40 years ago

Tuesday 1st November 2022

Welcome to the first instalment of an occasional series looking back to this day 40 years ago.

It stems from today being the exact 40th Anniversary of my arrival in Brighton on 1st November 1982 to the role of Assistant Traffic Manager with Southdown. As you can see from my appointment letter below the job attracted a salary of £10,262. That’s around £33,000 in today’s money based on inflation over the ensuing 40 years.

Pay scales for managers were set on a national basis in those days and varied according to the size of each National Bus Company (NBC) subsidiary. There were four size classifications with Southdown being the third largest, classified C, whereas the company I’d moved from as an Area Manager in Swansea with South Wales Transport was a smaller, category B company. Not only that but gaining a promotion to what was known as an ‘assistant chief officer’ role meant a very welcome pay increase but I well remember the shock of seeing the difference in house prices and living costs between life in South Wales and Sussex which quickly ate into that, and I was really no better off.

Managers in the Nationalised bus industry were never generously remunerated and it was often the case drivers who worked overtime could equal or outpace earnings of middle and even senior managers.

You never know where your future destiny will take you, and in digging out my old papers and diaries I see I’d been unsuccessful in applications for an Assistant Traffic Manager role in Eastern National (January 1981)….

…. in East Midland (June 1981) …

…. in United Counties (August 1981) …

…. in Crosville (September 1981)…

…. in PMT (April 1982) …

…. and in Alder Valley (May 1982)…

…. so aside from a growing collection of NBC subsidiary company letterheads and reminiscing about General Managers of the day, it was definitely a case of sixth time lucky for me and in the event, thank goodness I did get turned down for all those jobs as when deregulation and privatisation came on the horizon with the publication of the Buses White Paper less than two years later, there’s no doubt Brighton was THE place to be when the music stopped rather than Chelmsford, Chesterfield, Northampton, Chester, Stoke-on-Trent or Aldershot. All towns which experienced significant turmoil in the ensuing years. So, thanks for turning me down guys; much appreciated; and a huge thanks to Michael (Sedgley) and Philip (Ayers) for saying ‘yes’.

So, what did an Assistant Traffic Manager do in those far off pre-deregulation days of the early 1980s to justify being remunerated for ten grand a year?

Looking at my diary for November 1982 I see I didn’t actually turn up to Southdown’s large six storey head office building at the bottom of Freshfield Road in Brighton (known as Southdown House) for my new role until the following Monday, 8th November, as I took the first week as annual holiday – not a bad start to a new job. I’m guessing it had already been booked in my previous job.

I very quickly appreciated significant differences between the way Southdown and South Wales Transport (SWT) functioned, not least due to their relative sizes. SWT being much smaller had a very informal way of working with a relatively small head office building in Russell Street alongside one of Swansea’s three bus garages in Brunswick Street. I’d been based amid the action in the centrally located Quadrant Bus Station which had opened in 1979 and taking a very ‘hands on’ role by overseeing bus garages in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot.

Arriving in Brighton the Southdown head office was huge by comparison including its own printing department, a studio with a team of graphic artists, staff canteen, and offices for all the many head office functions as well as the company’s extensive coaching operations and National Holidays. It was located alongside the town’s Freshfield Road garage used by the coach fleet based in Brighton. People based in head office were inevitably more ‘hands off’ from the action of running buses day by day on the road.

Heading up the Company as you saw from my appointment letter was Michael Sedgley as General Manager who was supported by three chief officers – as all bus companies were in those days were – Traffic Manager (TM) Philip Ayers, Chief Engineer (CE) Simon Brown and Secretary and Chief Accountant (SCA) Derek Wilkes. All very experienced busmen and hugely knowledgable about the industry. As a 28 year old I was in awe of all four of them having come from a much smaller company and with just seven years full time working under my belt.

Southdown’s operational management was split into three geographic areas with the BATS (Brighton Area Transport Services) area in Brighton overseen by Paul Williams and the Hampshire area overseen by Michael Parkes, both as Divisional Superintendents and Alan Bishop as Operations Officer who oversaw bus garages in both East and West Sussex as well as the outstation based at Victoria Coach Station which ran the Flightline 777 coach service to Gatwick Airport jointly with Green Line/London Country.

Bus garages in Eastbourne, Hailsham, Seaford, Lewes, Haywards Heath, Horsham, Henfield, Worthing and Chichester ran the bus routes across East and West Sussex (as well as some outstations, eg at Uckfield) with Conway Street, Hove, Whitehawk and Moulsecomb in Brighton and Hilsea (two garages) and Havant running the routes based in Brighton and Portsmouth. So it was quite a step up from Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot and took a bit of assimilating.

This was helped by a three week induction period when I was shown around the operating area and meeting everyone including at the company’s extensive engineering works in Victoria Road, Portslade.

In addition November 1982 was spent attending regular meetings which characterised the way the company functioned not least a weekly Management Meeting (MM) at 10 am every Monday morning chaired by Michael Sedgley and attended by the TM, CE and SCA as well as their assistants. The meeting lasted all morning concluding with lunch in the staff canteen sometimes as late as 1.30 pm. The agenda comprised the notes taken by Michael’s Personal Assistant at the previous meeting and comprised updating on progress over the last week as well as any new items which were pertinent for all three departments to be involved in. Inevitably sometimes there hadn’t been any progress and many items were simply rolled forward.

It should be remembered this was more than a decade before computers had become mainstream, let alone smartphones, laptops, Apps and social media, so manual communication systems were very much to the fore to keep on top of how things were going. The MM had the benefit of ensuring senior personnel were all informed of the latest developments and although could be a tedious use of time at the start of each week at least everyone was fully informed of developments.

Although head office seemed to run on memos with filing cabinets the mainstay furniture item rather than desk top computers and laptops, Southdown was in the vanguard of IT development and housed a large computer in the head office building – part of a regional set up for the National Bus Company – which was overseen by Brian Guy who sadly passed away at a young age but would have been very at home in today’s IT dominated world. In those days, payroll was run on these huge machines and some rudimentary route costing but very little else.

Looking at my diary I see other meetings I attended during November included a quarterly formal meeting of the Portsmouth Area Joint Services Committee which was held in a hotel in Brighton at 11.30 am on Wednesday 10th attended by the GM, TM, SCA and myself and senior staff of Portsmouth Corporation – including Eric Boyes who was that company’s General Manager and councillors from the City Council. Bus services in Portsmouth (as in Brighton) were regulated by a Joint Agreement and this was a regular formal reporting of how things were going. The agenda and what was going to be said had all been agreed before the meeting so there were never any surprises and everyone seemed to look forward to the nice lunch that inevitably followed.

A similar set up applied in Brighton with the Brighton Area Transport Services (BATS) Agreement with a quarterly formal meeting involving three councillors representing Brighton Borough Council as well as General Manager Richard Clark in attendance, three senior managers representing Southdown and three representing Brighton, Hove & District (BH&D). Even though BH&D was dormant at that time it was still party to the Agreement so effectively NBC managers had an inbuilt majority on the Committee. Mileage and revenue was shared 79.5% to Southdown (including the former BH&D mileage) and 20.5% to Brighton Corporation. I see we met at 11.30 am on Monday 6th December, just handy for the after meeting lunch!

There was a meeting of the Central Negotiating Sub Committee on Wednesday 24th November when management and trade union representatives would discuss current issues but in those days not including pay and conditions as these were all determined centrally between National Bus Company executives and union representatives for the whole of the country under what was called NCOI – the National Council for the Omnibus Industry.

I see I attended a meeting with the Traffic Commissioner on 11th November at 8.30 in the morning but I didn’t record what it was about. I believe it was a Traffic Court hearing into Southdown’s application for a quicker route from Lewes into Brighton by taking a circular trajectory along Upper Hollingdean Road, Rugby Road, Preston Circus and Seven Dials as a new service 728. Unbelievably East Sussex County Council objected to this positive development for reasons I can’t recall now, as, inevitably, did residents of Rugby Road having a bus operating down their road for the first time.

However I did record the reason for three more Traffic Commissioner related meetings on 15th, 16th and 17th December. This was a meeting (on 15th) with colleagues at London Country’s head office in Reigate (Nigel Gray and Bernard Davies – two hugely experienced managers) about the two day Traffic Court hearing (16th/17th) to determine whether new route 762 would be given a Road Service Licence despite formal opposition from British Rail and others.

It was another jointly operated new route with Green Line/London Country (and I think Alder Valley had a vehicle working too) running between Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Guildford and Reading – a very ambitious initiative which after the two days of deliberations in Court was given the go ahead to commence. The trials and tribulations of a pre deregulated era. Despite the catchy slogan “762 The coach for you” it wasn’t a success.

On the afternoon of Monday 15th November I attended a meeting with colleagues at British Rail although my diary doesn’t record what it was about – maybe it was the regular meeting between NBC subsidiaries and BR known as the Standing Joint Committee.

Other meetings included an Appeal against a disciplinary award made by a Depot Superintendent with a trade union representative present speaking on behalf of the employee (I didn’t record the outcome), a meeting with Philip Ayers and Roger Funnell who worked locally for National Express at that time if my memory serves me correctly and another meeting with the union, this time in Brighton to discuss their grievance about certain running times. Another meeting in Portsmouth at the end of the month was to discuss Southdown’s travel offices in the town – there was one at North End and another at Winston Churchill Avenue.

There was a meeting with Paul Tucker who ran a PR Agency which Southdown used called Business Developers one afternoon. While yet another meeting in connection with Portsmouth on 6th December was to discuss a contra advertising deal with the then relatively new commercial radio station called Radio Victory.

That is just few examples of my activity during the first few weeks reflecting the varied nature of the role of an Assistant Traffic Manager.

As you can see from the photos illustrating this reminisce the company’s fleet was dominated by Bristol VRs and Leyland Nationals in 1982 as well as some Leyland Atlanteans.

Key inter-urban routes across the network were branded under the Stage Coach name to make them stand out and be high profile; the brand name turning out to be a portent for what the company faced later in the decade. No-one at that time would ever have dreamt the decade would end with regulation for bus services disappearing and the decimation and bulldozing of Southdown’s six storey hallowed head office and adjacent garage – but we’ll come to that in another nostalgic instalment another time.

My grateful thanks to Paul Gainsbury for supplying the photographs featured in this blog from his and the Southdown Enthusiasts Club photographic collection.

Roger French

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17 thoughts on “40 years ago

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  1. Very interesting to hear about the typical Southdown meetings in 1982/83 and to see the familiar and not so familiar NBC GM’ s names on your rejection letters. Indeed files were everything in those pre desk-top computer days. I remember meeting Michael Sedgley when we had a regional accountants meeting in Freshfield Road, Brighton. I was only Asst Secretary of Alder Valley so my GM was Douglas Adie, who was charged with trying to stem AV’s enormous losses. The 762 took in two winters and only one summer, so it was hardly surprising it failed. I look forward to more reminiscences

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  2. First of all, thanks for sharing those memories, Roger. Look forward to hearing more about your experiences.

    I think it does highlight some of the bureaucracy that came with the NBC and regulation – the days before 1986 weren’t always the halcyon days that some would have us believe. Clearly, the rerouting of the 728 was a hugely contentious issue!! Still, there were clearly the first inklings of greater freedom to “do things” under the NBC umbrella.

    Not wishing to offend anyone but you certainly dodged a bullet in not getting the Alder Valley job even though the business was probably at its most stable then as at any time. A firm that had a very tough 1970s followed a forced marriage, was then split for privatisation, and then dismembered by successive sales to various owners.

    I applaud your assiduous retention of documents; I never kept my rejection letters!

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  3. As somebody outside the industry I’m fascinated by the way that the rejection letters usually gave the name of the successful applicant.
    I notice that all the companies followed the NBC diktat for the “correct” letter heading and format.

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    1. I, too, was interested to see the way the successful applicant was named. This didn’t happen with my rejection letters in BR but the person’s identity soon became known through other, less formal channels!

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  4. As an unsuccessful applicant for the post at Southdown this blog brought back memories and I look forward to future blogs.
    At the time I was an Area Manager at Ribble and I remember going for the interview. I decided to walk from Brighton Station to Freshfield Road rather than take a taxi but was caught in a sudden cloudburst and arrived somewhat bedraggled. A kindly receptionist arranged for me to go to the canteen whilst I was waiting and even produced a towel from somewhere so I could dry my hair.

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  5. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m sure that you are quietly satisfied with the ‘….most unfortunate error….’ committed by Eastern National ! You certainly thrived at Brighton, but we must wait patiently for later postings on that subject.

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  6. Whilst Southdown was somewhat diminished by 1982, after the 1971 massacre of most trunk inland services, it was very fitting that it be led by Michael Sedgley. I only got to know him after decampment to Conway Street (Hove), calling in early one morning (my Grandmother lived a few yards away) with some timetables he had purchased. Exalted General Managers would normally only deal with minions via their Secretary, but not Michael. We sat down to a tray of coffee and biscuits and a rewarding chat. It was some years before our paths crossed again, and our friendship again bought rewards for both of us, both being able to solve some mysteries of LT Country area operations (Michael was a native of Guildford) to mutual satisfaction. It was nice to hear how well he was regarded in his Southdown years.

    There are several other names mentioned in the blog I came across professionally, where memories are infinitely less rosy.

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  7. I remember the first time we met. You were at the tail of the senior management “crocodile” as it passed through my detail office at Hilsea and I recall you testing my drivers hours knowledge! Was that really 40 years ago!

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  8. Fascinating article. I could also recount some ‘dodged the bullet’ job application rejections, though I’d better not! I think it all worked out pretty well for you (and even more so B&H) in the end.

    I recall the start and later extension to Eastbourne of the 728, but never knew of the Upper Hollingdean Road proposal. One would think that ESCC would have supported the use of unserved roads rather than well-served Lewes Road.

    As to the Traffic Commissioner stuff – madness. During a visit to the Bus Archive, I read of cases with both sides using external lawyers, between Southdown/NBC (prop. The State) and BR (prop. The State) over service proposals. As ever, the lawyers presumably prospered. Return to those days doesn’t seem a great idea.

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  9. It is notable that Roger features pictures of Brighton routes 22B and 712. 40 years on and Woodingdean is served by the 22, while the Eastbourne route is the 12 (simply a renumbering). I can’t help feeling that such stability contributes to the success of the network.

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  10. Greatful to get into what actually happened and what does a Traffic Manager daily work was like, very informative. Also, surprised to find out that the letter at that time could include who had been accepted the offer.

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  11. Your observations about the IT systems are interesting, in particular the “rudimentary route costing”. I worked for Western Welsh/Red & White between 1975 and ’78, and our operational costing reports were prepared on a computer system based at the Midland Red offices in Birmingham. For that time, I think that the (MR) system was, in fact, quite sophisticated, and produced detailed output on the profitability (or otherwise) of each service. I believe that system was also used by other NBC subsidiaries in the region, including South Wales Transport, so that it might perhaps still have been in use when you were at SWT?

    Fast forward some 25 years (to 2002 to be precise) I was working for an American data warehousing software company, at an office in Heidelberg in Germany, and my employers had recently purchased a company that specialised in the production of software for detailed operational costing for businesses of all sorts – including transport operators. In a meeting, we were told that this was going to be one of those “next big things” – so I had to bite my tongue and resist the temptation to say that the British NBC had been doing that 25 years before!

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