40 years ago

Saturday 4th February 2023

Welcome to another quarterly dose of nostalgia going back 40 years recalling what I got up to as the recently arrived Assistant Traffic Manager (ATM) at Southdown Motor Services Ltd, one of the National Bus Company’s prestigious subsidiaries based in Brighton with an operating area stretching along the south coast from Portsmouth and Southsea to Eastbourne and inland to Petersfield, Horsham, Crawley and East Grinstead as well as substantial coaching activities in the UK and on the Continent.

I gave a snapshot of my first few weeks in a blog last November, so what was I doing in the first few weeks of 1983? With the help of my 1983 diary entries, here’s what an ATM did all those years ago.

As explained last time, Monday mornings always had a fixed commitment in the form of a weekly management meeting chaired by Michael Sedgley, Southdown’s General Manager with the company’s three chief officers Philip Ayers, Traffic Manager; Simon Brown, Chief Engineer and Derek Wilkes, Secretary & Chief Accountant and their assistants attending.

Michael and Philip … 40 years on enjoying a reminisce at a restaurant in Horsham a few weeks ago

In the days before electronic communications it was a useful weekly catch up and update on what was happening in the company together with discussing future plans. It usually meant a frenetic hour or so first thing on Monday mornings getting everything ready for the 10:00 start particularly ensuring there was some progress on those tasks you’d committed to at the previous week’s meeting.

Other meetings I attended in January included one called Stagecoach in my diary which wasn’t about the Stagecoach we know and love today as that was a few years away from being invented; this was with the marketing team discussing a further roll out of the brand being used for Southdown’s inter-urban services, including a possible new route 799 jointly with neighbouring NBC company Hastings & District between Brighton, Hastings and Rye (and at one time extended west to Worthing and jointly operated with Brighton Blue Buses).

Week commencing 10th January 1983 has a diary entry recording a meeting on Tuesday morning called ‘Coast Road Services’ which would have been about the routes coming into Brighton along the A259 from the east which later became one of Brighton & Hove’s most successful corridors thanks to extensive bus lanes.

That day also records a meeting in the afternoon of the BATS Operations Committee. This was actually one I chaired and brought together Paul Williams, Southdown’s Divisional Manager for BATS (Brighton Area Transport Services) and Southdown’s Service Planning Officer John Roberts who had a long association with Brighton, Hove & District prior to the two companies merger alongside Geoff Manners the Operations Manager at Brighton Transport and his colleague Adrian Figgess..

It was a sub-committee of the main BATS Committee and dealt with the more mundane operational, marketing and commercial issues in the jointly operated network in Brighton and Hove with all revenue shared out 79.5% to Southdown and 20.5% to the municipally owned Brighton Transport. Mileage was shared out in the same proportion with all service changes and fares and ticket prices needing agreement. It was one of the most coordinated arrangements in the country, but obviously three years later came to an end with deregulation making such agreements illegal.

Wednesday afternoon that week had a meeting called CNC Sub Special at 15:00 followed by a meeting at 16:00 with ACTSS and NALGO (later to become Unison). I didn’t record what these meetings were about but the word ‘Special’ suggests it was something out of the ordinary which called for an unplanned meeting of what was the sub-committee of the Central Negotiating Committee with TGWU (later to become Unite) representatives from the depots. Looking at further entries I see there was one entitled ‘SWT bus re assaults’ which reminds me there was an increase in anti-social behaviour in parts of Brighton and the TGWU was keen for buses to be fitted with screens on the driver’s cab door and I arranged for a bus with one fitted to be borrowed from my previous company, South Wales Transport to trial it.

Here’s the SWT bus in service at Whitehawk

I suspect the meeting with ACTSS and NALGO – trade unions representing supervisors/inspectors was to discuss the same topic. Assaults on staff are always a difficult issue to tackle and not surprisingly trade unions want action to prevent such horrible incidents. These were the days before risk assessments had been invented so you did what seemed to be practical and common sense. It was also before cameras and any kind of video recording. Assault screens had mixed reactions from drivers with some feeling more secure but others not liking their claustrophobic impact and acting as a barrier between them and passengers, the vast majority of whom were well behaved. Obviously in more recent times the pandemic made screens an absolute must while virus infections were a huge risk.

Thursday 20th January at 10:00 has an entry entitled Worthing BC Visit which would have been a visit from officers and politicians from Worthing Borough Council to Southdown’s bus garage located on the seafront in the town. For some years the company had been looking out for a more suitable location elsewhere in the town so the seafront site could be sold for redevelopment and I recall part of the ideas behind hosting this visit was to discuss this aspiration as well as generate goodwill.

The next day, Friday, had a meeting of Southdown’s Bus Driver of the Year Committee which was chaired by my colleague Jack Stainbank, the Assistant Chief Engineer and we would have discussed arrangements for the event to be held later in the year on Brighton’s Madeira Drive. Southdown took the annual competition very seriously making the company event to select drivers sent to the national final a high profile public event on the seafront with John Henty, a long standing presenter on BBC local radio doing the commentary from a vantage position on the top of an open top ‘Queen Mary’ PD3 bus.

Other meetings of note were with Radio Victory in Portsmouth to discuss the overall advert bus promoting the commercial radio station; with colleagues at Hampshire County Council at their offices in Winchester to discuss planned service changes; more meetings with the TGWU in Brighton to discuss assaults as well as an interview with TVS (the commercial television company for the area) about the same subject; the West Sussex PTLG (which I’m guessing stood for Public Transport Liaison Group) and in early February a media launch for the exciting new Shuttle branding in Brighton.

Shuttle was a project initiated by East Sussex County Council to promote bus travel through simplifying routes, making them limited stop and running every 10 minutes with high profile branding. Both Southdown and Brighton Transport were involved with the former using Bristol VRTs on a revised service in the Mile Oak area of Portslade creating a new limited stop route 60 to connect the area with Hove and Brighton while the latter did something similar with new route 50 serving the Hollingdean area of Brighton with new Leyland Nationals. Both areas also saw what were called complimentary services introduced to cater for links that were not so well used and had previously had direct links in the former network.

The branding was very forward looking and as well as seven Bristol VR buses painted in a specially designed livery there were leaflets and timetables to promote the services. Looking back now it was revolutionary and in many ways ahead of its time as well as a good example of early partnership working and showing what could be done when local authority and bus companies work together with a common goal of increasing bus use. I’m also reminded the new arrangement saw two dedicated inspectors (on shifts) to oversee the route and make sure it ran as expected.

One other meeting I remember well was in early February (Friday 4th) at a posh cafe opposite Charing Cross rail station in London with Tim Archer, the Traffic Manager of neighbouring NBC subsidiary Alder Valley and someone called P Wilson (Peter, I think) who sought to persuade us there was a commercial opportunity in running high profile upmarket double deck coaches on a route from the Hindhead A3 corridor into London. I don’t think either Tim or I were convinced by his enthusiasm for the project and in any event it came to nothing, and I was never quite sure why we, at Southdown, were involved other than a general interest in movement along the A3 from the south coast. Alder Valley at that time was running commuter routes using a Londonlink branding on a red and black livery.

One afternoon in January saw me visiting Southdown’s rather lovely depot at Horsham and the outstation at nearby Henfield, which as you can see from the photograph below taken about a decade or more before, had a functional garage which could accommodate at least four buses as well as an adjacent parking ground.

The visit completed my induction tour of all Southdown’s extensive properties and bases, many of which are sadly no longer with us. But that’s progress for you.

Once again I’d like to record a huge thanks to Paul Gainsbury of the Southdown Enthusiasts Club as well as the Club itself for providing and allowing me to use photographs from its extensive library taken by Paul and Calvin Churchill.

Roger French

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22 thoughts on “40 years ago

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  1. Makes me nostalgic for that era, although we tend to see the past with rose tinted glasses!

    BATS makes me think of the Southend & District Joint Services of my childhood. I believe it was a similar arrangement.

    Not always as customer friendly though as one would hope. I recall that Southend Transport OPO would not give change and you were never 100% certain which operator’s bus would appear other than by past experience. Service 1 that I used a lot could see ST OPO, ST crews and EN, (albeit rare) depending on the actual journey. It all worked but todays services in the area are mostly more frequent than back then and even cheaper relative to incomes. You could not even buy a return ticket in the early 80s in the area either but only a one week Travelcard.

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  2. Thanks for all this detail – fascinating!

    I guess the ‘illegal for bus companies to co-operate in providing joint/co-oordinated services has now been well and truly tried out, and see to have failed! I remember – maybe twenty years ago, an article in Buses magazine by an ideologue from the MMC (or it’s equivalent then) arguing that competing bus services would be wonderful and immensely popular … came over as an overpaid zealot who had never used a bus in his life. It was good to see in this blog how all the interested parties (‘stakeholders’, I guess in this day and age) actually talked about the practicalities.


  3. Whatever happened to the Shuttle? I rememebr seeing them in Brighton on a family day trip as a kid and picking up a very glossy leaflet (for the time) on the Mile Oak service. Going back to Brighton some 15 years later they seemed to have vanished?


  4. I think the Stagecoach that “..we know and love today..” did, in fact, already exist in 1983. As far as I can recall, they started running express coaches when those services were deregulated in 1980. Initially, the services operated from the Kings Cross so-called “Coach Station” in London to Perth, and possibly Dundee. At that time, they had what might (kindly) be described as a “cheap and cheerful” image. I seem to recall that a contemporary comment in “Buses” magazine was less complimentary!

    Regarding the proposed operation of “high profile upmarket double deck coaches” on the A3, Alder Valley did use some of the Leyland Olympian/ECW double deck coaches on the Londonlink services, although I don’t know if they were specifically used on the routes along the A3. That would probably have been a couple of years later than your meeting. It is also debatable whether they would have been regarded as “high profile upmarket” vehicles.


  5. I never went on Southdown, unless they ran any National coaches up north, and I think that East Kent , Bristol and Greenline were my only southern NBC subsidiaries on my travels in the early 1980’s.My northern NBC subsidiaries is much more extensive with Northern,West Yorkshire, United,East Yorkshire, Ribble and Yorkshire Traction.


  6. Back to the present day, and the depot in Central Worthing remains in use, although now under Stagecoach ownership of course.


  7. The double-deck Olympian coaches were extremely comfortable and well equipped, although I used Maidstone and District’s more than Alder Valley. And sneering at Stagecoach’s “cheap and cheerful” image both forty years ago and when Megabus was introduced twenty years later, was clearly made by those who never had the pleasure of travelling on supremely comfortable double-deck Neoplan Skyliners (with Conductors at times to speed the service) and later Astromegas. Thankfully, these foreign imports have been replaced by excellent products now made in the UK, as seen on Glasgow-Edinburgh and Oxford-London.


    1. Only British if you ignore the Volvo bits underneath. Or the Van Hool coaches also used….having had the “pleasure” of earlier Plaxton Elites at one time on the X5, I think I’ll stick with the Van Hools!


  8. I remember Southdown when it was a “real” bus company in the 1950s. If I went to see my grandmother my mother would put me on a Service 2 (Worthing) in charge of the conductor (a Mr Blaber I seem to remember) who would put me off opposite my gran’s house in Southwater. On a summer Saturday, the hourly No 2 service was so busy that there was always a ‘relief’ service behind. Great days!


  9. I am referring to the excellent double-deck B11RLE Plaxton Panorama vehicles (yes, with Volvo underneath but bodies built in Scarborough), and not the unsuitable single-deck Plaxton Elites once used on the X5 which required a course in mountaineering to just get to the Driver. The bike riding classes in both Oxford and Cambridge unfortunately caused their introduction, but thankfully, double-deckers have finally returned.


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