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Sunday, 18 April 2010

I know where I was 40 years ago

This is a bit addictive but you've been getting more updates than usual and if you have worked out from that, that my wife Alice's medical condition is improving a bit then you would be right.

And this is a bit sad since I know where I was 40 years ago today.

18th April 1970 was the conversion of route 81 (Hounslow - Slough) from RM crew operation to SM one man operation (I use the term employed at the time - no disrespect intended) and the withdrawal of the fairly recently introduced 81C which ran from Slough to Heathrow.

I was there! Actually the 81 was my central bus connection in my youth so I recall it from its RT days. Despite its tenuous links outside London it spawned variations to Fords Works at Langley (81A), London Airport (81B) and eventually the unusual 81C.

Unusual for a couple of reasons. The 81C replaced half the main service to Hounslow to provide a direct link into Heathrow Airport from the west. Until then most through services, including the Green Line 704 and 705, served only the northern perimeter forcing a change. So, a new central bus service from the west, indeed outside Greater London, was unusual and so was the method of operation.

Duties provided for crews to work from Hounslow to Slough as an 81, to Heathrow and back as an 81C, and then back to Hounslow again as an 81. Half a duty - done.

But Central Bus crews did not change routes during their shift, like their Country Bus cousins. Indeed changing route number blinds were just not in the Union agreement. A small handful of routes were exempted from this agreement, by dint of history, of which the most famous was the service from Barking to Beckton Gas Works as route 100 which was run off the back of journeys on route 15.

But the 81C was a new one and Hounslow was amongst the least co-operative of sheds. Nevertheless it was achieved and in this isolated outpost, Central Bus conductors changed the number and via blinds at the front, side and rear of RTs, and then RMs, between 81 and 81C.

I know it sounds funny now but it was HUGE in the 1960s!

But also very odd is that less than two years later it was withdrawn and the link to Heathrow from the west was lost.

Since then the 81 became famous for being the first London bus route to be operated by a private operator under tendering - Len Wright Travel who won it in the first round in 1985. I drove on it twice - once driving DMSs acquired from Ensignbus, and later some new Leyland Lynx vehicles obtained to deliver improved standards.

I saw Len Wright himself only last week. He no longer is involved in the UK bus industry but he was something of a pioneer and I must write some more about him another time. In a funny twist of fate, he started London's first tendered bus operation - London Bus Lines - in 1985, and I shut it down again (in 2004) by which time it was part of CentreWest London Buses.

We had a celebration dinner with Len as guest of honour.

Nowadays Heathrow Airport is a huge centre of employent as well as passenger traffic. A high proportion of passengers even change modes at Heathrow Airport without every stepping on a plane. Our own services from the west, skilfully marketed by Matthew Wooll and his team in First in Berkshire, have grown this market to support a frequent service operated, thanks to BAA, by very modern Mercedes Benz Citaros.

As a young chap, something I couldn't have forseen, standing there exactly forty years ago!

RM1108 standing at Slough Station - a road now one way in the opposite direction so don't try it! The via blinds were rarely changed but mostly they kept the 81C panels which were at least correct even if brief. Here we have the panel for the 81 which is just plain wrong!



  1. The 81c was not quite such a culture shock for Hounslow crews as they already interworked the 203 and 203A which required blind changes on RTs. But I agree that it was a very rare operating practice in those days.

  2. Hi Leon,

    Excellent post yet again!


  3. Guys thanks

    Paul yes I'd forgotten 203.

    And Gareth, glad you're enjoying all this!


  4. I remember Len Wright from my time at Grey-Green. If I recall rightly he moved on to National Express under John Wilson and spent some time driving their left-hand drive coaches on the 163 to Athens to raise money before starting Len Wright Travel. I believe another ex Grey-Green member, Bill Lear, also worked with him.

  5. Ah! the sweet nostalgia of it all! The 81c was a short welcome addition for us aviation enthusiasts (or plane spotters). I hated the trek from the Central area to the northside via the eery footpassenger tunnel to catch the 81 back to Slough. Times was 'ard in those days, couldn't afford the 6d fare on the 81B or 140!

  6. Leon did you write more about Len Wright by any chance?