Welcome this top article is undated but see updates below
Ashley has had a lifetime involvement in Transport. From a childhood ongoing interest in railways (both model and prototype) and an even stronger passion for “The Friendly Midland Red” to a relatively new, but involved interest in the UK’s inland waterways and Narrowboats.
Ashley has recently retired from a quarter century of managing the custody of a small collection of rare and unusual classic buses and coaches which were used for special occasions, including Weddings, Funerals, School Proms, Corporate work and even Bus Driver Experience Days.
He now lectures on Bus and Coach topics, including Driver Training over the years, and offers a range of fascinating talks on topics relating to Midland Red – from a Lunchtime, full afternoon or evening talk entitled “Bigger than you ever Imagined” to shorter 45 minutes or so talks on specific topics.
He also talks about life on the English canals, their heritage, and the interests and matters of concern to both new and seasoned Narrowboat owners and of gongoozlers.
Please read on – there’s lots more to read below by scrolling down.
The Monthly Topic updated August 2017
Summer holidays are with us, and for most of us a bit of extra leisure time. My part time work is still occupying me for two or three days a week, depending on demand, but the business is for sale, so we dont know how long us “part timers” will be needed.
My motorhome project has taken an unexpected turn, costs prevented further work being undertaken at its initial workshop, and it was taken to colleague Alan Phillips of Leicester who has previously undertaken MOT’s for me. This diversion was arranged by friend and colleague Paul Icke of Avenger Breakdown and he has undertaken a detailed examination of the vehicle and together with Alan, they have a plan of action which is due to commence shortly. Then it has to be liveried and have internal work and an electrical installation on the interior and generator fitted. Fortunately things are in place for this further work but it is now obvious that another summer has been lost in delays.
It is good to keep in touch with some selected colleagues, those who have made some impact on your life. Paul is one. The older we get, the more important we appreciate those colleagues and their vast experiences gained. Another is RIchard Waters who was my boss during my spell at Warwickshire County Council in the late eighties and early nineties. Richard who resides in Northumberland, has recently been in touch saying that he and his family were taking a canal holiday in the Midlands and on a particular Saturday would be very near our boat. So they joined us for dinner. We went over some history from “our” period and it was a very enjoyable evening with great weather where we wined and dined in the garden until midnight! Richard has had a lifetime in public transport, working first as a bus conductor for United – a Tilling Company – and as Midland Red was a BET company its always fun to compare notes….
Richard then had a period at Victoria Coach Station, and later years in Local Government public transport departments. Transport is certainly in the blood and it hasnt been too long ago that Richard chose to do Lands End to John O Groats by local service bus!
This week brings our annual works bash, where everyone from the village post office and shop are invited to our boat for what for the last few years has been pizza and pinot night. This year we are having a change and I’m doing a Chilli night. We are just hoping for a good day and evening as it is an outdoor event as there are between 9 and 11 people – a big number to try to get on a narrowboat all at one time if the weather changes !
The prices of secondhand buses is something that I’ve found interesting to watch over the past few years. With DDA going through its phases, the last being double deckers with step entrances, so its been interesting to see the operators who have re classified double deckers to become “coaches” by removing handrails etc, so that step entrance vehicles can be used longer.
It seems strange to remove handrails to comply – which are safety items and pretty useful, but then they say the law is an ass! I have just checked up and found step entrance double deckers for sale for as low as £995 This really must be an all – time low. But then there is very limited future use.
I wonder how long a life our modern generation (new) vehicles will last with a “useful” life. The decker for £995 was 29yrs old and still looked passable, straight and tidy and with six months MOT. Of course being of that age, it is one of the “simple” vehicles, missing out on all the ridiculous electronics and unnecesary wi-fi etc.
In my early operating days it was possible to pick up a gardner engined Bristol RE bus or DP for circa £2k, and an overhaul and repaint would see it good for ten years of life and it would always be worth the money paid for it, if not a bit more ! That was when cascading of vehicles was the norm, when the larger bus and coach operators sold off their ten or twelve year old vehicles, they would find further use with a multitude of new owners, from smaller bus and coach operators to factories for workers staff transport, right down until the nineties to new age travellers. I should think many operators will be frightened off or at least duly concerned by unreliable electronics and poorly built vehicles, or at least they will be very cautious with their purchases. Today we have crazy situations where if the lights go out on a dashboard, (you used to change the bulbs), but now they are solid state units with printed circuits etc and often require the fitting of a complete new dash panel – sometimes costing up to £800!
I remember when in the nineties Northern Bus who were big Bristol users declared that they would be running Bristol RE’s in the year 2000, and I’m pleased to say that my last RE vehicle was sold in 2014! Going into Preservation – but has since been resold back into PSV operation. There’s life in the old girls yet !
Thats all for now – back in the Autumn with more news. enjoy looking around the rest of the website in the meantime.
The Monthly Topic updated December 2016
Seasons Greetings. The leaves have fallen, the frosts have started and we are in just another seasonal winter ! Whats all this about global warming?
The Bus and Coach Show was on again at the NEC in the beginning of November and as usual I went along with some ex industry colleagues to enjoy a day nattering about buses and coaches. It was interesting to see this year to see how interpersonal skills played their part. When we were there last year one of my colleagues mentioned to a member of staff on a Turkish coach manufacturers stand that there was very poor visibility due to a body pillar position and two other ‘niggles’ too. As we were walking by their stand this year, my colleague said that we should just go and spend a minute to see if anything had changed. While we were looking a representative came over and recognised us from last year ! Told us that all of the recommendations had been addressed and we were invited for lunch.
Hows that for good communications and service.
There were a couple of vehicles which were loosely of interest, both double deckers but it was evident that two ‘other vehicles were the cause of some considerable interest, firstly the Leyland PD inside the hall, and outside Peter Hendy had his EURO 6 Routemaster !
It is very nice when old customers keep in touch, and there are quite a few who do. However one could have been in better circumstances. Four years ago we provided our Leyland PD2 for a hire in Leicester for David Alan Merryweathers birthday. David Suffered from Hodgkinsons, and lived in a hospital, so our bus went there to pick him up. The request was at first awkward to handle as we were told they just wanted a drive around Leicester as David was a bus enthusiast, but couldnt drink or eat and two of his nurses would be on board too.
It is difficult to continually drive around without a break though – so a chance was taken to pull up for a “photo opportunity” near Victoria Park. I was Driving on that day and our Conductor was Chad, When I went aboard at this stop, conversation with David was difficult due to his illness, but whilst a few of the dozen passengers stretched their legs I thought that I should make an effort and talk about buses. It was a real learning curve for me and making the extra effort to communicate paid off dividends. It was obvious that David knew a lot about Barton Transport – far more than I did, and he also knew about lots of independent operators in the area between Leicester and Nottingham. I started talking about makes of buses, and mentioned Leyland, Daimler, Guy, and David instantly made everyone aware that he knew these names and repeated some much to his carers amazement. As some others were taking pictures anyway, I, (without thinking too much) asked David if he would like a picture sitting in the Drivers seat with the Drivers Cap on.
He obviously did, but then came the logistical issues…. I asked his Mother and Sister who in turn conversed with Nurses and thought that whilst it was an impossible suggestion, it was obvious that David wanted to – so maybe we should go through the motions of trying.
David couldn’t walk unaided so with Driver and Conductor each side we arrived at the Cab door, and with some hoisting David achieved his goal and was incredibly happy.
so, you get the drift, it was a successful day with everyone realising that that day was a perfect birthday treat for David.
This year, in fact just a couple of months ago, I had an email from Davids sister asking for a repeat hire – for Davids 53rd Birthday. I would have loved to have helped – but having retired from my business two years before and having no (PSV) vehicles left, I offered to put them in touch with a couple of operators near to where they now lived – Mansfield., The family duly hired a vehicle – a Bedford, but sadly David couldn’t board the coach, he had to put up with listening to the engine from the outside for an hour or so. His family say his disappointment was apparent and sadly he gave up and died.
David’s sister wrote to me giving me a run down of the day, but then came the bombshell that he was no longer with us. His funeral was the following week and I attended.
A sad end to a story – with the thought that its always good to go the extra mile when you can – you never know when you wont be able to !
Interestingly the Routemaster was not operated with an O Licence, or easily identifiable crew, in fact I asked the person driving what engine the RML had, he said he didnt know, but a guy from Nottingham was called in if anything went wrong!
Let’s lighten up
Radio 2 Golden Oldies featured our good friend Paul Icke from Avenger Vehicle Services on Wednesday 16th November at 3pm. The programme included a resume of Pauls working life and Midland Red got a mention too ! Well done Paul.
As we conclude, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New 2017, and let us get on with Article 50 and do away with the efforts to side-track progress.
updated mid August 2016
Well, since the last update – we are OUT! although it seems not much has changed since the 23rd June and business and shopping goes on. Foreign investors and those who have business here in the UK are still here – even if a few of them are cautious – that may be good for the decision makers to get the best outcome for us all.
Although I am not now involved in operating buses and coaches, I do still keep myself informed of developments and news in the trade, and I often stop and reflect when reading the monthly trade press – there are always articles, news or advertising of ever more “advances” in bus and coach design.
Out on the road – the bus is generally a square box – there are exceptions like the Borismaster which is a “curvy” design, but its been the same for years – dig back in your archives and look at the designs of the 1930’s – there were some very curvy and stylish coach designs at that time, but realistically how far do we need to go –
Go on your local bus – very few passengers want to actually sit next to anyone – rather like train passengers. We seem to be going to extra ordinary lengths to sex-up our vehicles, but in real terms – what true use is wi-fi on a local stage service with the possible exception of for a quick look at your phone? Until we get traffic priorities in order and other advances in ensuring reliability we are not going to be an attractive alternative to getting our car out ! If we bumble along being stuck in traffic and rely on our drivers to drive perhaps too fast in order to try to maintain their timetable we will still only be carrying passengers who have to rely on a bus and who are not independently mobile, rather than attracting genuinely new users as well… perhaps we should bring back Bus Conductors in this regard to add a bit of social interaction. For those of you who remember bus conductors – you will know that there were some very characterful lads and lasses in charge of our buses… Yes the bus conductor was in charge of the bus. Does this have echoes with the current dispute on Southern Railways with the issue of Guards operating the doors. Personally, I can see the point of modernisation in this regard on perhaps a few local and rural daytime services, but honestly, do we want twelve coach trains carrying thousands of frustrated passengers on overloaded carriages running on the country’s most densely populated routes, and in times of staff shortages – doing this without any staff on board apart from the driver ?
This is a long way away from the days when private bus companies cross subsidised services, allowing very busy commuter routes to subsidise rural country routes to “provide a service”
Its an interesting point to ask if either attitude to operating is right – or if transport needs a fresh way of funding or support.
My local bus services are provided in the main by an independent operator who provides a roughly half hour service running out of Coventry to Rugby. On the whole this service is excellent, with clean and liveried vehicles with a clear identity and running a reliable service from early morning to mid evening with a two hourly service on Sundays. I use this service on occasions and find that the drivers have to work hard to maintain the timetable, but I also use the Leicester to Lutterworth service on occasions, run by one of the big groups, and the drivers have to work very hard to maintain the timetable and often spending half the shift in the cab with no turn around time at the terminal point.
From a job perspective – we had it good in earlier times – with cups of tea at the terminus and with timetables planned by busmen, sometimes with too much time !
Summer – well…. June 2016 !
A changing topic will be included in this section regularly. On this occasion it’s WELCOME and welcome to the busy season with summer threatening to come to all. We are approaching the serious event of the EU vote – Are we strong enough and willing enough to make it work if we Brexit ? I do hope so. Yes there will be difficulties and possibly a slight downturn whilst the politicians redraw all the legislation to be BRITISH legal rather than EU legal.
but honestly – with all the talk of security – very few mention our excellent GCHQ which the others don’t have and who are providing constant information to other countries, some who have recently been exposed as having precious little intelligence themselves !
One thing though – we are a democracy so whatever happens I’m sure we will “get on with it”
I have been busy in recent weeks clearing some of my yard, and three roll-on roll-off skip loads of 25years of my life have been taken away at great cost. It was quite a strange feeling. I am very pleased and satisfied that I have found good and future homes for some of my collection of Midland Red memorabilia and parts. especially the rare Midland Red parts. Some new friends have been made in the process too. I have had a large collection of original oil paintings of both buses and trains, some of these are currently exhibited others pending sale. The Afternoon Tea Bus is now sold and is going to new owners with a Christmas Tree Farm where it will see a new lease of life. Everyone loves a British Double Decker and this one has the capability of serving those admirers with high class refreshments too !
There are some colleagues in the industry who stand out as exceptional for one reason or another. Over the years we have used Avenger Vehicle Services (PSV) (Paul Icke) mainly during our mechanics holidays or times of sickness or shortage etc, Paul has a long and very experienced lifetime working with buses and coaches. He started back in the good old days working as an Engineering Apprentice with Midland Red in Leicester – this of course was fantastic news for us. He later worked for himself and still serves Bus and Coach Operators from all over the UK when they are passing though the Midlands area. His bus service experience has kept lost mileage to a minimum and Paul ALWAYS tries as a priority to get you moving again in a safe and legal manner, often spending his own time later advising the operator of any remedial or primary action required especially if an emergency repair has been made. Pauls vehicles are traditional British built Landrover Defenders with workshops built in and are especially fitted out and well equipped with common spares and consumables, and he has excellent contacts for heavier recovery in the event of major failures.
Paul and I have completely different bus industry backgrounds and experience and whilst we have both learned over the years many opposing skills – Paul is Engineering, Mine is Traffic. But one common thing is our admiration for the experienced and worldly bus engineers who were the designers of the leaders in PSV technologies and designs over the years. Buses and Coaches that were designed by Bus and Coach Engineers with the clear understanding that long life and reliability were key design points, not forgetting fuel economy. Those designs like the Leyland Leopard, The Gardner Engine. If only we hadn’t had all the trouble with British Leyland in the 70’s. and that Gardner had responded with uprated engines capable of attacking hills. And… those Midland Red 100mph motorway coaches have gone too !!
Todays powers-that-be talk alot about Carbon Footprint when referring to our good old diesel engined buses and coaches and lots of other things too – but we should consider the carbon footprint of producing, marketing, selling, transporting the likes of ADBLU and the low miles per gallon achieved by so called efficient engines, the power needed to produce electricity to recharge our electric vehicles etc. Those statistics are not often told and are often not in the forfront of our minds.
The vehicles that are now consigned to history especially those powered by Gardner engines, achieved some great mpg figures – and we often forget that fuel is now a precious resource, yet we seem quite happy to burn lots of it along with even more AdBlu etc for a lean burn engine.
Instead of selling off all of our infrastructure and vital utilities to people who don’t much like us (Im thinking water and electricity etc), lets take back some important things back in control and get home skills in manufacturing back up and running – oh yes, and using British Steel too. And, Buy British when its best and not allow undercutting on contracts by overseas manufacturers when our skills are just a few miles away.
Back to Avenger PSV If you are based in the Midlands – (East Midlands in paricular) and operate buses and coaches, or have preserved buses, then keep Pauls number handy as you wont get better service and certainly no better experience, and at very reasonable rates too for prompt payment. Pauls number is 0116 262 1484 .
Be brave on 23rd June and lets try to get back some GREAT in Britain.
Welcome to a winter feel to the weather after some very unseasonal warm weather, however the rain seems to be continuing to fall with some recent bus related incidents involving the floods taking a small midi-type bus along a river at full flood, and a Stagecoach single decker bus being involved in “floating” off the road with a dozen passengers resulting in a helicopter rescue! We also have spring flowers in the hedges and gardens along the towpath of our canals too and I wonder what will be the fate of flowers if we get some hard frosts.
Over the past few months whilst giving my Midland Red talks to groups, there has been an unquieting number of questions at the end of the talks relating to the bus crash in Coventry a month or two ago where a double decker bus collided into Sainsburys store in Coventry. The question – should bus drivers age be limited. Its a very difficult question, as bus driver checks are increased with their age with up to annual medicals to renew bus driver entitlement to the drivers licence. When I was in the operating team running Leamington garage for Midland Red the driver concerned was one of my drivers. A calm, studious and quiet driver. After I left the company he went on to become a Mayor of the town, a fact that was reported in the media. We await the inquiry findings.
The industry will need to find an alarming number of employees should any limit be placed on bus drivers age, many of these drivers I understand work part time, filling important gaps as required, and most of these post retirement age drivers are long term bus industry men with a very important attribute – vast experience ! In fact often alot more in-service driving experience than their managers with todays trends towards bringing outsiders in to the industry and also often frequently moving managers which doesn’t give as consistent management structure to a depot as existed in the industry’s heyday.
Over the last couple of months on the lead up to Christmas I usually speak with my ex-colleagues from the industry from the 1960’s to 1990’s period mainly, catching up and giving good wishes for the festive season and remembering the good times from our working days. Sadly the place we also meet up with old colleagues is at funerals too. At a recent funeral in Rugby, there were some faces I hadn’t seen for years, and on talking to them later at the Wake, and talking of old Managers and the respect to these guys who steered our company, our staff, and our industry, was immense and we all left very proud people to have known and worked for these important but often forgotten people.
For many years I have been involved in day to day transport operations, mainly with Midland Red and WHEELS. This has been in the main, a wonderful occupation as it has given me the opportunity to work with my hobby and with some exceptional bus industry characters. (I will be covering some of these in a future update)
Now in semi-retirement, I relinquish the responsibility of looking after numerous vehicles, to just talk about them ! I also have plans to continue with the production of The Midland Red Collection of model buses, to conclude the development work on a Midland Red film/documentary, and to do more work on my book of life experiences. The retirement plan was almost totally brought about by my “other” interest, Canals – in fact when I bought a large narrowboat and learned first hand of the meaning of “life in the slow lane” !
I hope this website will enable me to share my interest and passion in my hobbies with others in the coming years. At the end of 2014 we visited the Euro Bus Expo show at the NEC. This could have been my last visit, at least in a professional capacity, but it gave me the opportunity to catch up with bus industry colleagues and give new contact details for the future. As usual I went with colleagues George, Richard, Chad and Colin. I must be set in a sort of 1960’s/1970’s time when buses and coaches were much more basic and functional machines with some character. Today’s industry exhibits seem to impress me less each year with gadgets for gadgets sake, and euro engines with ever increasing numbers after “euro”, and then there’s the endless and almost impossible to meet ‘green’ issues and regularly changing legislation – a lot from the EU! Operators should be looking to build much larger Tea Rooms for their Engineering staff as they increasingly do little “engineering” as the years go by. I know I’m probably seen to be ranting by some, but the variety and colour of fleets from the good old days is sadly missed. We also seem to be forgetting the end user of these “modern” products at super inflated prices, when of course the majority of group hirers want a vehicle at the lowest price! The industry seems to be geared up for the big boys and today it seems to be no place for the small independant operator. Of course the independant operators used to use cascaded vehicles from the larger fleets, but I somehow suspect that this is getting even harder to do as vehicles get over spec’d and have a limited reliable life. I remember speaking with one of my very well respected engineering colleagues of how he attended a 2 yr old Scania from very large operator which had multiplex wiring of what he described as a poor installation which had been repaired over time with seperate non multiplex wiring and inline fuses and new switches to stop indicators coming on when the wipers were activated ! He sarcastically told me that by the time I could afford one of those vehicles, it would have fallen to peices…..
Whatever happened to a low floor Leyland Leopard with air suspension – and before any of you of a certain age say it was a Panther – I mean something with more long term planning to get engine cooling designed in. One of the old manufacturers would have got it right, but for being swallowed up in the misguided days of British Leyland. I am not against progress per se, and I think there is some great future in electric vehicles – but we are setting sail too early. We need the next generation of battery technology before mass production, but this is certainly the way for cleaner greener buses.
The mainstay of my bus days, came from a fantastic period which saw immense change – remembering my enthusiast times from the early 1960’s, and in the late 1960’s working for Midland Red when it was still running as BMMO; and visits to Carlyle Works and seeing the latest BMMO creations, the D9 and D10 in build alongside the S17 and the motorway coaches. Overhauls were undertaken on a large scale in a “central works” in Edgbaston, Birmingham – a very advanced bus works sitting on the edge of Edgbaston reservoir.. Then came Nationalisation and boring white coaches and faded poppy red buses. Then on to Privatisation – changes were quite mild really during the period of Management buyouts, but increasingly more ruthless with the arrival of the big group ownership. But the operator influence on manufacturers has been lost – where vehicles were produced to a Chief Engineer’s requirements. Of course this all started when we were attracted to those early foreign imports in the early 80’s while our own manufacturers were in a state of decline, disinterest and poor labour relations. I owned a number of Royal Tiger Doyens, and whilst they endured an awful start and the early vehicles having short life build quality, the later examples which were an all-Leyland product and built at the modified Workington plant in Cumberland once the Leyland National production was over, and these later Doyens were very good vehicles. Oh well, it must be my age!
When I sold my fleet last year I unexpectedly found myself taking a part exchange in order for the Charabanc to go to an eager buyer. I was told that it was, like the Charabanc, a unique bus. But I was very confused when this ‘unique’ bus turned out to be a MCW Metrobus of which there were thousands running in the capital and of course locally to us in the Greater Birmingham area. However, this particularly model was indeed interesting, being converted to partial open top in Millenium year and used by the famous Harrods store as their Afternoon Tea Bus. The idea worked and was replaced later with a converted Routemaster. Since this time, the vehicle has had a relatively easy life and was only bought by its last operator a few months before it came to me. It has tables at all seats upstairs, and a kitchen downstairs. I have recently completed refurbishments to the kitchen and fridge freezer, microwaves, smoothie makers, generator, inverters, sinks and new counters complete the lower area. A Coventry manufacturer has recently completed a marquee type roof attachment so that the vehicle can have a longer “British” season of use. I look forward to having some fun with this for a year or so and then this will become my very last bus when it passes to pastures new and I finally withdraw from life with buses and rely on my collection of Midland Red memorabilia for memories of what I know of a better age of functional public transport and when buses and coaches were innovative and designed by experienced bus engineers for economical and reliable operation.
The website will for a time have bits and bobs from my long interest in Buses and Midland Red in particular, along with changing details on the Talks, my past involvement with Midland Red, WHEELS and Midland Red Coaches, and plans to continually update it with items of interest, stories of bus preservation etc. If you are an old colleague (or even not so old), or have anything relevant to contribute to the site, or have any cine films featuring Midland Red buses or coaches, please do get in touch, and enjoy looking around the rest of this site as it develops.
With best regards
ps. You can see more details of the MCW Metrobus on the Afternoon Tea Bus page of this site.
URGENT – Anything “Midland Red” on cine film WANTED.
Anyone with cine film of any format showing any aspect of Midland Red – their buses and coaches, the garages or works, the staff, the Midland Red Orchestra or Choir, in fact anything Midland Red – Please get in touch !
We have assembled the basis of a new documentary which will show many aspects of The friendly Midland Red and the people who made it the most exciting and second-largest bus company in the UK.
We would also like to talk to / interview any ex Midland Red staff of any rank, who started work for the company up until 1980. We will arrange to come to your area to talk to you and record your memories at a convenient time. We have an opportunity to record the memories of the last generation of Midland Red workers – please help us to keep the memories of Midland Red for future generations to enjoy.
We particularly want to speak with Engineers; any workers from Central Works, Midland House, or Bearwood; Motorway Express Coach Drivers, and members of the Midland Red Concert Orchestra.
Please email me using the form on the Contact Us page.
My Unique Charabanc Bus in BBC Drama “The Village”
THIS UNIQUE VEHICLE IS NOW FOR SALE
The historic drama series BBC1 “The Village” is about the life, antics, and gossip of the working class in a classic Derbyshire village – it’s full of excitement, sadness and the unexpected. It begins with the young lads of the village being taken away to fight in World War One, and follows the families through their lives and ensuing decades. The scripts are terrific, some written by Bafta-winning Peter Moffat. The story is based on the memories of the village’s eldest inhabitant Bert Middleton, that are played out through the series.
It is expected to be a long-running drama, and has some well known actors including John Simm and Maxine Peake.
The Second series concluded in August 2014 and covered the roaring twenties, leaving the gloom of the Great War behind.
Our unique Charabanc bus was featured in the first episode of the first series, and the final episode of the second series Watch a short video clip from the first series by clicking the image above.
The theme tune is sung by Beck Goldsmith, and you can listen to it and view the current TV trailer for the series on her website.