National Bus Company (UK)

National Bus Company

Parent Department of Transport
Founded 1 January 1969
Ceased operation April 1988
Headquarters London
Service area England & Wales
Service type Bus operator

The National Bus Company (NBC) was a nationalised bus company that operated in England and Wales between 1969 and 1988. NBC did not run buses itself, but was the owner of a number of regional subsidiary bus operating companies.


National Welsh Omnibus Services Leyland Leopard at Cardiff Central bus station in the poppy red and white "dual purpose" version of the NBC corporate livery in June 1980


Following the Labour Party victory at the 1966 general election, Barbara Castle was appointed Minister for Transport. Castle immediately ordered a review of public transport, with a view to formulating a new transport policy.

Among the issues to be tackled were the ownership and operation of bus services, which were rapidly losing patronage and profitability due to increased prevalence of private motor cars.[1] The state owned a considerable proportion of scheduled bus operators outside the major cities, having obtained the Tilling Group companies in 1948 as a byproduct of nationalising the railways. The Tilling Group was subsequently placed under the ownership of the nationalised Transport Holding Company (THC).

Castle proposed forming regional transport authorities, which would take over the THC subsidiaries and municipal transport undertakings in their area, and would also have the power to acquire private bus operators.[1] However, in November 1967 British Electric Traction (BET) unexpectedly offered to sell its bus operations to the government.[2] BET, who had been the only major private bus operating group, received £35 million for its 25 provincial bus companies and 11,300 vehicles.[3] The deal meant that the state or municipal bus operators now operated some 90% of scheduled bus services in England and Wales.[1] Instead of forming the regional authorities, the government published a white paper proposing the merger of the THC and BET organisations into a single National Bus Company.[4][5]

The recommendations of the white paper formed part of the Transport Act 1968. The 1968 Act also reorganised the already nationalised bus operation in Scotland, where subsidiaries formed the Scottish Bus Group.[6]


The National Bus Company was formed on 1 January 1969.[7]

In 1970 the company was enlarged when it acquired the country area buses of London Transport (as London Country Bus Services), the bus operations of the county boroughs of Exeter and Luton, and the Gosport & Fareham Omnibus Company.[8]

Buses were operated by locally managed subsidiary companies with their own fleetnames and liveries. In the early years of the company there was some rationalisation, generally leading to the amalgamation of operators into larger units and the transfer of areas between them. One was the merging of Aldershot & District with Thames Valley on 1 January 1972.[9] Another example was the transfer of the 'land-locked' Trowbridge operations from Western National to Bristol Omnibus in 1970.

Corporate identity

Following the appointment of Fred Wood as chairman in 1972, NBC introduced corporate images. Henceforward its coaches were branded as National Travel and painted in unrelieved white, with the NBC logo and the 'NATIONAL' name in alternate red & blue letters. The services were rebranded as National Express soon afterwards. The addition of blue and white stripes appeared in 1978. National Travel was the country's first attempt at a uniformly marketable express network, which superseded Associated Motorways and the plethora of other services provided by individual NBC subsidiaries. The coaches were managed by a few areas and included travel agent booking offices based at major bus stations. A hub and spoke system operated with the main hub at Cheltenham (though this did not serve the North of England very well).

Around the same time the company launched a wide number of UK holiday services under the banner "National Holidays". This brand and its travel agent booking offices existed until the mid-1990s when the coach holiday division closed.

The National Express overseas travel business was relaunched recently under the name Eurolines; this brand now operates services from the UK across Europe, booked through the main National Express website.

Southern Vectis fleetname and "double-N" logo on leaf green livery

In the 1970s all local service buses adopted a uniform design, generally in either leaf green or poppy red, initially with white relief, and bearing the company fleetname in white with the new NBC "double-N" arrow logo. There were, however, exceptions: buses operating in the area of the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive became yellow in a similar fashion to the PTE's own fleet but to the NBC design; some buses operating within West Yorkshire were liveried in WYPTE verona green and cream; Jones (Aberbeeg) and Midland General both liveried in blue until 1980, and the Northern General subsidiary, Sunderland District, also retained blue for a short period.

Area of operation

Although NBC operated throughout England and Wales, it was not a monopoly. Services were provided by London Transport in Greater London, the fleets of the municipal bus companies and passenger transport executives, and by independent operators in some rural areas and a few small towns.

Bus manufacture

The NBC inherited from the Transport Holding Company 75% shareholdings in chassis manufacturer Bristol Commercial Vehicles and body builder Eastern Coach Works.[7] In 1969 NBC formed a joint venture with British Leyland (who owned the other 25% of Bristol and ECW), by means of which British Leyland became a 50% owner of the NBC's manufacturing companies. The joint venture designed and built a new single-deck bus, the Leyland National. The first was delivered in 1972, and it remained in production until 1986. The National was also available to other bus operators. In 1982 NBC sold its 50% interest in the joint venture (including Bristol and ECW) to British Leyland.

Service reforms

In the late 1970s and early 1980s services were reviewed under a process known within instigator Midland Red as the Viable Network Project and subsequently more generally as the "Market Analysis Project" (MAP). Each company carefully considered its existing and potential new demands, surveyed both on and off bus, and recast local networks to reflect the results, indicating to local authorities those services requiring subsidy. As part of the MAP local area identities were invariably introduced, with new fleetnames applied to buses, bus stops, timetables and publicity. The process culminated in the splitting of several larger NBC subsidiaries.

Deregulation and privatisation

Midland Red Eastern Coach Works bodied Leyland Leopard in National Holidays livery

From 1986 buses were deregulated and progressively privatised, and the remaining larger companies were forcibly broken up.

NBC was divided into 70 units, with the first sale being of National Holidays to Pleasurama in July 1986.[10] The last sale was completed in April 1988.[11][12][13]

The sales spawned a renewed interest in individual liveries, and the "double-N" logo disappeared. However, it was kept by National Express when it was sold to their management, and continued to be used until 2003, when the NBC logo finally disappeared in favour of a new logo, since replaced in 2007. Most local companies passed from state control to management buyouts.[11] The independence of many however, was short lived, as they were acquired by the emerging large private bus groups, represented today by:


Preserved former Crosville Eastern Coach Works bodied Bristol VR in August 2010

Original companies

The original bus-operating subsidiaries of the National Bus Company in 1969 and 1970 were:

‡Bristol Omnibus Company also operated city services in Bristol for Bristol Joint Services, a joint undertaking of the company and Bristol City Council. It also leased services from the county borough of Gloucester, buses in the city bearing a Gloucester fleetname and city coat of arms.

Keighley-West Yorkshire Services, jointly owned by West Yorkshire and the Borough of Keighley, operated by this company. They also provided municipal bus services for the County Borough of York on behalf of the York-West Yorkshire Joint Committee.


NBC pursued a policy of merging subsidiaries to form larger regional companies. At the same time some of its operations and depots passed to passenger transport executives. On 1 January 1972, North Western was split up: part going to the SELNEC PTE, the remainder to Crosville and Trent. In 1973 the operations of Midland Red within the area of West Midlands PTE passed to the executive.

NBC bus-operating subsidiaries in 1981

By 1978 the following bus-operating companies existed:

Break-up and privatisation

In 1981 Midland Red, weakened by losing its core area, was broken into six smaller operating companies. Most of the National Travel companies were closed down in the mid-1980s, with coaches mainly going to local bus companies. Wessex National was formed from part of National Travel South West, and Pilgrim Coaches from part of National Travel West.

In preparation for the introduction of deregulation in 1986, and for privatisation soon after, many of the companies were broken up into smaller units. In some cases the names of earlier companies - such as Wilts & Dorset or North Western - were revived, although often with quite different areas from their namesakes.

NBC bus-operating subsidiaries at privatisation
Original company Year of split Companies formed Privatisation
Alder Valley 1986 Alder Valley North - renamed The Beeline 1987
Alder Valley 1986 Alder Valley South 1987
Bristol 1983 Bristol (Cityline) 1987
Bristol 1983 Badgerline 1986
Bristol 1983 Cheltenham & Gloucester 1986
Crosville 1986 Crosville 1988
Crosville 1986 Crosville Wales 1987
Cumberland Gained Ribble's North Cumbrian operations in 1986 Cumberland 1987
East Kent n/a East Kent 1987
East Midland n/a East Midland 1988
East Yorkshire n/a East Yorkshire 1987
Eastern Counties 1984 Ambassador Coaches 1987
Eastern Counties 1984 Cambus 1986
Eastern Counties 1984 Eastern Counties 1986
Eastern National 1986 Eastern National/Thamesway 1986
Hants & Dorset 1983 Hampshire Bus 1987
Hants & Dorset 1983 Shamrock & Rambler 1987
Hants & Dorset 1983 Wilts & Dorset 1987
Lincolnshire n/a Lincolnshire 1988
London Country 1987 London Country North East 1988
London Country 1987 London Country North West 1988
London Country 1987 London Country South East - renamed Kentish Bus 1988
London Country 1987 London Country South West 1988
Maidstone & District 1986 Hastings & District 1987
Maidstone & District 1986 Maidstone & District 1987
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red East renamed Midland Fox 1987
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red Express - renamed Midland Red Coaches 1986
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red North 1988
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red South 1987
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red West 1986
National Travel East n/a National Travel East 1987
National Welsh n/a National Welsh 1987
Northern General n/a Northern General 1987
Oxford 1986 Oxford Bus Company 1987
Oxford 1986 South Midland 1986
Pilgrim Coaches n/a Pilgrim Coaches Limited 1987
Potteries n/a PMT Limited 1986
Provincial Gained part of Hants & Dorset 1983 Provincial Bus Company 1987
Ribble 1986 Transfer of North Cumbrian operations Cumberland 1988
Ribble 1986 North Western 1988
Ribble 1986 Ribble 1988
South Wales n/a SWT 1987
Southdown 1986 Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company 1987
Southdown 1986 Southdown 1987
Southern Vectis n/a Southern Vectis 1986
Trent n/a Trent Motor Traction 1986
United 1986 Northumbria 1987
United 1986 United 1987
United Counties 1986 Luton & District 1987
United Counties 1986 Milton Keynes City Bus 1987
United Counties 1986 United Counties 1987
Wessex National n/a Wessex National Limited 1987
West Riding / Yorkshire Woollen n/a West Riding 1987
West Yorkshire n/a West Yorkshire 1987
Western National / Devon General 1983 Devon General 1986
Western National / Devon General 1983 North Devon (Red Bus) 1988
Western National / Devon General 1983 Southern National 1988
Western National / Devon General 1983 Western National 1987
Yorkshire Traction n/a Yorkshire Traction 1987

Two additional non-bus-operating subsidiaries were also disposed of in 1988:

The Scarborough operations of United Automobile Services passed to East Yorkshire Motor Services in September 1986.


  1. 1 2 3 "'State buses plan goes' : report". The Times. 4 December 1967. p. 1.
  2. "BET could benefit from bus sale". The Times. 18 November 1967. p. 12.
  3. "BET to accept £35m". The Times. 23 November 1967. p. 19.
  4. Michael Baily (6 December 1967). "£20m subsidy plan for city transport". The Times. p. 3.
  5. Public Transport and Traffic (Cmnd 3481), 5 December 1967
  6. Transport Act - the main provisions Commercial Motor 1 November 1968 page 30
  7. 1 2 National Bus Company Commercial Motor 3 January 1969 page 27
  8. NBC to buy 'provincial' Commercial Motor 21 November 1969 page 29
  9. Aldershot and Thames Valley merge Commercial Motor 26 February 1971 page 26
  10. Holidays leads NBC sell-off Commercial Motor 19 July 1986
  11. 1 2 NBC sale is completed with London Country NE Commercial Motor 7 April 1988 page 16
  12. Hansard House of Commons 18 April 1988
  13. Morris, Stephen (September 1996). "NBC since NBC: a history of the former NBC subsidiaries". Buses Focus: 46.


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