'On the Buses' after the War

In 1949, a year after demob from the Air Formation Signals Regiment, Royal Signals, Barbara and I were married and, as we couldn’t get accommodation in the Tolworth Surrey area, we were fortunate in obtaining rooms with friends of my parents in Roundhill Crescent Brighton; a place I had visited since my birth in 1926 when these friends had a shop at the bottom of Elm Grove.

Next came the hunt for a job: nothing within the aircraft electrical line at Shoreham, so I wandered down the Lewes Road to Alan West only to find you had to have an invitation for an interview so I went along to the Lewes Road Bus Depot. No electrical work on offer, but they said they were taking on conductors and at that time a job was a job, so my reply was “Yes thanks, if you will have me”.

In the blood
I have always been fascinated by buses and bus stations, perhaps this is due to my Grandfather (Arculus) who was one of the first six London tram drivers, that was until he was caught speeding twice and was then made up to a Regulator! I still have his lovely bone whistle. As a very young boy pre-war I would stand at Kingston-upon-Thames bus station for hours watching the movements there.

Starting out
I duly reported to the Lewes Road Depot at 0600 on the 15 August 1949 and commenced training on a bus watching an experienced conductor. Later, after being fitted out for a uniform, I set out on my own. Sad to say on my first morning I made an error of punching the wrong portion of a return ticket, the result was that the poor passengers on boarding their bus after work found that they were requested to pay again due to their ticket halves being invalid. Needless to say I was pulled up into the office to be reminded of the error of my ways, to my memory the management were very reasonable about it.

‘Danny Kaye’
On a humorous side, we had a young conductor who looked like Danny Kaye and was just as funny; of course he was nicknamed ‘Danny’.  One day ‘Danny’ was working the Circular route (No.41? The route that commenced at J.Lyon’s & Co) and they stopped outside a shop en route where he used to dash inside and exchange all his coins for notes.  He did this one day and jumped back on board, rang the bell and off they went, only to discover that he had left his ticket holder on the counter! Being our ‘Danny’, he left it and intended to pick it up when he passed again, thus his passengers on that trip would have a free ride. It turned out that it was an ‘early closing day’ so when they arrived at the shop, it was closed for the afternoon. I don’t know what he did then but he must have been in quite a panic, perhaps the owner of the shop lived over the top as it used to be in those far-off days.  Danny was still a conductor for a long time afterwards.

Going the wrong way!
One day I was operating on the 26A/46A route where the routes parted from one another just after St Peters: 46A went up to Preston Circus and up Beaconsfield Road to Preston Drove then back to the Aquarium, and 26A did it in reverse. On this particular day we parted in the wrong direction, I went up front and mentioned the fact to the driver, who replied, “Not to worry, I’ll cut through on the batteries”! This he did so to the amazement of those passengers aboard and to one or two bystanders where we cut through. An Inspector had spotted this and the driver received quite a ‘rocket’.

I wonder if anyone remembers when an early morning Hollingbury trolley bus ran on to a mound of sand or ballast in the curb and then rolled over on to its side? I cannot remember the date of this. As far as I can remember there were no passengers aboard as it was on its way to Hollingbury and the driver and conductor were not injured.

The crews
At this point I will mention the crews.  Most were young chaps who had been in the Services and didn’t take too much to an indoor life afterwards.  They were a very nice bunch to work with and, apart from one or two odd instances, worked quite enthusiastically. The company was very well run and at the depot in Lewes Road there was a very nice canteen and there was also a small one at the Aquarium terminus where you could, in your very short stay, grab a cake and/or a cup of tea, this is where we became very proficient in drinking hot tea from a saucer! Another very good point as far as I was concerned was that we did a shift right through and not a split shift as was operated by Southdown buses, say, four hours on and then a break of a few hours and back again.

Passengers: all very different people indeed. There were three gentlemen who boarded the bus of a morning in Dyke Road ( I had by then obtained a Transport Conductor’s licence which you needed to conduct on a petrol bus), to head for the Railway Station.  I had to toss a coin and one of the chaps would call – if he won the toss, they all paid their own fares, but if he lost, he would have to pay the fares of the three of them. Then there was a time when, if you were standing on the platform of the bus coughing, many ladies would hand you a cough sweet when they passed you to get off. It was amazing how many sweets you gathered on a trip!

School children
Now we come to school children who tried to dodge their fare.  Some who could afford it would try it on with a devious look on their faces.  Then the opposite when a crowd from the exclusive club ‘Dr Barnados’ would try in a totally different, and acceptable, cheeky way.  They did it in a way that, as we would say today, “you win some, you lose some”. Then came some children who, in all my lifetime would remain very deeply in my memory, this was a school with children with Downes Syndrome.  They would chat and sometimes kneel on the seat looking back at you with such a beguiling smile all through their trip.  They always said goodbye as they got off: yes, my very best passengers, no doubt about that at all.

The rush of summer trippers
Some of the trips were very crowded during the summer on the run to the railway station with trippers. I am rather of short stature and many of the times when passengers hurried off to catch their trains back to London, I was jostled and ended up with the peak of my cap at an angle by someone’s elbow, a la Benny Hill. One last laugh was a child with his mother, “Look Mum, what a short conductor”.  Ah well all part of life on the buses.

Move to Alan West
My wife, Barbara, worked at Eagle Star Insurance Co and an interview was arranged for me at Alan West.  I went and found that it was for a storeman but when the foreman found out that I was an electrician, he said “If a job came up for an electrician you would try for it, wouldn’t you?”   “To be honest, yes I would”, I replied and he said that, as I was straightforward with that answer, he wouldn’t give me a job as a storeman, but when one came up for an electrician, he would call me in.  He was as good as his word and it wasn’t long before I started at that very nice family firm of Alan West out at Moulsecoomb on 13 March 1950.

So I was ‘on the buses’ for seven months.  Not very long, but a most interesting and enjoyable time but now I was back with electrical work. Then in August 1952 I eventually had an interview in London for the Australian National Airways in Melbourne and at last I was back in aircraft work where I stayed for my remaining working years, (Vickers Armstrong’s & Air N.Z.) until retirement in 1987.

Comments about this page

  • Thank you for a pleasant trip down memory lane. I, like you, spent several years ‘on the buses’, only I was on Southdown Motor Services at its Seaford Depot. A lot of people think you’re spinning them a yarn when you tell of your life as a busman, but we know it’s true do we not. Thanks again.

    By Jim Still (18/03/2005)
  • I think the incident Arthur referred to occurred on November 1st 1950, when trolleybus no. 7 (FUF 7) hit a pile of gravel, skidded on the wet rain and overturned in Carden Hill, Hollingbury. 23 passengers were injured, but only two of them seriously enough to be detained in hospital. The trolleybus was not that badly damaged and returned to service. The same vehicle further disgraced itself in 1961 when it got stuck under the old railway bridge in Lewes when being towed to the scrapyard! For further memories of the old Brighton Corporation trams, trolleys and buses, have a look at http://www.brightonbuses.com.

    By Peter Ticehurst (06/08/2005)
  • I was born in Brighton and my interest in buses was initially sparked by the three Brighton bus companies. I was lucky to see the livery changes that occured between 1969 and 1974. I have a PCV licence, having driven former Southdown VRs nos. 563 and 572 a number of years ago. Incidentally 563 was the very last bus to carry the BH&D fleetname (for 2 days!!). I have started two websites: http://batsaboutbuses.moonfruit.com and http://batsaboutbrightonbuses.moonfruit.com which you may find interesting. I have read your recollections with great interest. These are the type of things I wish to collate and put onto the websites so if you have anything to add or can give me permission to add the information or link to it please let me know. Many thanks.

    By Siegmund De Reuther (12/08/2005)
  • Thank you Peter Tysthurst. It was only by chance I came across your answer. Something that puzzled me all these years. Are you still living in Brighton? Contact me if you wish at awarculus@xtra.co.nz

    By Arthur 'Digger' Arculus (28/08/2005)
  • I was the conductor for Stagecoach Lewes & District on its very last day… 24th September 2005. Saying that date makes me shudder! At Seaford Depot it was a real generation thing. It was a case of: Granddad: John McAvoy – leading driver; Dad: Ray McAvoy – driver for Eastbourne Buses; Me: (13) – unofficial conductor. On the 24th bus enthusiasts young and old gathered on the A259 to say goodbye to Stagecoach. There must be people who have photos and video footage that are willing to share it with me? One thing is Brighton & Hove say taking over Stagecoach is ‘progress’. Stagecoach was progress! Thanks to enthusiasts who boarded No.347 and who gave me tips!

    By Scott McAvoy (23/04/2006)
  • My ex R.A.F. father, Tony Farncombe [Thomas Saxby Farncombe], drove for many years, mostly on coaches, on the Southdown. He was quite a smart, if not glamorous figure, usually bringing the last coach from London every night. Often it was with many show biz people on board. He had style and panache and at that time closely resembled Max Miller who then lived in Kemptown as did my father. I too worked for the Southdown, moving to St. Albans in 1960 and retiring in 1989 as District Manager for London Country. One of the buses recently operating in Brighton bears the name of John Saxby, one of my ancestors. I have many stories to relate, but am at present awaiting an eye operation. Find it difficult to communicate, my wife – an ex bus driver – being in the driving seat at present. We would welcombe contact from any interested persons.

    By Michael Farncombe (29/06/2006)
  • Just a quicky targetted at Michael Farncombe. Michael, was your dad a bus driver? Also who worked for BH& D in the late 1960s on the number 5 route?

    By Sid Berry (18/07/2006)
  • The name Sid Berry brought back memories. I was a conductor on BH&D in the mid 1970s and worked with both Bob and Sid Berry on the No.5 service. I wonder how many of the old crew are left?

    By Geoff Fleet (07/02/2007)
  • My step-dad, Charles E. Barnard, was a tram conductor from 1927 on, then he was taught to drive a tram, and when the system was converted to trolley buses he became a bus driver. I worked, starting as an “apprentice” at the Victoria Road, Portslade, works of the Southdown Motor Co. having left school at St Lukes Senior Boys at the age of 14 in 1936. In those days you had to leave at 14, educated or not. Southdown taught me engine fitting and welding. I worked in the engine overhaul shop with Ernie Sibley, and in the welding shop with Bert Edwards. The Portslade works overhauled and repaired all the (mostly Leyland) buses in the Southdown fleet, and trained a lot of youngsters to be able to earn a living in the world. I am now retired and live in New Jersey, near New York, and would be glad to hear from anyone who remembers the Southdown era.

    By Robert E Green (28/05/2007)
  • Thanks for a fascinating story. I’ve recently created a web site specifically devoted to stories from people who work or have worked “on the buses”. It contains some original material, links to stories elsewhere on the web and a bibliography.
    See http://www.workingonthebuses.co.uk for more details. If you’d like to submit material for the site, please contact me via the address published there.

    By Richard Delahoy (17/06/2007)
  • Being a Brighton exile now living in the Midlands, I thought I would post this amusing story from my time on bus work in the Northants area.  This is not about me but about a guy who joined as a direct driver.  The guy in question was sent out with the chief driving instructor who told him to take things steady until they got to a quiet part where there was little or no traffic.  The chief told him to pull over and asked him just what he had been driving and the answer was 24-ton tank transporters!  With this they went back to the garage where the chief said, in blunt words, ‘Just send him for his test, I can’t teach him a thing.  In fact he has more skill than I have!’.  Just goes to show what buswork is.

    By John Wignall (12/08/2007)
  • I am looking for any information regarding Jack Deacon who was an instructor with Brighton and Hove Buses in the 1960s to 1970s, or any photos that can be copied.

    By Iona Willis (19/08/2007)
  • My late Father was a driver for B H&D, and was friends with another driver named Tom Mennard. Tom was a natural comedian and I believe was always on the carpet for is antics. He used to put on shows at a local hall and went on to be a very good actor and appeared in Coronation Street for many years.

    Editor’s note: Tom Mennard played the role of Sam Tindall in Coronation Street from 1985 until his death in 1989.

    By Tony Clevett (26/08/2007)
  • Great stuff, all the above. May I strongly recommend Siggy de Reuther’s Brighton bus enthusiast websites, as referred to in his comment above? And also his excellent Yahoo! group on the same topic?

    By Len Liechti (15/09/2007)
  • To Sid Berry. Yes, my father “Tony” (Thomas Saxby) drove buses too, including the No. 5.

    By Michael Farncombe (27/10/2007)
  • Does anyone remember a head-on collision in heavy fog between 2 buses at the north end of Elm Drive, Hove, in the early 1950s? My sister was sitting upstairs in the front seat and was injured by flying glass.

    By Nick Pattenden (04/03/2008)
  • Yes Nick, I remember the incident well, I was 32 at the time and lost my two front teeth as a result of the collision. I believe your sister may still have posession of them.  If so, please contact immediately! Thanks in advance.

    By Oliver (16/06/2008)
  • I too remember the incident when the No. 5 bus crashed in Elm Drive. I think that it was on the same day that you and I (Nick) took a part of our Eleven Plus exams. Pupils living in the Hangleton area were unable to get to West Hove CP School because of the thick fog. My late grandfather Bill Friend was employed by Brighton & Hove as well as Tillings. He was a conductor on horse-drawn buses, but he became a driver when buses became motorised. He spent over forty continuous years on the buses and he retired in the early 1950s after being on the 5 route for many years. He told me of two incidents about the already mentioned; Tom Mennard, I think Tom started as a conductor. Tom often used to sit on the grass alongside his bus at Lark Hill, Hangleton telling stories to the kids. Quite often he was there after the bus should have left to commence its journey to Mackie Avenue, Patcham. On one occasion Tom impersonated an inspector and asked to see the tickets of the passengers. What he didn’t know was that an actual inspector in civvies had boarded the bus as a passenger. When Tom reached the inspector he was told to get on with the job that he was paid to do. Yet another disciplinary meeting followed.

    By Danny Hornby (29/09/2008)
  • I have only just found this website and find it very interesting. My family were all separated at the beginning of World War II and I was evacuated to Wales. I lost track of my father and two brothers for many years and only caught up with then when I was 23 yrs old. I note that my brother Michael made a comment regarding his days as bus conductor – our ex-RAF father drove buses for many years.

    By Judith Anne Campbell nee Farncombe (07/02/2013)
  • Hi, I would be very grateful if anyone knowing Judith Campbell nee Farncombe  would ask her to visit the site, or Michael Farncombe who has also commented on this site, to get in touch with me as it concerns their father Thomas Saxby Farncombe and a bus pass that I have in my possession, due to their involvement with the company! Thank you in advance for your help.

    By Susan Gordon (10/07/2015)
  • Dear Susan
    Sorry but we have had to delete your post. We are no longer allowing the posting of requests to find third parties, as sharing information like this breaches their privacy. We recommend you try social media websites if you want to track old friends or neighbours.
    Comments Editor

    By Susan Gordon (30/05/2016)

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