Friday, 23 November 2007

7+1 UK Bus People

Following yesterday's post on 20 contemporary bus industry figures, we today chose 7+1 individuals whose contribution to the bus industry has been highly regarded. Like yesterday's, we've tried to encompass the diversity of the whole industry but we realise we can easily be accused of subjectivity. If you feel that this is the case, you know what to do—place your comment in the box provided...

1. Sir J Frederick Heaton
We tend to think of modern bus managers as sound business people. Let us not forget some of the industry’s founding fathers, equally tenacious. It’s difficult to know who to include but one should definitely be Sir J Fredrick Heaton. It was Heaton who transformed a family business called Tilling into a large, efficient and profitable one. He was less concerned with the social side of transport and was thus first and foremost a purposeful businessman—perhaps like today’s busmen? He oversaw the rapid expansion of his pre-1930 businesses. He forged links with rather than fought against rival BET. He tussled in a most astute way with the railways, avoiding the worst of what might have been a scarring contest and, when the time was ripe, sold to the British Transport Commission.

2. John F Parke
Who else in the industry has a library and archive named after him? Erstwhile editor of Buses Illustrated & Buses 1965-1980 and a standalone author, who can forget his prolific written contribution to the modern bus world of the changing and difficult sixties and seventies? Writing in a style that may not always now be considered particularly readable, Parke nevertheless weaved together the complex threads of a very different industry, bringing the resultant tapestry to life.

3. Brian Souter
Of all the modern bus entrepreneurs, it is Souter who has caught the imagination of the deregulated and privatised era. Unlike his contemporaries, Souter had no grounding within the regulated, publicly owned & operated industry. Yet, he saw the opportunities of both the 1981 and 1985 Transport Acts, first competing on Anglo-Scottish expresses and then by a series of competitive moves and early National Bus subsidiary acquisitions, steered his Stagecoach business to the stock exchange. Often outspoken, Souter nevertheless has a natural instinct for passenger growth and many of his risks have born fruit. He is also now involved with manufacturing through his interests with Alexander Dennis/Plaxton.

4. Harry Blundred
Not just another National Bus Company manager who steered his company to privatisation (and subsequently forming a minor group of companies), Blundred at the helm of the then nationalised Devon General was credited as the first person to operate large scale urban minibuses, in Exeter. His marketing revolution swept the nation, putting bus services on the map in a way like nothing else since the 1920s. Innovation 1980s style took the minibus out of isolated irregular rural markets and placed it centre stage in our cities, with considerable passenger growth.

5. Caroline Cahm
It was never going to be easy giving the ordinary, often disenfranchised passenger a voice, let alone one within a deregulated industry but Caroline Cahm’s 1985 National Federation of Bus Users has been more than modestly successful. For over 20 years Cahm has worked voluntarily to promote the interests of local passengers in Britain. She famously created the ‘Bus Surgery’, something no operating subsidiary can afford to ignore, and with the CPT the Bus Appeals Body. And over the years Cahm, in promoting good service, has proved to be more than a match for senior bus industry leaders.

6. Sir Frederick Wood
As Chairman of the National Bus Company from 1972 to 1978, it was plain Mr Wood whose foresight amalgamated the Group’s disparate long-distance coaching activities under the unified National Express brand. He was impressed by the unity of North America’s Greyhound system and set about transforming individual subsidiaries and coaching pools into a truly national brand, using white coaches with a strong red and blue NATIONAL name. This he did in a remarkably short time. At its launch 35 years ago, who’d’ve thought that National Express would be the longest lasting, most enduring and most significant British transport brand ever and that it would grow into a major British & continental coach, bus and rail group. And who'd've thought Greyhound would be owned by a British transport group.

7. Raymond Stenning
Stenning’s contribution to bus industry marketing, especially liveries, is legendary. Responsible for modern Arriva, Stagecoach and First designs, he’s extended his flair to just about every cant rail, coving and every other panel on your typical bus. Not the first to sweep aside traditional liveries, lines, beadings and mouldings, he’s certainly been the most prolific and talented. Recent innovations include stunning graphics, witty statements as well as sweeping liveries. He famously “creates desire”. Trent Barton in Derby and Spot-on in Blackburn are among the latest. He even rebranded the NFBU as Bus Users UK.

7+1 Nicholas Ridley
This architect of the modern deregulated and privatised bus world is reputed as not really knowing that much of the industry. It’s alleged he once asked drivers in Newcastle whether they owned their own buses. This aside, the late Nicholas Ridley MP’s belief in market economics and the subsequent Transport Act 1985 saw his single handed victory against the many who wished for the 1930s status quo. Life has never been the same since.


cogidubnus said...

I'm sorry but I can't quite place Nicholas Ridley on that esteemed pedestal you've erected...Make no mistake - the deregulation and privatisation of the industry went ahead because the much-maligned Mrs Thatcher had a vision...not because this poor sheep farted...

To say he was totally naive of the industry is to pay him a compliment...and more worriesome he didn't seem to improve as he went along...In fact towards the end he was just plain perverse (or daft)...look for example at the enforced divesting of Southdown Portsmouth (against the advice of the OFT, the MMC and his own civil servants) which has ultimately set up First as far nearer a monopoly than Southdown ever were...then three days later he was gone...(ill health/family blah blah etc)...

The truth is he was a borderline nutter who eventually went quietly gaga and was quietly dropped so he couldn't cause further embarassment...

Nor can I quite bring myself to place Harry Blundred on the same level as the rest...I don't think he was ever quite the big-time player...

I knew Harry...he was ultimately a no-bullshit wheeler-dealer and his empire grew through constant buying and selling...and continued in turn through inertia, failed marriage, boredom etc into early retirement ... something he'd actually been considering how to achieve as far back as 1975...

The minibus initiative was actually an NBC study dating from the late 70s/early 80s, when all companies were directed to perform feasibility studies in suitable urban areas...

The others are fair enough I suppose, so two "misses" as far as I'm concerned...what about Peter Huntley who certainly seems to be achieving all the things he promised "oop north"? Or one of the founding fathers like Crossley...or (with a southern bias)one of the Cannon/McKenzie partnership..

Or even someone like Basil Williams of Hants and Sussex (Southern Motorways/Glider and Blue et al), who despite finishing, sadly, with nothing was a wonderful example of the characters the pioneer age of this industry the end he was the perfect chivalrous gentlemen in all fields EXCEPT pure business (where he was a bastard and a thorn in the side of most larger businesses in his area)...

Or nearer your own area, Mr Toop perhaps?

busing / omnibuses said...

We’re very grateful for one of Cogidubnus's most outstanding comments.

The “Plus Ones” have each tended to be a little off-beat and it’s true to say that there was an element of this in Nicholas Ridley’s appearance here—but there was also a serious side in that no matter anyone’s personal views of the man, it was Ridley’s drive (whether through ignorance or not) that has us where we are today. I suppose that if he or any of us at the time had the foresight to see which way the industry would head after 10 years of deregulation, his decision about Stagecoach & Portsmouth might have been different. The wonders of hindsight, perhaps?

Compared to the Lockheads and Souters, Blundred was a minor player and even though most if not all NBC subsidiaries grudgingly put together plans for minibuses, it was Blundred alone who seized the opportunity. And it was to Exeter that a flood of managers came to see for themselves what initially they didn’t want to believe. For better or worse, without Blundred and without Exeter, the industry would’ve remained largely sceptical about the marketing revolution that was the 16-seat minibus. My own recollection is that the NBC feasibility studies diktat came not in the late 70s/early 80s but later than that—around 1983/4.

As for the founding fathers, I could so easily have included Lord Ashfield, Messrs Garcke or Crosland-Taylor or my own favourite John Watts. Not overly sure whether R W Toop fits into this list.

cogidubnus said...

Well I thought it might make you smile :-)

g1508k6a said...

I, too, knew Harry Blundred, and worked with him on a number of his projects.
The secret behind the minibuses (that he alone identified) was that the drivers would make or break the product. So the first minibus drivers - in Exeter - were all recruited from local shops and supermarkets. They had done all the customer training that the bus industry had ignored at its cost. Teaching them to drive an oversized car was no great problem.
They were cheaper to employ than conventional drivers - but even so their minibus driver's wage was a lot more than the supermarkets were paying.
His minibuses became early smoke-free zones, courtesy of the new drivers. It led to rows between the minibus crews and the established drivers eventually allowed onto the buses. The mini drivers objected to the smoking which went on surreptitiously, just as they had in conventional buses, and it eventually led to some sackings.
The other thing that he did was allocate the drivers to specific routes so that they quickly built up a rapport with regular customers, who then sold the message about the new buses to their neighbours. It worked.
The nearest you get to that these days is on the Fastrack routes between Dartford and Gravesend. But as the network is expanded there will be problems randomly taking conventional service drivers and putting them on to image routes. The B route drivers were handpicked, and trained, for the services. The A route drivers were from the conventional network, and the change is apparent to anyone who uses the buses.. just as with Harry's minibuses.
Oh, and the other similarity about the successful Fastrack services and the Blundred minibuses? - he increased the frequency so that if you missed one, you knew there was another in a couple of minutes.