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 of '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.
Most of the routes were named (eg Sherwood Forester, Tartan Easy Rider) and run on a joint basis between the distant provincial operator and London based Grey-Green but fares were not pooled. Low fares though need balancing by high loadings and one handicap was the London departure point, basically an undeveloped open site near Kings Cross, lacking in many basic facilities.
It then fell to Shearings to assume the central role in London and they opened an office in the Ryan Hotel in Kings Cross Road which served as a (somewhat inconvenient) departure point for the remaining consortium member's routes from 6th January 1982. Morris Bros of Swansea left the consortium at this time. Shearings was now the largest surviving member of British Coachways and the remaining operations continued through a second summer season. But Shearings too pulled out in August 1982, with departures now reverting from the Ryan Hotel to the original departure point. On 18th October 1982 the last four members of the consortium found themselves without a terminus in London when the site they had been using became unavailable: it was developed as the site of the new British Library. Services ceased operation from this date and British Coachways was disbanded after just two years.
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.
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.'
|Success story from the publicity
'Ride Express' of (October 1980). The right hand picture shows
Excelsior managing director
Vernon Maitland (second from left) and Tom McLachlan, General Manager of Grey-Green (second from right). 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.
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