in legislation introduced by the Transport Act of 1980 would end the
previous near monopoly of National Express on long distance coach
operations in Britain. Seeing opportunities significant private sector
operators Grey-Green of London and Wallace Arnold of Leeds came
together to begin competitive express coach services. Working outward
from the logical London - Yorkshire core route appropriate to these two
firms others were invited to participate in a consortium that would
develop a greater network under the impressive brand of British
Coachways. Ellerman Bee Line of Middlesbrough, Shearings of Altrincham,
Parks of Hamilton and Morris Brothers of Swansea completed the initial
Using low fares as the basis of operations the publicity was based on the red white and blue theme used by British Airways, with a cheeky adaptation of their slogan 'Fly the Flag' to 'Ride the Flag'. The new name and network were launched on 6th October 1980 by transport minister Norman Fowler. Within a month or so the route network expanded further when the consortium increased to ten members with the addition of Yorks Travel of Northampton, Excelsior of Bournemouth, Barton of Nottingham and Warner-Fairfax of Bristol.
Mike Kay of Grey-Green was marketing director of British Coachways and handled the central publicity and promotion. He said "the British Coachways fares are very carefully pitched, they are certainly cheap but are also realistic and National has recognised this by lowering its own fares to our level but no lower." Coachways fares were set at half of those of National but at such low fares Coachways needed to fill a high proportion of the available seats. The charting (originally done mostly by Grey-Green in London) worked on the principle that bookings close at 48 seats and would not reopen unless there was a high certainty that a second coach could operate profitably.
A bus stop in Pancras Road, between Kings Cross and St Pancras railway stations, then served as the departure point for those routes still in operation (Parks to Scotland, Barton to Nottingham, Ellerman Bee Line to Middlesbrough and Excelsior to Bournemouth). Barton and Bee Line dropped their services in 1983 and the longest lasting of all would be Excelsior who continued independently operating their route until 31st January 1998 when it was merged with that of National Express following a change of ownership the previous year when the Maitland family had sold their business after 77 years.
|Success story from the publicity
'Ride Express' number two (October 1980). The right hand picture shows
Excelsior managing director Vernon Maitland (second from left) and Tom
General Manager of Grey-Green (second from right). At the far
left is David Jenkin of Excelsior and on the far right
Mike Kay of Grey-Green. The left hand picture shows Alf York of Yorks
Travel of Northampton.
Barton of Nottingham joined the British Coachways consortium at this time with routes from both Grantham and Nottingham.
|Cover of January 1982 Ride Guide
timetable. (Click on this link to see
the full timetable)
Announcement of the change of London terminal to the Ryan Hotel from the timetable above.
|Perhaps the last word
on British Coachways is best left to Grey Green general manager,
the late Tom McLachlan, who said in his letter in Classic Buses magazine issue 51 -
'Any honour remaining at the end of this saga went to Excelsior, which profited by the adventure,
and to Morris Brothers, which did not. Both were good operators and excellent partners.'
more of the story in 'The Rise and
Fall of British Coachways'
by Ken Bateman and Owen Woodliffe (Rochester Press 1984, ISBN 0 946 379 173)
and in an article by Andrew Babbs in Classic Bus magazine, issue 49, October-November 2000.
The 1984 report by TRRL on 'Express Coach Services in the three years following the 1980 Transport Act' can be found here