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.
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