Manchester Buses - A Retrospective - Part Four

Manchester Buses - A Retrospective - Part Four

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Ralph Bennett didn't have far to travel for his interview. As General Manager at Bolton he had been at the forefront of turning the ugly duckling Atlantean if not into a swan, at least into something that looked pleasing - and a great deal more advanced than Manchester's Orion style vehicles - and this may well have helped sway his appointment.

His first job on taking over was to replace the 1953 batch of Royal Tigers and, with one man operation in mind, ordered 30 Leyland Panthers - a much more robust vehicle than the Manchester inspired Panther Cub.

In June 1965 he exchanged two of his newly delivered Atlanteans for two from his old employer and the results of the month long exchange were carefully examined, particularly the comments of crews and passengers. We'll look at the results later.

In the meantime he started discussions with Ashton and A E Mayne to abandon the trolleybus system, Mayne's interest being the various agreements on workings on Ashton New Rd.

He also kept a close eye on the development of one man operation. With labour costs accounting for 65% of the Department's costs it was essential that one man operation of double deckers be speedily adopted to complement the success of the growing range of single deck, one man services.

Parliament had allowed one man operation of double deckers with the top deck closed off - used experimentally by some fleets on services during the day where loads were light but where a double decker was required during rush hours - but Manchester didn't dabble in that particular pond and on July 1st 1966 Parliament, under pressure from the industry, agreed to unrestricted one man double decker operation, subject to the agreement of local Traffic Commissioners on a route by route basis.

The City Council agreed to convert in August 1966 and on August 14th Fleetlines 4741-4760 were given Setright ticket machines and a driver cash box and set to work on route #66 and #148. It was a full 12 months before the unions agreed to general one man operation - during which time experiments with various methods of fare collection were made and applications were approved by the Traffic Commissioners.

The trolleybus system was eventually abandoned, with little fanfare and even less regret, on December 30th 1966. Arriving that month were 3 Bedford VAL coaches with Plaxton Panorama bodies and Leyland 0/400 engines to start replacing the special half deck airport buses dating from the 1950s. Bought "off the shelf" from a dealer, they were finished in overall white with turquoise blue trim and were numbered 201/203/205.

202/204/206 arrived in January 1967. All were licensed for 52 seats though they normally were fitted with 47, 203 could be reduced to 45 seats and fitted with tables amidships for executive work. In a seemingly backward step, all had crash gearboxes though 201/203 had two speed rear axles and were used for private hire when necessary.

The departure of A F Neal, the closing of the trolleybus system and one man double decker operation all flagged changes which were to define both the look and experience of bus operation and travel in Manchester in a way not seen since the introduction of the motorbus - and if those changes were remarkable the next three years could only be described as revolutionary.

Ralph Bennett's first buses were the 36 foot long dual doorway Leyland Panthers which embodied much of his philosophy for one man operation. Though not the definitive product, in as much as they lacked a second deck, the vehicles were equipped with slot machines, a double width entrance and centre exit to reduce time at bus stops, a translucent panel in the centre of the bus to brighten the vehicle, a three track number display - the first vehicles in the fleet so equipped - and, following the way he had brightened the dull maroon and cream livery at Bolton, a new cream and red colour scheme - basically cream with a broad red band from just above the windows down to the top of the wheel arches.

The Department's name was changed to Manchester City Transport - leading to the inevitable jokes about the team having to travel in United's colours.

Numbered 81-110, they were plagued from the start. Whilst better looking than their contemporaries delivered by the body makers (MCW) to Liverpool, they were rather ugly, especially their frontal appearance. They were all delivered during May 1967 apart from 100 which was burnt out in a fire at MCW's Elmdon works and was not replaced. 109 and 110 had air suspension which at least provided a better ride than the air suspension Atlanteans 8 years earlier.

The buses went into service on both one man and two man operated services. In July 1967 the Department's fare structure was changed to a simple three level basis, which could be paid in 3d or 6d coins where one man operated buses with slot machines were used. This led to the Panthers being fitted with turnstiles linked to the slot machines relieving the driver of most of the problems of fare collection.

This was seen as "the" answer to one man operation and it was decided that future double deckers would be so fitted but the experiment failed on the reliability of the turnstiles which caused a number of accidents and injuries to passengers and the idea was rapidly abandoned at no little cost. The Department went on to various farebox experiments which are beyond the scope of this article.

The Panthers were excellent crowd shifters, though when packed with 40 seated and 20 standee passengers on peak hour extras from the city centre, were no fun to ride on. The 36 foot long bodies quickly accumulated many lower panel dents and scratches and the cream quickly yellowed and looked dirty - which had implications for the next batch of double deckers. The batch passed to SELNEC which renumbered them and got rid of them all by 1974.

In October 1965 Ralph Bennett presented a report to the Transport Committee which incorporated the findings of the passenger and employee survey during the loan of the two Bolton Atlanteans earlier that year. His experience with a small batch of Liverpool style MCW bodies on Atlanteans led to him working closely with East Lancashire Coachbuilders at Blackburn to produce a very definitive "Bolton" Atlantean which was attractive, passenger friendly and - as the industrial designers who Bennett had employed to help design the vehicles said - were an undisguised box.

The Bolton "boxes" enhanced by his redesign of the colour scheme, translucent roof panels and filling in of the sides above the rear engine were a major advance in body design but were only produced in small numbers, just 24 having been delivered by the time he left for Manchester and a further 60 being delivered up until Bolton's bus operation being absorbed into SELNEC in 1969.

His report to the Transport Committee dealt with the bodies for 96 vehicles to cover the period between December 1966 and April 1968. The order was to be split evenly between Atlanteans and Fleetlines and the Committee approved the inclusion of such revolutionary ideas a translucent upper deck roof, an additional entrance step to provide a flatter floor, dual width centre exit, increased luggage space, the cut out above the engine to be filled in, power steering, a tighter spiral staircase and keeping curved panels to a minimum.

The "box" was now to be built on a revised and bigger scale. Park Royal, who had not built double deckers for either Manchester or Bolton, were given the order and they worked under the guidance of the Department's own in house industrial designer, Ken Mortimer.

Designed from the outset for one man operation the buses were to seat 73 with room for 23 standees - giving a capacity of 96, for which a strengthened floor was needed. The stairs, still rearward ascending, were placed in the centre of the bus opposite the exit door. Large side windows, with hopper vents in all but the offside third window which was over the stair head, a large curved windscreen with an excellent view of the road and a new arrangement of the colour scheme with a red roof, cream below the roofline to the level of the upper deck floor, red to the top of the wheel arch and cream again to the bottom of the lower panels made for a stunningly different looking vehicle.

The Manchester City Transport titles were applied in three lines over the nearside front wheel arch, the city coat of arms was placed centrally under the second nearside window whilst, on the offside, only the coat of arms appeared, placed centrally on the blank panel in the window line which covered the central staircase.

Inside a red, grey and white scheme and extensive use of plastics gave an air of light modernity and durability. A lower deck nearside emergency window was provided in addition to the regulation offside door.

Whilst cream and red had been specified in the order, experience with the Panthers had shown the cream became shabby very quickly so white - a throwback to the days of the Streamliners - was specified, apart from on five vehicles which were demonstrated alongside the white and red buses and passengers were given the chance to comment. As a result the cream vehicles were re-sprayed white within six weeks of entering service.

The buses should have been numbered 3901-3948 and 4801-4848 and matching registrations were ordered in the HVM xxxF block but it became apparent that the design could become a new "Standard" so, with the trolleybuses and Crossleys all out of service by the delivery date, the Leylands became 1001-1048 and the Daimlers 2001-2048. When the decision was made it was too late to change the registrations so, for the first time for many years, they did not match the fleet numbers.

As the first purpose designed one man double deckers the handover of the first vehicle, Atlantean 1001, attracted much publicity when it was made by Sir Donald Stokes, Chairman of Leyland Motors on February 19 1968 at the Leyland factory. The following two Saturdays saw public demonstrations of the Atlanteans, at the first of which the design was officially named "Mancunian". It was also noted that the coat of arms had also been placed on the front of the bus on the white panel below the centre of the windscreen.

The batch was completed by the end of May, some vehicles being delivered out of sequence. 1024 had a public address and passenger counting system fitted, 1036 had a fully automatic gearbox.

Whilst the outward appearance and design concept for one man operation was revolutionary, underneath the vehicles were technically Leyland PDR1/1 without the drop centre rear axle and, 0.680 engine apart, no great advance on the original 1959 batch. The design changes that finally resolved most of the Atlantean's technical problems were not to appear on Manchester's streets until the SELNEC "Standard" appeared on the new AN68 chassis.

After driver training and the accumulation of enough vehicles to fully convert the routes, the buses entered service on April 1 1968 on the #19 from Victoria to Reddish and the #169/170 from Droylesden to West Didsbury.

1004 had, the previous week, been used on the #50 to test the operation in service. In August 1968 route #50 became a Mancunian operation.

In the meantime the Fleetlines were delivered as a batch in June 1968 - all but 2048 which was held back by Park Royal. 2001 had a passenger counter and public address system - in fact all ninety six Mancunians were wired for the systems but the minimal use of the equipment on the buses fully fitted led to the abandonment of the idea. All the buses were fitted with driver periscopes - as legislation demanded - to allow a view of the top deck.

Both Atlanteans and Fleetlines were 30 foot 10 inches long and ran down Market St! They were soon to be followed by something longer - previous Chief Constables, faced with the length and one man operation were observed, according to long serving jokers at Devonshire St, rotating in their last resting places!

As with any new design there were problems. The large area of glass made the cabs cold in winter and powerful heaters had to be fitted. Extra screens and curtains were fitted to eradicate reflections but didn't solve the problem. The engine corner covers worked loose, were prone to damage and were one of the few parts of the design that rattled. This was solved by the design of a new catch. The handrails on the centre exits, whilst helpful to the elderly, were held onto on more than one occasion by a passenger trying to stop the bus and board in the centre as the bus moved off. They were deleted.

Both Leylands and Daimlers had problems due to heavy electrical loading - the Leylands got bigger alternators whilst the Fleetlines, due to the low revving Gardner engines, could only be rectified by introducing heavier duty batteries and overnight charging.

2048 was exhibited by Park Royal at the 1968 Commercial Motor Show complete with a British Leyland badge on the lower front panel, below the coat of arms, Daimler having been absorbed into the group earlier in the year. Two weeks later it was on show in Manchester with a new style Daimler badge in its place, the BL badge having been moved to above the destination box. It was the only Mancunian with any manufacturer's front badgeing.

I was at the 1968 Commercial Motor Show and a Sheffield Atlantean was also on show on the Park Royal stand. This was a radical development of a standard Park Royal design, again with centre stair case and centre exit, equipped for one man operation and seating 69.

After the show it accompanied 2048 to Manchester where they were joined by a Newcastle 70 seat Alexander bodied Atlantean, to standard Alexander pattern apart from Newcastle's requirement for a nearside staircase. Again the bus had a centre exit and was equipped for one man operation.

The buses were exhibited in Piccadilly on October 26th and all ran in service on the #19 during the following week. Passengers were asked for their opinions but this, the last use of external demonstrators by MCTD, was hardly anything more than a bit of window dressing and a chance for civic pride. 2048 just looked so much more up to date than the other two vehicles. The Manchester passenger was obviously getting the best in the world!

Whilst 2048 was a major talking point at the show, the man who generated its design also occupied many conversations. Ralph Bennett had decided to move on and in September 1968 was appointed as Chief Executive of London Transport Buses. He took much of the Mancunian design and incorporated it into the Fleetlines that were to become London's first foray into one man operation - an adventure fraught with problems and a great deal of acrimony between the operator, its crews and the travelling public, let alone between LT and British Leyland.

Whilst Manchester eventually saw four hundred and seventy two Mancunians placed in service, London placed no less than two thousand six hundred and forty six Fleetlines, rather cheekily dubbed "Londoners", on the road from January 1971 - all with either Park Royal or MCW bodies - all showing distinct Bennett/Mancunian features. The sad demise of these vehicles started with the first non-accident withdrawal in February 1979 and by 1983 most had gone - a few surviving as trainers and contract work vehicles which were brought together for a low cost LT operation in Kingston upon Thames in 1987. In comparison the last Mancunian wasn't withdrawn until Daimler Fleetline 2292 was withdrawn on December 13 1984, being the last MCTD ordered bus to run in service.

An improved Fleetline B20 "Londoner" version entered London service from 1980 but they and the surviving originals were all gone by 1993 - though operators around the UK and as far away as Hong Kong were able to get many years of service out of those that didn't end up in the Barnsley scrap yards.

Back in Manchester, Jack Thompson, Bennett's deputy, had replaced his erstwhile boss and presided over the 13 months of MCTD before becoming SELNEC Central General Manager.

Prior to Bennett's departure orders had been placed for more Mancunians and, given the long delivery times, these would take the fleet renewals forward as far as April/May 1972.

There were six more vehicles delivered in May and June 1968 - all Bedford VAL airport coaches. Visually identical to the previous batch, 207-212 featured Bedford engines, were licensed for up to 52 passengers and had five speed synchromesh gear boxes with overdrive. With the earlier batch they formed the basis of SELNEC's original coaching fleet, pioneering the so called Trans Lancs express from Stockport to Bolton via Ashton, Oldham, Rochdale and Bury.

I rode that route a number of times and a very comfortable and efficient service was provided by the twin steers.

1969 was the last year of MCTD operation. It featured more Mancunian deliveries and the firming up of delivery slots for those destined to arrive under SELNEC ownership.

The orders Ralph Bennett placed in 1968 started to arrive in December 1968 and were another world first for MCTD. First to arrive were Atlanteans and the bodies should have been built by MCW but they sub let the order to Park Royal due to a surfeit of business - the first of a number of batches that were not built by their intended suppliers and giving the Mancunians the widest range of bodybuilders of a single MCTD type since the Streamliners.

The chassis were Atlantean PDR2/1, the designation change denoting a 33 foot long chassis and the body had a short extra side window at the rear of the upper deck and a longer window at the rear of lower deck, the nearside emergency exit opening of the first batch being deleted. The small upper deck windows were not fitted with hopper ventilators and the whole appearance looked somehow much more balanced than the original batch.

1051-1097 were the first 100 passenger capacity buses in the UK and the first purpose built one man operated vehicles to enter service anywhere in the world with a licensed capacity of 100 passengers, having 47 seats on the top deck, 29 on the lower deck and 24 standees.

Whilst 1051 was officially the vehicle to establish the new records, it wasn't delivered until January 1969, 10 other vehicles arriving before it. The batch was completed in February and between February and May 2051-2097, the matching Fleetlines, appeared though they had seats for 47 upstairs, 28 below and were only licensed for 21 standees.

The last five had the more powerful Gardner 6LXB engine and were designated RG6LXB.33 by Daimler. Apart from better looks the vehicles rode well and drivers didn't seem to have too much trouble with the extra length or handling the extra passengers.

May 1969 also saw the arrival of two more Bedford VALs, again with Bedford engines and this time with the new Plaxton Panorama Elite bodies, as usual licensed for 52 passengers and finished in blue and white.

The way the colours were placed on the Panthers, the Mancunians and the Bedford VALs was not replicated on the rest of the fleet but from mid 1968 the cream stripe on the rest of the double deck fleet was replaced by white and more than half the fleet had been so painted by the time SELNEC took over, The single deckers were not so dealt with, the cream window surrounds remained cream and even the cream Panthers, which had highlighted the problems with the colour, only saw one example (81) repainted before the application of SELNEC colours.

The next batch should have been 1101-1126, Atlanteans with Park Royal bodies but they were delayed at the bodybuilders and didn't arrive until March/April 1970. All were delivered in full Manchester colours, though the last six lacked the coat of arms. Experience in the first few months of Mancunian operation led to this and subsequent batches having a raised driving position, and the driver's side window had a shallower depth as a result. The matching Fleetlines, 2101-2144 were delivered to SELNEC between December 1969 and February 1970, all in full Manchester livery with coats of arms.

For the engineering staff and drivers an important addition was a warning panel which monitored the engine and gave warnings of malfunctions undetectable by ear on an engine some 31 feet behind the driver.

The remainder of the Atlantean order (1131-1154) was actually delivered in two batches, 1131-1142 in October and November 1969 and 1143-1154 between January and March 1970.

Following the display of vehicles on the arrival of the first Mancunians, Ralph Bennett had instituted a regular series of questionnaires for staff and passengers and this was continued by Jack Thompson.

Bennett used the answers to the initial batches of questionnaires to improve the marque as detailed above but he wanted to go further and to do this he placed the body order for 1131-1154 with his erstwhile supplier, East Lancashire Coachbuilders.

1131-1142 dealt with the problems caused by the operation of the centre exit by eliminating it altogether, the second half of the batch had the standard layout but the bodies of both versions, though at first sight obviously Mancunians, were very different.

The window spacing was different on the top deck with 6 windows, four full length between two shorter, but equal length, windows at the front and rear. The lower saloon was lit by four windows on the nearside, three on the offside, with a further short window at the rear which was set in an emergency exit door at each side. Apart from the emergency exits all the windows on each side had hopper vents.

Most importantly the vehicles were all fitted with a forward ascending staircase. There were other detailed changes. There were two vents on the front dome, the front indicator boxes were set lower, the one on the body nearside higher, at the same height as the front destination box and this led to the red area around the lower deck windows being set lower leading to the front fleet number being placed between the destination indicator and the number and intermediate destination boxes.

At the rear the upper deck emergency exit window glass area was much larger and is thought to have been the largest on any UK double decker. The lower deck window above the engine was also larger and the rear number indicator was set lower, the fleet number appearing above the indicator.

On the offside, the most obvious difference was the placement of the stairs blank which was immediately behind the driver's cab. The coat of arms appeared on the front panel below the Windscreen, on the offside below window #2, on the nearside below window #3 and the Department's name appeared as on the rest of the fleet.

The single door vehicles carried 47 on the top deck, 32 downstairs plus 21 standees whilst the dual doorway vehicles carried 47, 26 and 19. Single door 1133 was exhibited in Piccadilly on September 27 1969 before going into service from Queens Rd along with the rest of the single door vehicles on route #4 and #7.

All the vehicles were delivered in red and white, all the single doorway buses and the three dual doorway vehicles delivered in January and February had titles and coats of arms, the remainder didn't.

1131/33/34/35 and 1141 were the last buses delivered to MCTD, the remainder were delivered to SELNEC.

There were three more batches of Mancunians on order when SELNEC took over on November 1st 1969, all ordered by Jack Thompson. Atlanteans 1161-1194, the last Leylands ordered, were bodied by Park Royal and again were licensed to carry 100.

Delivered in July 1970 they, and the following Fleetlines, all had forward ascending stairs and this changed the window layout on the offside lower deck, the stair blank being shorter and moved forward so that the window arrangement was cab window, short window, stair blank, short window, full size window, short window, emergency exit. All side windows on both decks, apart from the emergency exit, were fitted with hopper vents.

The three batches were all delivered in the SELNEC sunglow orange and off white livery which actually suited the Mancunians very well - the same couldn't be said for many other designs, except perhaps the Orion style bodied Atlanteans and Fleetlines, and Manchester had specified yellow, black and brown moquette for the lower saloon seats and tan hide for the upper deck which went well with the exterior colours.

Fleetlines 2151-2210 were bodied with 77 seat and 18 standee bodies by MCW. They differed from the Park Royal vehicles by having a removable panel between the headlights and the fog and spotlights were placed outboard of the headlights instead of directly below.

They entered service between September 1970 and January 1971. 2211-2270 were bodied by Park Royal with 47 upper deck seats, 29 below and 19 standees. 2271-2304 were to have been bodied as dual doorway vehicles by East Lancashire but the fire at the Blackburn works in Spring 1970 wrecked the factory and Park Royal supplied jigs to its sister company, Charles H Roe of Leeds. The batch, the only buses supplied by Roe to a Manchester order, were considered by many to be the best finished Mancunians of all.

The buses were delivered in no particular order between May 1971 and May 1972, 2300 is reputed to be the last delivered.

Within the batches there were some mechanical variations, though for Manchester, they were few. 1117-1126 and 1193 had Leyland fully automatic gearboxes and 2140-2144 had the Daimler version but, yet again, the design was still subject to problems and all were converted to semi automatic.

So what might have happened had MCTD continued in existence?

It is very difficult to know. The Mancunian was very much a Manchester bus. Only 20 were built for another operator - Salford - and, like the Streamliners, a variety of bodybuilders were involved and the design evolved batch by batch.

Certainly if the East Lancashire bodied Fleetlines had been built we would have seen if the divergent design would have continued or if the builder would have been required to conform.

The satisfaction engendered by the Roe bodied Fleetlines may well have led to orders going to the Leeds concern but the most likely outcome is that the Atlantean AN68 and the move of Fleetline production to Leyland would have eventually brought a new body design - though the "Bennett Box" was replicated for well over 25 years more by a wide range of builders, all seemingly lacking the equipment to design, draw and build curves into double deckers.

The Mancunians were built for an 18 year life but SELNEC and GMT progressively introduced the concept of the throwaway bus (aiming for replacement at 12 years) so most Mancunians lasted a good few years less, the last seeing only twelve years and seven months service, as we have seen 2292 being the last Manchester ordered vehicle to run in revenue service.

Almost all Mancunians went to the scrap yards in Barnsley. There was evidence that many would have needed strengthening around the centre exit - were 18 years to be attainable - as cracking became evident after around eleven years in service but this was not expensive to repair and had SELNEC and GMT not continued an old Manchester policy of not selling on vehicles, many could have seen useful lives elsewhere.

The Salford Mancunians deserve a closer look. Always fiercely independent of Manchester the Transport Department sprang a real surprise when it ordered twenty Atlanteans with 78 seat bodies for 1970 delivery.

As they had taken batches of Park Royal's standard rear engined body previously the London builder was expected to be awarded the contract but long time supplier MCW was chosen instead and offered the Mancunian. Presumably Manchester didn't object as the delivery couldn't be made until SELNEC was well established and how much political pressure was brought to bear is a matter of conjecture as SELNEC may well have wanted to have no more Stockport like games in its upcoming bailiwick and it hadn't finalised its own "Standard" design quickly enough for the order to arrive in time with that body style for the gap filling that would be necessary in the fleet.

The vehicles that arrived were externally similar to the MCW bodied Fleetline Mancunians delivered to Manchester though they had the single track Salford destination indicator and matching three track number box. This and the lack of the removable panel below the windscreen distinguished them from the front and the most forward side windows lacked hopper vents. It would have been interesting to see how Salford would have applied their green and cream.

Strangely SELNEC didn't change the specification, especially as internally they were finished in green and grey with Salford's standard moquette and hide seats. They lasted 12 years and spent all their lives operating from Weaste and Frederick Rd.

Whilst Salford was the only other operator to order the Mancunian, the London Fleetlines developed the theme and an order from a very different source produced the ultimate version - a combination of the best of the Mancunian with Londoner additions.

Seating 43 on the upper deck, 25 below and with 13 standees, based on the Atlantean AN68 and with a dual doorway body by Park Royal the eight New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Atlanteans delivered in 1973 were very much the Mancunian profile with the Londoner windscreen, front indicator box and front upper deck window vents.

The US regulations added a large front bumper, roof lights, extra top deck emergency exits, and an under stairs Perkins diesel to power the air conditioning, but to anyone familiar with the Mancunian there was no doubt that this was a vehicle very much derived from the short length batches delivered in 1968.

New York kept them for 9 years after which they were sold to Gray Line where they were used in San Francisco. I rode on one in 1984 and it was very much like being at home!

With MCTD absorbed into SELNEC the repainting of vehicles proceeded apace. As mentioned, many body styles, and not just ex-Manchester vehicles, did not suit the SELNEC colour layout which, we were told, had been mathematically designed to give the vehicles a proportioned look. On the 27 foot 6 inch front engined Orion bodied vehicles it certainly looked anything but proportioned.

The sunglow orange was subject to UV fading and had to be replaced by a lighter shade which GMT took up. Within a couple of years of Greater Manchester taking over, red buses were a tiny minority on the streets of Manchester and the place looked different.

MCTD had succeeded, by rigorous management, inspired design and a great deal of thoughtful application of common sense, to produce a transport system and buses to service the city that operated profitably for over 60 years, led the country - if not the world - in many areas of operation and managed to produce, even using manufacturers' regular designs, batches of vehicles that were somehow distinctly "Manchester".

The Department had its quirks of course. The long standing insistence on nearside fuel tanks; the effective and informative, if complex, front indicator displays; the horizontal splitting of the lower body panels - all were designed for good reasons but made the vehicles distinctive.

The placing of whole batches and particular makes at depots, only finally eradicated with the arrival of the Mancunians, made excellent sense.

More bizarre were the obsessions with cutting down front mudguards on front engined double deckers - to enhance brake performance - something other operators didn't seem to worry about; the almost vituperative hatred of "tin fronts"; the equally determined resistance to doors: the reversion to chromed radiator shells on Leylands; the refusal, except in WW2, to employ female crews and the insistence on the use of "Guard" instead of the almost universal term of "Conductor".

Manchester buses always seemed to have their windows papered with notices - fare increases, route variations, new services and, in the period 1960-1964 Air Raid Warning Siren Test notices (and yes those dates are correct).

In 1953 the only sign of Coronation celebrations on Manchester buses, when other operations had special colour schemes or flag bedecked vehicles, were red white and blue paper stickers on the windows of some vehicles.

Whilst SELNEC and GMT were undoubtedly more logical given the size and development of the conurbation, they started the process which has led to the loss of truly local, or even regional, bus services and the loss of - if not civic pride - a sense of locality that the bus operations of local towns engendered.

Phil Blinkhorn


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23/06/13 - 17:27

A comment on the Mancunians may be of interest.
By the time I left MCTD in 1968 they had been deployed on the infamous 53 route, known in-house as "Circular", although in fact it described little more than a semicircle around part of the cobbled-together Ring Road. Alarmingly, despite everything possible having been done to minimise boarding delays caused by one-man operation, they seemed completely unable to keep to time, and I was sent out on to the road to find out why.
A particular characteristic of the 53 was, and probably still is, short riding, resulting in a reluctance on the part of many passengers to go upstairs on a double decker. On the Mancunians, the distance from the front entrance to the centre staircase, combined with the high standee capacity, meant that such passengers preferred to stand, rapidly filling the standee area, overspilling on to the platform and making it impossible for further passengers to board, even though there were plenty of seats available.
If or how this problem was solved I shall probably never know. What I do know is that Jimmy Hall - the man Ralph Bennett had trained up as his personal expert in one-man operation - was mightily relieved to hear that, just this once, the boarding delays were not being caused by fare collection!

Peter Williamson

24/06/13 - 08:31

Now then Peter, are you really trying to tell us the 53 was timetabled? The old adage that there's never a bus when you want one then three come together was never seen on the 53 - the 53 was omni-present with, especially in rush periods, a never ending stream of everything the contributing garages could throw at it.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, rush hour 53 workings must have had some of the most varied stock used on any route in the UK.
To the serious point about short riding and its effect on the timings once the Mancunians arrived on the route, I wonder why the single doorway East Lancs vehicles weren't used regularly - or perhaps the problem had gone away by the time they joined the fleet.

Phil Blinkhorn

27/06/13 - 07:02

Yes, the 53 was timetabled, and from some of the things that happened in the rush hour I think the scheduling staff were aiming to have every single part-day "track" on the system (apart from Parrs Wood and Northenden) doing at least one 53x journey as part of its varied diet!
I had left Manchester by the time the single-door East Lancs Mancunians arrived, but I think you have answered your own question by saying that they were allocated to the 4 and the 7 - both nice 'n' easy, even lazy, routes. At that stage of events, high-capacity single-door omo buses were not trusted in intensive service.

Peter Williamson

28/06/13 - 06:31

As an impoverished clerk in 1967 I was ever seeking more economical routes from Burnage to my workplace in Old Trafford. Logistically the shortest route would have involved a 169/170 to West Didsbury, a 41 to Southern Cemetery followed by a 94 to Old Trafford via Seymour Grove. Aside from the requirement to co-ordinate three routes it also offered ample opportunity to get soaked in a typical Manchester Riviera day. The new Minimax services offered the opportunity to to reduce the logistical planning whilst remaining dryer at considerably less cost. The chosen route was to take a 169/170 in the opposite direction towards Belle Vue (preferably a 170 because the Errwood route was quicker than the Burnage Lane alternative) and connect with a 53 to go to Old Trafford. As both were Minimax services the total outlay was 1/-. The journey time was longer but I could indulge my then smoking habit by travelling on the top deck and with the savings generated from this route I could upgrade my choice of addiction from Players No 6 to Gold Leaf. Little did I know at the time that I was confounding the analysis of short riding on the 53! This rather roundabout way of using two of Manchester's semi-circulars was to cease by late '67 when my work moved to the centre of town and I could once enjoy the pleasures of the 130 (I think that was the Panther stage of operations but I could be wrong, perhaps it was the P Cubs) or, much to my delight the then new 49 route which used, arguably, the most convoluted route to Stockport but one which on which it was unlikely that Ralph Bennett had any cause for concern about loading delays!!

Orla Nutting

28/06/13 - 07:26

Phil mentions the appearance of a Mancunian at the 1968 Earls Court Show and also the Sheffield Atlantean with a standard Park Royal dual door body. At the time dual doors were seen as the way forward and a Northern Counties bodied Atlantean for Wigan was also at the show Again this was an adaptation of a standard.
The Leeds dual door decker on Fleetline chassis designed by manager Tom Lord was also on show (it would later feature on mainly Atlantean chassis for Leeds). Like the Mancunian this was a Leeds only product except for a few bought by TWA and one off builds for small independent operators. Some of the later deliveries lasted into Yorkshire Rider days and like the Roe Mancunians were a solid bus well liked by passengers and crews.

Chris Hough



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