Saturday 8th March 2023
It was 24 years ago my then Operations Director colleague at the Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company, Paul Williams, came up with the idea of adding the names of some of the area’s iconic landmarks to the new fleet of 20 Dennis Trident double deck buses we were about to take delivery of in Spring 1999. He rightly reckoned it would create interest among local people but in tossing the idea around further we realised it could cause confusion if people thought the landmark or place of interest (eg the Royal Pavilion, Devils Dyke etc etc) was served by the bus when it might not be.
One thing led to another and the idea morphed into one of naming each new bus after a person who’d made a significant contribution in the area or even on the national or international stage during their lifetime but was closely associated with the city and its surrounding area.
Little did we realise back in early 1999 what that simple idea would unleash.
From the very outset it created huge interest among passengers and the wider community as well as the media who love this sort of thing. The first twenty names were easy to choose as Brighton & Hove has such a rich heritage that famous people from such varied backgrounds as the Prince Regent, Queen Adelaide, Elizabeth Fry, John Nash and Max Miller were easy pickings.
As more buses were delivered every year during the early 2000s there was never a problem in selecting names as the idea had really caught on and in an era before email and social media I used to get many letters suggesting names for consideration. Indeed many days I received more correspondence about bus names than the bus services themselves, and even complaints, such was the interest generated.
It wasn’t long before we began receiving requests for people to have a bus named after themselves but we’d foreseen this from the outset, and how tricky it might become in accepting some names but not others, so we’d made the stipulation that the person must be deceased, and more than that, they must have been dead for at least twelve months before consideration would be given, although this latter requirement has been waived in some very deserving cases where timing and poignancy is of the essence.
The great thing was we began receiving suggestions for bus names for local deceased people with no high profile but who’d done some amazing things locally for the community and had likely been well known and much respected figures in their local area or even the city as a whole. The joy and pleasure it gave relatives, friends and local people to know their much loved hero/heroine was being commemorated by a bus name was quite incredible. It soon became even more prestigious then having a blue plaque (which is out of reach of most people anyway) as there was something about the name being on the front of a bus which was travelling all over the local area and could be seen by thousands of people every day. What better way to remember a much cherished loved one who’d devoted their lives to the area through good works?
Fairly early on I did make an exception to the “you have to be dead” rule when approached by locally based impresario David Courtney who’d been manager for Adam Faith, Roger Daltry, Leo Sayer and others. He was establishing what he called a Walk of Fame in Brighton Marina where paving slabs (Hollywood style) would have the name of celebrities associated with Brighton & Hove and make it a local attraction. David persuaded me to have some of the names from the Walk of Fame also placed on our buses but I said we’d restrict it to the single decks which at that time were allocated to route 7 which went to the Marina to promote his attraction and the scheme would be time limited.
This led to famous names such as Norman Cook, Chris Eubank, Leo Sayer, Annie Nightingale, Adam Faith, Dora Bryan, Dusty Springfield and others who lived or had lived in the city being added to the bus name collection and enabled us to get some wonderful publicity featuring photographs of the celebrity proudly with their bus. Some of those people sadly passed away in subsequent years so were added to the names displayed on the new double decks which were continuing to arrive every year.
Over the years money was raised for local charities by auctioning off a bus name (of a living person) to appear for a short period of time and special names have been carried to mark one-off occasions, for example to honour the league winning Brighton & Hove Albion teams and also when the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip celebrated their Golden Jubilee year, they were each given a bus. A few others have also had the honour of their name on a bus for about a year to mark their retirement including I’m delighted and proud to say (it wasn’t my decision) myself and my good friend Adam Trimingham, a well known and long established senior reporter on the local Argus newspaper and who has been so helpful with background information for the project as well as my colleague Mike Cheesman (B&H’s Marketing Officer) when he also retired.
Mike oversaw the whole project from the very beginning making sure names were always added to the correct bus and keeping copious records on the company’s website and indeed, with Adam, wrote a book which was published in 2004 with all the names that had been used in the first five years with photographs and details about each one.
Dennis Hobden adorned the cover of Mike and Adam’s book overlooked by his proud widow Sheila in a photograph taken by the late renowned photographer Roger Bamber who too now has a bus named after him. Dennis spent his life in Brighton and was elected to the old Brighton Council in 1964. He stood for the parliamentary seat of Kemp Town which had been Tory since being formed in 1950 and in a famous and nail biting contest he beat the Tory MP David James by seven votes after seven recounts helping to give Harold Wilson a narrow Labour victory.
Now of course, details of all the names are on Brighton & Hove’s website where they’re kept up to date by Mike in his retirement.
Some of the names have marked very sad occasions while others are true celebrations of a brilliant life full of achievements. One of the most unusual names carried for a short time was Bruce – a police dog which had tragically had to be put down following a controversial arrest in the Whitehawk area of the city. There was quite an outcry at the time and with the news breaking the editor of the Argus rang me in the morning to ask if we could name a bus after Bruce who’d been put down overnight. It seemed a very appropriate thing to do to chime with public sentiment so I immediately asked Mike if he could arrange to have the name Bruce printed except he was aghast when I told him it needed to be done in the next hour as the editor wanted it for the front page story and photograph for that night’s evening edition of the paper. This was in the days before access to instant printing and Mike didn’t think it could be done that quickly, but the ever resourceful chap that he is found he had a spare Chris Eubank name in his cupboard and realised by cutting up the letters and reordering five of them he could place them on the front of a bus and we’d have a bus named Bruce ready for the newspaper’s photographer and no one would ever know.
Another wonderful exception to the “you have to be dead rule” was launching a bus named after Brighton resident (in St Dunstans – the home for blind veterans) Henry Allingham who holds the record as being the oldest ever person to have lived in the UK. He reached the amazing age of 113 years and 42 days before passing away on 18th July 2009.
I had the honour of meeting him a year earlier close to his 112th birthday and we brought along the open top bus which was named after him to St Dunstans. What a special occasion that was. Henry was absolutely thrilled to be told what was happening.
I’m delighted my successors have continued what is now a much loved established institution in the city. It’s now many years since the whole bus fleet was named so new buses entering the fleet now offer an opportunity to refresh the names taking up new suggestions continually sent in by local people.
One new name I know is already much valued is for the aforementioned award winning photographer Roger Bamber who died last year which I blogged about at the time. As an indication of how much it means, his widow, Shan announced at his funeral a request had been passed to the bus company for Roger to be considered for a bus name and without exception everyone cheered and clapped in anticipation it would be successful. It really is quite extraordinary how much this means to people – incidentally an exhibition of Roger Bamber’s photographs is opening at the end of this month at Brighton Museum including some of his iconic covers for Bus Times.
Brighton & Hove are officially launching the Roger Bamber named bus next week which really is great news.
One major and significant aspect of the bus name project is that it associates buses firmly with the local community. The buses become more than just utility vehicles with the names personalising them. It also gives the buses what’s seen as a fixed and valued role in the community rather than being just another corporate vehicle which could be from anywhere in the country and may be sent off anywhere else tomorrow. It’s ironic that although the names are of deceased people, their presence gives a kind of permanence to the bus being there for the community.
Imagine if every bus company did the same for its local community. Imagine how that would make people feel about their locally based and much cherished buses displaying names of people they loved. Of course, I know passengers want reliable, frequent and cheap buses to get them from A to B more than anything else and no doubt some will add in the comments below this is all that’s important with any other “frilly PR type stuff” like bus names being a complete waste of time. But they ignore public perception of buses at their peril and my contention has always been bus companies need to up their game considerably in dealing with the image of the bus and making it truly part of the fabric of the communities they serve.
And the reason I’m blogging about this today is the ultimate accolade came last Saturday night when Brighton & Hove’s bus names featured as a category on Pointless Celebrities with Alexander Armstrong inviting the celebrity contestants playing the game to identify six of the people honoured on a Brighton & Hove bus from a list of twelve clues and their initials.
Even better Richard Osman (it was a programme filmed when he was still involved) in the opening explanation of the round asked the bus company to name a bus after him – he comes from the local Sussex area in Cuckfield,
And Brighton & Hove were straight on to it sending Richard a Tweet earlier last week inviting him to get in touch to which, as you can see below, he replied how his late grandad would make for an ideal nomination.
I have no inside knowledge but I’m in no doubt at all we’ll be seeing a bus named after Grandad Osman in the very near future.
And this all admirably demonstrates one small way in which you can make buses loved and cherished by the local community (providing a decent service is obviously taken as tread).
As well as getting buses mentioned on prime time Saturday evening BBCOne television.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS with occasional Su including tomorrow’s final part of my Newcastle to Edinburgh odyssey.
PS: here are the answers….
No pointless answers because there’s a lot of point to bus names.
Just a note in response to “Even better Richard Osman (it was a programme filmed when he was still involved)” my understanding is that he moved back from the “standard” Pointless, but still does the Celebrity version…
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I think this is right but tbh Richard Osman has really flourished in Richard Osman’s House Of Games so I’m glad he made the move.
I like to think of myself as open-minded and ready to change my view in the light of new information received and today is one of those days where it’s happened. I’d always thought of bus naming as an idea that probably appealed to bus operators and bus enthusiasts, people with maybe more of an emotional connection with the vehicles than is probably natural, than anything that would resonate with the public. I had no idea this could be so embraced by and even driven by the public, mere mortals and celebs alike. I consider myself enlightened!
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In case anyone missed it on the Salt Road blog page. National Express West Midlands will finally be putting the 144A from Bromsgrove to Longbridge out of its misery on 15th April. From the 16th April the existing NXWM 48/20 will be extended from its terminus to create a marathon West Bromwich- Warley – Bearwood- Harborne – QEHB – Selly Oak – Northfield- Longbridge- Catshill- Bromsgrove. It is obviously being aimed at both patients and staff at University Hospitals Birmingham & students at Birmingham University & visitors to the new state of the art Sandwell Aquatic Centre . One only hope this ambitious last throw of the day success linking The Black Country with Birmingham and North Worcestershire.
Safeguard Coaches has twice named buses.
The first occasion was in 2009 when a very surprised and delighted Guildford Hon Alderman Bill Bellerby MBE unveiled his name on the front of the bus to be used on the reinstated Guildford Town Centre Shuttle Bus whose which he had campaigning strenuously for, despite being in his 90s (he died some years later at 101).
The second occasion was in 2017 when we marked Sales Manager Linda Chambers’ retirement after 28 years by naming a new bus. While her family were aware, Linda knew nothing until invited to perform the unveiling. Her emotion was palpable and it was very special.
We also placed family member Jane Newman’s name on a new coach, also to mark her retirement (2021).
We also have a plaque inside a bus marking a service relaunch by a local vicar and a community association chair (2011) and perhaps more poignantly, another marks the tragically short life of one of our young bus drivers.
All these recognitions have been so appreciated by the people concerned (or, in the last case, his relatives), our staff and the local community that we are part of. And they put public transport in the spotlight within the community and influencers, local officers, councillors etc.
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I understand the reason for your title of this blog, but the naming of the buses in Brighton is very much Not pointless. A smashing idea that was clearly embraced by the local community.
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When I moved to London in the late 90s I can vaguely remember some of the Peckham area buses having the names of characters from Only Fools and Horses on them.
The former municipal managers got it about right on branding. City/town name, coat of arms, unified livery. Simple but effective. Less us more.
If that really is the case, why do the operators of ships and railway locomotives have such a long tradition of giving names to their “vehicles”?
Ah yes, back in the days when hardly anyone had cars and bus passengers were effectively a captive market….
Pity so many other operators use formulaic Stenning-style route branding and then put the vehicle out on other services. At least the Green Line RF etc route boards were removable (and even then the coaches sometimes worked a bus trip before their Green Line schedule commenced).
Thamesdown had buses named after the great and good of Swindon but I don’t know if this has contributed after the council sold it off to Go Ahead?
Always impressed and thankful for the hard work Mike Cheeseman has done for the enthusiasts and for keeping information open and easily accessible. A true inspiration.
As well as the names on buses I always liked seeing the “I’m on the bus’ campaign in the 00’s.
It should also be noted that Compass Travel has at least one bus with a name on.
Naming of buses in Hull after famous locals was carried out by both operators, East Yorkshire and Stagecoach. This brought about the situation where each operator at the same time had a bus named after the same person in the shape of Philip Larkin the famous poet.
When I moved to Ipswich in 2005 I was delighted to see how many of the buses bore names. Sadly the tradition seems to have lapsed somewhat, due either to management changes and/or the signwriter’s retirement some years ago.
In the early days of Solent Blue Line in 1987, we worked closely with the local paper on a competition for schools to choose a name for a bus. The winning entry was Puddle Jumper from a primary school in Sholing where we were about to launch a new service. It was the first of many buses named after local charities or people and was always very popular and helped build links with the local community as well as providing positive publicity.
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Peter, I was always amused by the fact that the oldest (J-reg) VRT was named “Age concern”!
Certain Stagecoach buses around Cheltenham and Gloucester gained names with brief bios of local service personnel who had won medals for gallantry during WW1 and had either died at the time of the action or subsequently during the conflict.
Unfortunately these have all since been removed.
I was delighted that my nomination of a local folk singer, Bob Copper was quickly adopted. I saw the bus on a hiking trip.
Another brilliant idea was the Argus ads I am on the bus. I have a pdf of all the ads. I tried to get First WY and Transdev to copy, without success.
There is talk of naming a street in Cardiff near the new bus station (and what a sad saga that is!) “Cheers Drive”, as that’s what people say as they alight.
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Whenever I am in Brighton, as I am again today, I always look to see what name my bus has been given. It is a wonderful idea – and Roger will be pleased to hear that it is still a wonderful service, especially the long-distance limited stop services which he started and which have been extended. Brighton must have the best public transport of any UK city. This is a good thing, seeing that parking is very expensive!