Once upon a time, the ideal of livery was thoroughly uncontroversial. And, time was when livery was just that. It had nothing to do with branding, this being a recent phenomenon within the bus industry. It’s lustrous lacquers just clothed and protected the bus.
Up to the end of the 1960s, whether in the public (THC), private (BET) or municipal sectors, liveries tended to be two colours and were applied according to the vehicle bodylines. Often, this involved cream as a secondary colour. There was frequently a local pride about a livery, especially within the municipal sector.
Then came PTEs and the National Bus Company. Both swept aside everything that had gone beforehand but both were traditionally applied.
There was a sea change from the early- to mid-1980s. One of the pioneers to realise that livery could do more than protect and, in fact, was a method of projecting a brand, was an unlikely Plymouth City Transport.
In 1982, it extended the amount if cream available on its buses. Red still featured but the lower deck application was determined not by the vehicle’s bodyline but to provide a consistent area of cream between skirt and lower deck windows, irrespective of whether the vehicle was an Atlantean, National or even LH. This gave equal room for a stylised Plymouth City Bus (or Country Bus) logo and coincided with a major marketing campaign following significant services changes. Branding was born and, in Plymouth, it worked well.
As operators increasingly put minibuses on the road—an idea more about marketing than anything else—and were progressively privatised, there blossomed a raft of individual liveries once again. The difference was that a number now disregarded the vehicle’s natural bodylines altogether. Suddenly, and often not very subtly, local liveries blossomed. Badgerline, North Western, Northumbria and Midland Fox all spring to mind. They may now seem crude but they, too, swept things aside, this time the previous conceptions about how a livery should be applied.
From the early- to mid-1990s, during the era of the Big Five, liveries tended to become all too predictable. Stagecoach stripes had already cocked a snook at tradition while retaining a relatively conventional base colour. As more locally managed businesses sold to Stagecoach, so the “stripes” spread. Towards the end of the decade, both Arriva and First followed in the Stagecoach corporate footsteps, though First had a number of inconsistencies with its early Barbie. Go Ahead, though, did not; it preferred local variations. Meanwhile, what was left of the former NBC at Trent Barton sang a rainbow song while East Yorkshire remained true to tradition.
The latter part of the decade saw First regress to the 1980s with its pastels, Arriva lose much of its cream and Stagecoach had already gone swirly. A number of operators that were relatively traditional in their designs have progressively changed to Stenning or Stenningesk designs, still largely ignoring the vehicle’s bodylines and favouring flowing & sweeping curves and coach lines. One such is Wilts & Dorset.
And then along came Ipswich Buses.