London Transport even opened a Recruiting Office in the West Indies offering to pay the fares and supply hostels and other living accommodation to any West Indian families willing to work on London Transport buses and underground stations for a period of at least two years. Unfortunately the powers-that-be had not reckoned on the effect that this influx of coloured workers would have on the existing staff, many of which resigned, until it appeared that passenger transport was being run almost exclusively in London by coloured crews. In time, of course, the two year contracts came to an end and the overseas recruits left for higher paid jobs with more sociable hours and London Transport was left with the same problem as before.
It is very easy to criticise after the event, of course, but I do feel that if London Transport had raised the wages in the first place and put bus work back in the top pay bracket where it used to be it would have cost no more that the millions of pounds they must have needed to run the Overseas Recruiting Scheme and public transport would have been in a much healthier condition than it is today.
Situated, as we are in Staines, eighteen miles from London we had no coloured staff at this time until the later waves of immigrants from Pakistan, India and the new African states arrived and a few settled among us quite happily for a while - none of them staying more that a year or two, though, before moving on to better jobs. However, the London Transport hostel at Windsor caused a lot of jealousy and upset in Windsor Garage and the local busmen, many of whom were still waiting for Council houses themselves, were incensed by the free living accommodation supplied to their coloured workmates. We began to hear rumours that inspectors were having to haul newcomers out of bed in the mornings and ferry them to work in buses in a desperate attempt to get them all to work on time and discipline was relaxed among local men in an attempt to avoid open revolt. Rumours were invariably exaggerated, of course, but Windsor Garage certainly became a happier place when the immigrants moved on and the hostel closed dow.
Meantime, life went by much the same at Staines and I soon became familiar with all the bus routes. The 441 bus to High Wycombe left Staines Station at eight and thirty-eight minutes past every hour with extra journeys to Beaconsfield and Hedgerley in between. The 460 route via Wraysbury and Datchet to Slough ran every twenty minutes, seven days a week, and the 466 to Knowle Hill and the 469 to Virginia Water Station were half hourly runs. There was also a 441D from Staines via the Causeway an Egham and over Egham Hill to the Wheatsheaf at Virginia Water every hour. This service has now been discontinued and only a skeleton is left on the other roads. There is no service on Sundays on the 466, 469 or 460 and all are hourly services on weekdays.
We had three Green Line Coach roads at Staines Garage in 1955, two going to Gravesend. The 701 went hourly from Ascot, joining the 702 from Sunningdale at Virginia Water so that, from Gravesend to Virginia Water there was a half hourly service all day. The last vehicle (the 701 from Ascot) arrived in the Garage at 01.22 hours. This was known as the “ghost train” as are all the last buses and coaches throughout the fleet. Cycling home after half past one in the morning was rather a ghostly experience and I was always glad to see the back of that duty until it came round again.
The other coach road was the 725 which ran from Windsor, leaving the Castle at four and thirty-four minutes past every hour. The last one into Staines leaving at midnight. The 725 which left on the half hour going to Dartford (Kent) and the coach leaving Windsor on the hour going through to Gravesend.
By 1956 I was offered the chance to work on the Green Lines and I was in seventh heaven. No more running up and down stairs, the Green Lines were all single deck RF coaches then, and no more rushing to get the fares in either. People only used the coaches to do longer journeys because the minimum fare was high in relation to the bus fares and, with plenty of buses on the road, no-one caught a coach for a short journey. So the job was easier and the pay slightly higher, no wonder there was a waiting list to work on Green Lines. Your name didn’t even get on the list if you had a bad record, so coach crews did tend to consider themselves just a wee bit superior to bus workers although we, at Staines, never soared to such dizzy heights as at Windsor Garage where a whole row of tables alongside the windows and radiators were reserved for coach crews while bus crews were expected to sit over the side which was cold and draughty in winter and stifling hot in summer!
The regular passengers using Green Line coaches were different too - not better, just different. The rush hours tended to begin later, being comprised mostly of people working in offices and West End shops, business people, managers, stock brokers and the self employed. Many belonged to what we could call the “bowler hat and umbrella brigade”, hailing the coach with a raised umbrella or dispatch case. We had one driver who loathed being waved to in this manner and his conductor got fed up with the driver moaning about it too. So, one day at a request stop in Knightsbridge, they slowed up to the unsuspecting gentleman holding out his copy of “The Times”, the conductor put out his hand, took the newspaper and the coach sped on its way leaving the city gent fuming on the pavement. Not that it was always easy to guess a man’s occupation by his manner of dress. One of my favourite passengers looked like a stock broker, always carrying a smart, black dispatch case. He travelled regularly to Town for years until one day he opened his case and showed me the contents; several tobacco tins full of coloured chalks and a large homely packet of sandwiches. He was a pavement artist who had earned an income high enough to enable him to live in the “stock broker belt” and travel up to his pitch every day. His neighbours believed him to be a solicitor - which I suppose hi was in a way.
I preferred the 701/702 roads the best. There was so much to see going through London every day and more interesting characters among the passengers too. All the regular crews got to know the actor who lived in Bedfont - he always played a “heavy” with a mid-European accent and had a very good line in sly leers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he originated that well worn phrase, “Ve haf ways of makink you talk”, because that was just the sort of character he usually portrayed. In actual fact he was a charming man and used to sit on the coach reading his script and I still smile, remembering the time a woman sitting across the aisle asked me whether he was “peculiar” because of the evil expressions that flitted across his face while he was reading! Not wishing to reveal his identity and subject him to the attentions of all the film fans on the coach I told her to sit on the back seat and I would keep an eye on him. He was recognised a couple of times while travelling home and I couldn’t help being sorry for him being obliged to sign autographs and answer dozens of questions when he so obviously wanted to study in peace. Another actor was starring in a series on the television and played the handsome, debonair hero forever rescuing the damsel in distress and engaging in fist fights while remaining cool as a cucumber. Sad to day, he was irritable, petulant and terrified if the driver tried to speed up a little in an attempt to keep to the timetable - the very last person I would want around in any kind of crisis. He must have been a very good actor, though - it never showed through on the screen.
The responsibility for time-keeping on the road is shared between the driver and the conductor and it isn’t an easy job to keep the vehicle on time, especially through London. By the time we had been stuck in traffic jams through Chiswick, Hammersmith, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner and Victoria we were frequently up to an hour late and if the driver didn’t push the coach along through the rest of the journey we would arrive at Gravesend with only a few minutes of our meal break left. Union rules and Police regulations dictate that a driver must have at least thirty minutes away from the driving seat which meant that a late arrival at Gravesend resulted in a late departure on the return journey. You just couldn’t win a race against time like that and still do the job properly.
In contrast, the very early and late journeys would seem endless - we had to cruise along so slowly that the passengers would sometimes get impatient and complain that we were deliberately running late. We used to hang about at compulsory stops, pull up to the side of the road at public toilets, engage a passenger in conversation as he or she was alighting - anything to waste a few minutes that would prevent us from arriving at a turning point early enough to be booked. We were allowed a leeway of two minutes and on Winter Sundays all the stops approaching Victoria would have a Green Line parked up, out of sight, losing time before arriving at Eccleston Bridge which was our London Terminus. The drivers used to curse the traffic lights at all hours of the day and night - they were always showing red when we were desperately trying to catch up lost time and green when we were anxious to lose it. For the most part the road inspectors were very understanding. They had almost invariably been drivers themselves earlier in their careers and knew how difficult it was to keep strictly to the timetable. Of course, drivers varied in their approach to the job and a few would deliberately run late so that they could claim overtime at the end of every day. The rate for all overtime has always been time and a half and a daily docket for an hour would amount to seven and a half extra hours pay every Friday.
For the most part, I have been very lucky with my regular drivers who did their best to run by the timetable. One such was Roy, a good, steady driver, conscientious, courteous and an excellent mate but the time of the vehicle obsessed him to such an extent that he not only checked on our own progress every ten minutes along the road but also any other Green Lines we met coming the other way. I thought his wife was joking when she told me she gave him a new leather strap for his pocket watch every Christmas but I subsequently discovered it was quite true, we pulled that watch from his top pocket so often in the course of a day’s work that the strap became quite ragged and worn by the following November. Dear Roy - I was sorry to lose him but I returned to work after my holiday one year to find that he had transferred to a vacant place on the coach rota. Another conductor told me later that Roy was worrying so much at my habit of signing on at the last moment that his fear of running late was threatening to give him a peptic ulcer. He retired some years ago and, presumably, he and his watch enjoy a well earned rest.
Cliff, however, was a real Maverick: transferred from Central Buses when he moved into the Staines area, he thought Country Buses very slow and tame after the more hectic work in London’s traffic and was overjoyed when he was transferred to Green Lines and took Roy’s place on the rota. No two drivers could be more different - working a journey through Town in the rush hours with Cliff became a cross between a tank assault course and a Cavalry charge. He really was an excellent driver who knew the length and width of those old RF coaches down to the last inch; he would slide through gaps in the traffic which didn’t look wide enough to allow the safe passage of a minicar and I swear there was often barely the width of a postage stamp between us and the rest of the traffic as we sailed through. He took short cuts through side streets, jumped traffic lights and we went two miles off route chasing a lorry whose driver had the temerity to “carve him up” at Hammersmith Broadway. The six months I spent with Cliff put years on me but, oddly enough, most of the regulars enjoyed riding with him. He could be curt, even downright rude, with those passengers who did not realise that he was doing his best to get them to their destinations on time and accused him of reckless driving or giving them an uncomfortable ride. But he had a very soft spot for the elderly and old ladies adored him as he was always at his most charming with them. Our friendship continued beyond working hours and Bill and I frequently went to his house for an evening of playing cards and the two men would talk “shop” while Cliff’s pretty, young wife and I served up refreshments and about bus work too, but in relation to what ill effects it could have on family life.
With men and girls working together for eight hours every day and sometimes far into the night, there were bound to be some marital problems among the staff and Staines Garage was neither better nor worse than any other. With the cost of living and living standards themselves constantly rising, more and more wives started to go out to work, and this created a situation where the working times of the two jobs clashed to such an extent that married couples spent very little time together; when a driver was on a late turn his wife would get up and go to her own job, often leaving him still in bed and having to cook his own meals before leaving for work himself in the early afternoon. By the time his duty had finished it might be midnight and his wife and children already fast asleep in bed. This state of affairs would result in a mad seeing far more of his conductor than he did his own family, and when that conductor was a pretty young girl the result was almost tragic and at other times comical - at least fom the viewpoint of those of us who watched the game from the sidelines as it were. Suspicious wives would lurk around the garage or take to riding on their husbands’ buses in an attempt to ward off the opposition - and gossip was rife.
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