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Alder Valley Applying the identity Bristol Crosville Devon General East Kent East Midlands Hants & Dorset London Country Northern Potteries / PMT Ribble Southern Vectis Trent Welsh National West Riding Western National Yorkshire Traction

Innovating at the edges: the corporate identity and service vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Applying the identity Gateshead Northern Sunderland District Tynemouth Tyneside Venture

Poppy yellow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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