A Century of Transport - Styling Developments
British vehicle styling was strongly influenced by the USA after the war. Some companies were American owned but British manufacturers also followed the trend to bulky, flowing styling. Bus designers were also influenced. Midland Red from 1945 modernised the look of front engined buses by concealing the radiators. Birmingham City Transport soon followed and the revised styling was dubbed the 'new look' after Dior's latest ladies' fashions. Amongst the manufacturers Foden, a minor supplier in the bus market, led the way but the others soon offered 'new look' options.
Curved glass became practical on vehicles in the late 1950s and wrap-round windscreens began to feature on trucks, coaches, and even buses. ERF, Foden and Guy all produced striking designs of truck cab with curved screens. Interestingly, however, the major bus operators in the Midlands (e.g. Midland Red, Birmingham City Transport and the succeeding West Midlands PTE) preferred to specify flat glasses whenever the option was there on the grounds of cost of replacements.
The Labour Party elected in 1945 had pursued a policy of nationalisation - the taking into public ownership of many significant industries. The transport sector was one of these. Railways had been nationalised in 1948 and, as the railways owned or part-owned many bus companies, at least partial state ownership of your local bus company was generally the case in 1950. The onward march of nationalisation and state ownership was halted in 1951 when the Conservative Party returned to power.
Many cities and large towns, however, continued to operate their own bus or tram services in the 1950s. Large regional transport boards had been proposed by the Labour Party and would probably have become reality had they retained power. Nationalisation had only affected private companies and not municipally owned buses. Since then, the occasional corporation transport department has disappeared by voluntary sale to the local bus company but most have vanished in successive politically inspired reorganisations of the transport industry since 1969, especially the Passenger Transport Executives created under Labour administrations producing, in effect, diluted versions of the transport boards proposed at the turn of the 1950s. Back in 1950, here in the English Midlands, Birmingham, Burton, Coventry, Derby, Leicester, Northampton, Nottingham, Walsall, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton all had their own municipal fleets, operated with the aim of providing the best service for their ratepayers. The influence of councillors meant Corporation bus fleets often favoured local manufacturers where possible, for example Coventry and Wolverhampton's buses were therefore nearly all built by Daimler and Guy Motors respectively.
Elsewhere, buses were operated by companies. Midland Red remained a private company but the railway shares in it were now in state hands. Some major bus groups had voluntarily sold out to the state and their companies were thus completely nationalised under the control of the British Transport Commission, representing around half the company buses in England & Wales. Included were several companies on the outer edges of the Midlands such as Cheltenham District, Midland General and Red & White.
The chassis manufacturer Bristol and body builder Eastern Coach Works had also passed into state ownership with the Tilling group. The Bristol/ECW combination was only supplied to state owned companies throughout the 1950s and could not be sold on the open market - a Bristol badge on the radiator of a 1950s bus is a sure sign that its company was state owned. The Red & White group of companies, for example, had favoured Albion buses but had to change to Bristols after voluntary sale to the state.
Road haulage had a not dissimilar history but differed in one major respect. The nationalisation of haulage businesses was much further advanced and most lorries were carrying the fleetname of British Road Services by the time Conservatives were returned to power in 1951. They immediately began to privatise road haulage although not all of it found buyers so British Road Services survived in reduced form. The Conservative made no endeavours to privatise the state participation in bus companies in the 1950s, unlike Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government of the 1980s which disliked public ownership of buses.
©Copyright 2003 Malcolm Keeley for the Transport Museum, Chapel Lane, Wythall, Worcestershire B47 6JX, England.
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