We’re All Going On A…

Great Britain


The double-decker bus is inextricably linked with that song in my head, probably because at the age of seven I queued up to see Cliff Richard in ‘Summer Holiday’, and when director Peter Yates turned his monochrome footage to colour with the approach of the bus, we felt as if Britain had just driven out of its grey, sooty past.

The double-decker is celebrating its 75th year on the roads of the UK (as indeed is Cliff, I imagine), not just in London, which of course also had trams; in the rest of the country buses had different liveries, some of them very cute, but I don’t know if they still run. Anyway, to mark the anniversary the London Bus Museum brought out its classic models and ran them between Piccadilly and Homerton, free to ride on.

If Boris Johnson did one thing right (and if you’re stumped for a list, check out Boris Watch, the snarky website dedicated to providing some perspective on our Mayor’s spin) people feel it was that he brought back conductors on buses – but as in all things the truth is somewhat more complicated, not to mention fairly boring to read about. The short version is that some double-deckers have conductors, but not all of the time.

One thing our last Mayor did was to shift passengers from the underground system to busses with efficiency. I hate bus travel (too confusing, too slow) but even I started taking one around town. Now I’ve reverted to the tube, which has lately become the transport method of choice for tourists going back to Heathrow, making it a nightmarish climb over suitcases on the Piccadilly Line. People with big cases don’t get on buses, so perhaps now’s the time to switch back, just for the summer.

The red bus remains an iconic symbol of London, from movies (‘Mutiny On The Buses’, anyone? Bueller? Anyone?) to fashion shoots and album covers, and they at least still have a function, while red telephone boxes do not. Perhaps there’s another use for Gilbert’s boxes, although I live in King’s Cross where they already serve several other purposes, from urinals to the sex trade. In theory there’s no need at all for any, apart from keeping a couple in the background of tourist hot-spots.

But this morning, watching the log-jam of red buses from my coffee shop window, there were six buses in line all with their conductors hanging off their poles trying to see what the hold-up was, and all felt right with the world.

5 comments on “We’re All Going On A…”

  1. Simon says:

    I still have the original ‘Summer Holiday’ film soundtrack LP in my collection and the journey is still a dream on my lifes to do list.

  2. Keith Page says:

    I don’t use buses a great deal, but I was quite impressed with a recent trip on one of the new ones [ I never did go on one of those ridiculous Livingstone articulated things.] What I really used to enjoy as a child was sitting behind the driver on one of the old RT’s [ pre- Routemaster double decker ].I like old Austin London taxis with the open luggage platform , as well [saw one on the Embankment a while ago]

  3. Nellie says:

    Up here in the wilds of Nottinghamshire our red telephone boxes still have a function.They are used as second hand book exchanges, put your old paperbacks in and swap them for someone elses for free
    .There is also talk of putting a defibrillator in ours seeing as the ambulance response times out here are counted in months!

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The tube is definitely the way to go to Heathrow. Yes. And the red buses are great. I had an enlightening conversation with an older gentleman about the reason traffic got piled up near Trafalgar Square and how much better things would be if only maintenance/construction etc. work was done quicker. Also, If the fences around worksites weren’t put in place until work was ready to commence and were removed as soon as work was finished traffic would flow beautifully. I imagine I could have had that conversation in almost any city in the world, but it did seem particularly Londonish. Of course Edinburgh’ complaints about the tramway going up along Princes St. and the diversion of things onto George St. was certainly in the same genre.

  5. snowy says:

    There is another way to get from the airport into London. Via the ‘Heathrow Express’ a dedicated train service separate from the Underground, slightly more expensive, but a little faster and little less crowded. Probably not of interest as there won’t be anyone in your party that likes to tick off railway systems. [But if it is check their website for discount tickets eg. Duo Saver.]

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