Hello sailor! On the buses naval-style in sunny mid-1970s Plymouth
Think of the Royal Navy in all its 20th Century glory and aircraft carriers, frigates, Sea King helicopters and Harrier jump jets spring immediately to mind.
Rather less likely as transport for the maritime section of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces is a rather elderly Bristol Lodekka doubledecker bus. Yet, as this summer 1973 picture shows, when it came to getting its sailors around on land rather than sea or in the air, the navy resorted to more mundane forms of transport (although CCW’s bus guru Nick Larkin will argue that an ancient Bristol is more exciting than HMS Ark Royal or a de Haviland Sea Vixen).
The location is Plymouth, home to Devonport, the largest naval base in western Europe. Quite where in Plymouth isn’t recorded (so feel free to write in and let us know), but we suspect it might be quite close to the famous Plymouth Hoe, judging by the billboard for the Hoe Theatre in the background.
Plymouth Hoe was where Sir Francis Drake played bowls in 1588 before engaging the Spanish Armada, but visitors in 1973 could instead enjoy performances of The Happy Apple, Night Must Fall, Odd Man In and Something to Hide. Alternatively, there was the lure of an audience with David Kossoff – an actor best-known as Alf Larkin in The Larkins (which, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t a biographical drama about our Nick). There was also Miranda, a vintage romcom about a lovelorn mermaid and nothing to do with the current comedienne, Ms Hart, who would have been about six months old at the time. Although she might well have been in the neighbourhood, as her father was a lieutenantcommander in the Royal Navy and later commander of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Yes, really. Such fun!
The transport awaiting our two chattering naval ratings here is somewhat less luxurious. Bristol Commercial Vehicles built the low-floor Lowdekka from 1949 to 1968. More than 5200 appeared, and all were bodied by Eastern Coach Works in Lowestoft. Both companies ended up as part of the sprawling British Leyland empire and disappeared in the 1980s. It’s not possible to accurately date this Bristol because naval numberplates don’t identify a year, but we assume it was getting on a bit, probably having been cascaded out of the local Western National coach and bus fleet.
Parked immediately adjacent is something else beyond its ‘best before’ date: a Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe. The bright paint shade – Ming, Panama or Sunburst Yellow – dates it between 1959 and 1964, as well as doing a good job of disguising any corrosion caused by living close to the sea, although the front valance in a different shade suggests it had already fallen victim to all the salt in the air and been replaced. The registration no longer exists on DVLA databases.
Likely to be a little more resilient, thanks to its glassfibre body, is a 1969/70 Reliant Regal Supervan resting next to the Anglia and finished in the same flamboyant hue. Alongside this is a Bedford HA van, with another Luton load-lugger, a Vauxhall Victor FE estate, occupying the neighbouring spot. With the FE model only introduced during 1972, this last Vauxhall to be designed independently of Opel would have been almost new.
Behind the bus, the on-road parking is occupied by a two-tone green and yellow Triumph. The side-stripe suggests a Vitesse 1600, but the unusual colour combination, non-standard wheels and driver’s door sporting a sticker and circular mirror (instead of the more usual wing item) hints at a DIY-modified boy racer Herald. There’s no mistaking the next two cars: a 1964 Hillman Minx Series V with its original wraparound rear screen and a Rover P6. The plastic ‘eggcrate’ grille marks this out as a post-1970 Series II, but with only the C-pillars clad in black vinyl and not the entire roof, we reckon it’s a four-cylinder 2000 rather than the full-fat V8.
Amid the vehicles beyond are a pale blue Vauxhall Viva HC and a gold Hillman Hunter (or its Rootes Arrow badge-engineered Minx, Gazelle or Vogue equivalents). Looming over everything, including the green and yellow Ford Transit in the far background, is a Desert Sahara two-door Range Rover V8.