NBC’s HQ staff responsible for implementing it, are dissatisfied with the results of the ‘interim application’ using existing liveries and in many cases, cream-coloured lettering to match the old-style lining on buses. Whitehouse’s letter of 11 August suggests that companies “may find it economical to avoid the interim stage of ‘cream’ transfers and apply ‘white’ transfers immediately… For those fleets with waists or intermediate bands of cream, white transfer can be applied and the band painted white immediately without waiting for a total re-paint. For complicated liveries, eg cream window mouldings; more than one intermediate band, etc, this suggestion will not be practical.”

Preparing a bulk order of transfers of the monochrome NBC symbol and company names in Wilson’s new National lettering, Whitehouse asks General Managers to let him know how many white and how many cream transfers they will need for each fleets. An effect of this instruction is that only a few companies adopt the interim cream version of the new identity.

The application of the Bauhaus-inspired NBC symbol and lettering in traditional cream to match the existing liveries blunted the modernising intent of the corporate identity, and was short-lived. Devon General’s modern NBC symbol and fleetnames have been applied in cream to the traditional Exeter Corporation colours of Leyland Titan PD2 no 236, seen in Exeter in 1973.. Picture: Richard Price Collection.

Second, the carefully-specified coach and bus liveries omit a whole category of vehicle, and across NBC company chief engineers are puzzled: Yorkshire Traction’s chief engineer exclaims on 8 August that “there appears to be a gap, in that we do not know what livery to paint our semi-coaches… and I have no instructions on this point.”

For express and tour services, and for local hire, the new National white coach livery is to be used. For local buses, it’s all-over red or green with white bands, depending on ‘the company’s tradition’. But the corporate identity does not yet cover the company’s many ‘semi-coach’ or ‘dual-purpose’ coaches and buses Equipped with coach seats, for many NBC subsidies these provide some of their higher-profile, higher-profit services such as regional express routes or express commuter services on regional routes into London, notably London Country’s Green Line routes.

Internal memos from Yorkshire Traction suggest using National white but substituting the local company’s name in Wilson’s new lettering for the ‘NATIONAL’ brand. “To my mind this is an advantage”, he argues, “as we could without too much trouble change vehicles into and out of national livery without a complete repaint.” In a letter to NBC HQ on 17 August, East Midland’s General Manager highlights the problem that “our… semi-coaches have to alternate on stage-carriage [bus] work because they are vehicles receiving bus grant… There is quite a variety of colour styles spread over the years, particularly with coaches … and the only suggestion I can make is that they are painted white with a green band” to differentiate them from ‘normal’ buses. “The semi-coaches will have to be done on a similar basis, although the quantity of green will be greater.”

From the archives: on 17 August 1972, the East Midland General Manager writes on the ‘touchy subject’ of changing company colours as part of adopting the NBC identity. Source: The Bus Archive.

There’s also the question of what to do where the local company’s ‘traditional’ colour isn’t green or red – maroon, say, or blue. Maroon (or ‘dark red’) is generally replaced with NBC poppy red. But the joint companies of East Midland and Mansfield District – using maroon and green respectively – come under pressure to adopt the standard NBC green livery for all of their buses. Their General Manager responds to D Graham at NBC HQ on 17 August relenting: “I confirm my agreement to both Companies adopting the National green colour but, of course, the subject is a very touchy one as far as East Midland staff are concerned.” There are practical issues to deal with too: “I will have to advise the Chesterfield Corporation of the colour change because their vehicles are green also.” And moreover: “It will have to be appreciated that the East Midland vehicles will look a little bit odd for some time to come, because the National green over the maroon will not give the correct shade of green. This problem, however, will be common to a large number of companies and, obviously, the position will be right in the long run.”

The new corporate identity forces some compromises – including the adoption of standard leaf green to replace East Midland’s previous maroon or dark red, reflecting its integration with its sister company Mansfield District. Picture: Martyn Cummins and Richard Price.

To complicate things further, although the company is pressing ahead with the roll-out of the white coach – but “the re-painting of any vehicles cannot be properly undertaken immediately because… the only transfers we have are 50 East Midland suitable for coaches painted in the full National specification, but these have the red line under the Company’s name, whereas, in fact, we are proposing to adopt the National green.”

Having taken the decision to switch company colour from red to green in August 1972, East Midland found itself stuck with a large number of transfers for its coaches with Norman Wilson’s National lettering underlined in red, temporarily halting its roll-out of the new National identity.

Anxieties and practical challenges over which colours to adopt will continue over the coming months. The next blog will look at why, for some reason, NBC HQ turns out to be less than decisive when it comes to the use of National blue.

Read more about how the modernist-inspired design of the NBC identity was shaped by Norman Wilson’s design influences, combining 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.

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/

Sincere thanks to The Bus Archive for providing access to the NBC archive and the original papers on which this blog is based.

Look out for the forthcoming article in the modernist magazine by Richard Price looking at the career and impact of Norman Wilson, the graphic designer and typographer responsible for the NBC corporate identity,

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Advertising and publicity Applying the identity Buses Coaches Green Line London Country

The counties of London Country

The NBC Corporate Identity came as a surprise to London Country, in more ways than one.

London Country joined the National Bus Company from London Transport (LT) on 1 January 1970, forming NBC’s biggest subsidiary. On its departure from LT the company introduced its own new identity. Buses and coaches took on a new version of LT’s country-area green livery and a new fleet name. LT’s iconic roundel and Johnston lettering were replaced by a new symbol, nicknamed the ‘flying polo’, representing the shape of the new business’s operating area, which was effectively a ring around London itself. London Country had put a lot of effort into rebranding its services, publicity and buildings across the large part of the south-east of England that the company served.

National Bus Company chair Freddie Wood – instigator of the NBC corporate identity ­- visits London Country’s Reigate depot in April 1972, with an array of vehicles in London Country’s own dark-green livery in the background. Photo: Tony Whitehead, NBC.
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London Country’s short-lived ‘flying polo’ logo, in use from 1970 to 1972.
London Country’s post-LT local bus livery. National Bus Company

Having invested heavily in the new company brand there was frustration at the requirement, after just two years, to replace it wholesale with the new NBC corporate identity in 1972. “Another change so soon was not really welcomed, particularly as the time it took to repaint the fleet meant that several liveries were being carried at the same time” recalls Bernard Davis, who at the time was Commercial Manager responsible for publicity and public relations in the Traffic Department, and is now a volunteer at the Bus Archive. Bernard was at the centre of both phases of rebranding: “It meant that things looked messy, as well as giving the impression that we didn’t know what we were doing. All this at a time when reliability was declining because of staff shortages and the economic crisis of the 1970s.”

Some lamented the end of London Country’s short-lived independent identity. As a contributor to the London Country staff magazine, Bernard himself captured the sense of disappointment – a move which was frowned upon at the time by NBC headquarters and senior management.

Symbolic?  Bernard Davis’ cartoon depicting the demise of London Country’s independent identity – frowned upon by NBC management at the time.  London Country Magazine, Christmas 1972 edition. Source: Bernard Davis
A green bus with a crane on top

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A London Country bus in the original NBC green livery adopted in 1972: AEC Swift DPD460J at Berkhamsted August 1974. Photo: I T Langhorn. 
A classic London bus in NBC’s corporate green: former London Transport Routemaster coach RMC1480, converted for use on local stage services, on the outskirts of Dartford in the early 1970s.  Richard Price Collection.

The adoption of a new livery was the biggest and most striking change. The previous dark London Transport country-area green and the green/yellow London Country identity was replaced by the much lighter shade of National green, with white NBC symbol, fleetnames and relief stripe. Out went the familiar London Transport Johnston typeface, replaced on vehicles by Norman Wilson’s chunky modern National lettering with detailed labelling in Futura. This was not, in Bernard’s view, an improvement. “The shade of green chosen seemed to be very insipid compared with the older colour. Moreover it faded very badly over time, giving an inconsistent pale blue-green shade. This eventually improved as better-quality paints were sourced by NBC.”

In the revised post-1976 bus livery, with the two-colour version of the NBC symbol. AEC Swift BPH 122H waits at Leatherhead in September 1977. Richard Price Collection
A touch of modernist design gave a new lease of life to many of NBC’s older vehicles. The adoption of leaf green was unpopular in many parts of the industry, particularly in the London area where it replaced London Transport’s long-established country-area dark green. It generally had its intended effect of giving even the oldest vehicles a modern(ist) look and projecting a progressive, confident image to users. Immaculately-preserved RT, RT604, new in July 1948 and seen here at a rally in Brighton, illustrates the effect well. Picture: Michael Ellis, Purley Transport Preservation Group
London Country’s ‘company identifier’, as the Manual described fleetnames, set in Norman Wilson’s National lettering. RT604 carried the revised NBC livery for a year before it was withdrawn and preserved in 1977. Photo: Michael Ellis.

There was a significant gap in the early thinking on the new NBC identity. “At first, the importance of regional long-distance coaches was not understood by NBC and its designers” Bernard recalls. “’Just paint them green’ they said. But regional coaches needed to be distinguished from local bus services – they were a very different proposition for customers.” The need for a distinctive appearance for what NBC called ‘semi-coach’ or ‘dual-purpose’ livery was largely overlooked until later in 1972 – well into the roll-out of the new coach and bus liveries. Indeed, the use of those terms – rather than ‘regional coach’ – perhaps reveals a lack of appreciation of the importance of regional express services both for customers and commercially.

For London Country, its Green Line coaches represented a significant part of the business. The company lobbied hard for an approach which differentiated these services. There were increasingly anxious requests for guidance on what to do from several NBC operating companies through 1972, as instructions emanated from headquarters to accelerate the roll-out of the new liveries in all-over white, green or red – but without acknowledging the regional coach category.

A group of buses parked next to each other

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With its Green Line network, regional express services represented a large and important part of London Country’s businesses. Along with other operators. The company was instrumental in pressing NBC to develop a colour scheme to distinguish these services from normal stage bus routes. NBC called this its ‘dual purpose’ livery, though in many cases the vehicles used, equipped with coach seating, were dedicated to express services and not dual purpose at all. In February 1973, soon after the new livery was adopted, newly-repainted Green Line AEC Reliance CUV65C is seen at Aldgate on route 723. Richard Price Collection

Some companies proposed to use the white livery with a thin mid-height band in red or green; or to use all-over white with the local operating company name. London Country was influential in the development of the approach eventually adopted by NBC – with ‘semi-coaches’ using a variant of the local bus livery, but with the upper half painted white above a lower half in National green or red – and in London Country’s case, Green Line branding.

A London Country Merlin single-decker in NBC green with AEC Reliance coach in a version of London Country’s regional coach livery, at Dorking bus station in June 1979. The bus station’s ‘winged polo’ sign – part of London Country’s 1970 identity – has been altered to incorporate the NBC symbol. Photo: Jeff Jones.

In the late 1970s, London Country was influential in a further re-branding, for a re-launch of its Green Line coach network. The company got special dispensation from NBC headquarters for a new regional coach livery – a white coach with a broad green band incorporating the red and blue National symbol on a white background, and Green Line branding in large white National Alphabet lettering. Similar designs for regional coach services were later adopted by other NBC subsidiaries – for example, Eastern Counties’ ‘Eastline’ network in the early 1980s.

Green Line’s LNC45 in the NBC regional coach/dual purpose livery at Ilford in 1974. Tony Whitehead/National Bus Company.
An updated version of Green Line’s regional coach livery: Leyland Tiger WPH 130Y in 1982. Richard Price Collection.

As the manager responsible for producing all of the company’s publicity material, Bernard found the corporate identity’s guidelines on publicity helpful. “The new identity – the symbol, typefaces and so on – was helpful in many ways as it provided a good framework for our own creativity. NBC, like the Tilling Group before it, had a central publicity department in the 1970s which was there to help companies with material and design, but they never dictated what was used. At the time I poked fun at the new concept, but I embraced its value in virtually everything we produced.”

London Country timetables using local artwork to an NBC design template, 1978.

NBC produced a catalogue of standard advertisements and graphics each year which could be used locally in press, leaflets and bus-side advertisements, but operating companies were free to adapt them for local circumstances. “There was no real pressure or constraint on local publicity” Bernard recalls. “While the use of advertising for National services was totally standardised, there were few rules for local advertising – other than the use of the NBC symbol and typeface for company names, and a few specific rules such as the size and format of local bus timetables.

Pages from the NBC Group Publicity catalogue for 1974-75, showing various sizes of an advertising poster using designer Tom Eckersley’s fine ‘relax by bus’ illustration. The poster uses Helvetica, rather than Norman Wilson’s preferred Akzidenz-Grotesk, which was specified in the manual for use on signage. Photo: Richard Price/Bus Archive

Bernard was party to a strange incident at the very start of the roll-out of the new identity. As for all NBC companies, photographic negatives of the NBC symbol and the company’s fleetname in the new National lettering were sent to London Country, so that they could be faithfully produced on stationary, publicity and signage without anomalies. (The vehicle transfers were supplied centrally by NBC for the same reason.)  “Ours arrived, and I had to get straight on the phone to NBC headquarters.” Bernard remembers.  “I rang up and asked if they had decided to rename the company.”  In slight disbelief, Bernard found that the negatives he has been sent for use across the entire company read not ‘London Country’ – but ‘London Counties’.  A few moments of horror followed at the other end of the telephone line. After rapid consultation, the instruction from NBC headquarters was: “Destroy it!”.  Happily for posterity, this stern instruction somehow slipped Bernard’s mind, and the negative is still in his possession.  For this project – and for the first time in nearly 50 years – Bernard used the negative as intended to give a faithful reproduction of an exceptionally short-lived official NBC fleetname: LONDON COUNTIES. 

‘London Counties’ company identifier, from the original negative mistakenly issued by NBC headquarters in 1972 for London Country’s use. Source: Bernard Davis.

Many thanks to Bernard Davies for talking to us about his experiences at London Country and for sharing items from his collection; to the Bus Archive for access to the NBC publicity catalogues and to Michael Ellis of the Purley Transport Preservation Group and John Atkinson, for the photographs of RT604.