Memories from a 1960s BH&D conductor: Part 3
A day in the life
Although each day’s duty had an official changeover time and place from early to late shift, these were in practice prearranged unofficially by each driver or conductor and his (all drivers were male in those days, and conductors almost invariably so) shift partner, often to allow the morning man an early finish and a long free afternoon. When a driver changed over he was free to go home, but as a conductor you had to get back to the depot to pay in, which shortened your afternoon considerably. We used to compensate by changing over very early, often before noon. The following week your partner would return the favour.
I used to do as much overtime as I could get, working most of my rest days, and in this way covered almost every service offered by the company during my brief stay, even the circuitous and hardly-used Service 54. (I recall one nine-hour shift on the 54 producing less in total fares than one 40-minute run on Service 5.) The most prized overtime duty was the open top Sea Front Service 17, and these were scrupulously handed out on an equitable basis to all petitioners. I only worked it once, but it was a true delight of a job taking upper-deck fares in the slipstream as the bus floated along Roedean Cliffs on a sunny day. I had been warned to ‘hold on to the pound notes’ which the tourists invariably proffered – good advice indeed.
The greatest crime that a bus crew could commit, other than stealing the fares, was to run early and thus deprive the company of potential fares through missed passengers. Being caught running early twice in one calendar month meant surrendering your good conduct bonus: the princely sum of half-a-crown which had remained unchanged since 1921 when the scheme was instigated. The timing of the bus was the conductor’s responsibility, and he had to prevent early running by hanging back at stops if the roads were clear and the driver eager. Most drivers were sympathetic to this, though one or two liked to press on rapidly so as to get a longer stopover time at the next terminus.
The conductor’s other principal responsibility was of course collection of fares and their delivery to the depot at end of shift. You provided your own float at start of shift and ensured that the amount you paid in matched the numbers on the Setright ticket machine: any deficit had to be made up by you. The Setright numbers had to be recorded on your waybill at start of shift, at end of shift and at the end of each run. You also had to ensure that you changed the stage number on the Setright as each fare stage was passed, that you didn’t miss collecting any fares, and that no passenger outstayed his or her fare. Finally you as conductor had responsibility for changing the front and rear destination blinds at the end of each run. Inspectors were a more common sight then than nowadays, and any infraction would cost you that hard-earned half-crown bonus.
From Bristols to Bristol
During my tenure, Service 5 operated out of Whitehawk with a mixture of Bristol KSW and FLF buses, plus the occasional LD or FSF if a service bus was being maintained or repaired. As most of my service was during the warmer months I preferred working the open rear platform models, as the FLF and FSF with their enclosed front entrances and no opening front windows on the lower deck could become oppressively hot in busy periods. I still regard the ECW-bodied KSW as the best-looking and best-riding bus ever built. It also seemed to possess a driveability and reliability that the Lodekkas were missing. I particularly recall frequent failures with the air suspension on early LDs, such that they used to thump along as the suspension bottomed out. No such problem with the sturdy leaf springs on the old KS!
Because Service 5 was so busy, each shift seemed to go by in a flash, the only exceptions being Sundays and late shifts after 7pm, other than the bedtime run. My eight months was rapidly up and in September 1968 I crossed the country to Bristol where most of the buses were familiar models but painted in an unfamiliar dark green. It was some two years before I returned to Brighton for any length of time, and great changes were taking place: the Southdown takeover, nationalisation, the eventual replacement of ‘real’ buses with front engines and open rear platforms by characterless rear-engined, front-entrance boxes which all looked the same. The disappearance of my beloved KSWs, and the introduction of the first post-war single-deckers on town services – how strange they looked in red and cream to a young man of my generation. And, of course, one-man operation: no more conductors.
On holiday in Brighton in the late Eighties or early Nineties – I forget exactly when – I took my family to see (fleetingly) Conway Street depot, and lo and behold, just inside the shed doors stood a gleamingly restored red and cream KSW, owned by the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach company and maintained by a volunteer group. Ironically it was just about to depart for a vintage vehicle rally at Bristol. And even more coincidentally, it was carrying blinds for service 5: the service that I had served myself as conductor twenty years earlier.