When I was young my Dad and several like-minded friends formed a group to save and restore a derelict 1937 Bedford WTB coach that one of them had found rotting outside a garage near Clevedon. This was in 1974 and at the time vintage and steam rallies (you’d call them “Shows” nowadays to avoid the motor sporting confusion) were a big deal. They invariably drew huge crouds and vast assemblies of vintage and classic vehicles every summer weekend up and down the country. It still goes on today of course (or it will once the Covid19 situation goes away) but as with many events that require a crowd, they fight to attract anything like the numbers now with sunday shopping and other alternatives on offer.
The garage belonged to a chap called Cutler and he had a famous brother, known as Adge. Adge had an even more famous group, THE WURZELS and at that time they were riding high with records in the top 10 and TV appearences. Thier style was “scrumpy & western” and their bawdy comic songs penned by Adge and sung in a Somerset accent were enormously popular. The Bedford had been their tour bus some years earlier , before the money rolled in and something a little more reliable and modern replaced it.
Sadly in early 1974 Adge Cutler fell asleep at the wheel of his convertible MGB , ran straight over a roundabout only 12 miles away from us at Chepstow, and was killed when the car rolled. His band went on however and reached number 1 in the pop charts during 1976 (COMBINE HARVESTER) with a no.3 follow up single later the same year (I AM A CIDER DRINKER).
So it was that seven men from the Forest of Dean recovered the Duple bodied coach and installed it in a recently abandoned bus garage in the town of Cinderford where restoration began. The SOUTH DOREST COACHES livery was maintained and modified somewhat, expanding the red panel down the side and also painting the front wings to match..
I remember there was a wasps nest in the ventilation system and the whole bus had a curious smell to it after that was cleared – I still recall it vividly 45 years later. I also remember being given a job (aged 7) of painting some part of the chassis with ‘red lead’ and this involved being down in the inspection pit (imagine this today…) with one of the other owner’s sons and he spotted a pair of shoes within reach of his brush, and these were liberally coated, much to the annoyance of the occupier who’s name was Mr Meek… Half of the town of Cinderford shared that surname name back then and they all clung to the biblical promise that “The meek shall inherit the earth” , or so I was always told.
After all the work was done we were off to events most weekends with JT8077’s 27 seats almost always filled t capacity with freinds and extended family. I remember events where my Mum, Dad, brother and I were joined by all four of grandparents an an uncle an aunt plus probably three cousins . Come to think of it, as a family we did seem to hog it a bit! In the shot above my Dad is at the wheel and I’m just visible inside the doorway.
In 1975 the seven owners plus some passengers (my grandfather included) took JT8077 on the HSVC London-Brighton run (not the one in GENEVIEVE, but a version for old buses, coaches and lorries) where it won a large rose-bowl tropy for “Best Bedford” and got itself in the local news papers and on local TV.
But the most talked about espiode was when ITN newsreader Gordon Honeycombe, all decked out in an Edwardian fireman’s outfit, decided JT8077 was just the place to change back into his street clothes …not that he thought it wise to ask anyone first. One of the crew stepped onboard to find him getting out of his uniform and told him to leave. He protested “But I’m Gordon Honeycombe!” , which cut no ice, “I don’t care who you are! Bugger off!” was the final word.
In the long-hot-summer of 76 we ran into a major problem on the way to a rally at Slough. Slogging up a long hill, somewhere in the Chilterns, poor old JT8077 boiled up and ground to a halt outside a big saw mills. There she remained for hours as efforts were made to get her moving again . The cylinder head had cracked.It was unbelieveably hot, several crates of Coca Cola were consumed and shade sought among the stacks of timber ( imagine H&S rules allowing public access like that today!) The run back home was slow and interrupted by frequent stops for water (for the bus) and drinks (for the sweltering passengers). It took all day to retrace a route that had only taken a couple of hours that morning and a lot longer to repair the cracked head. I’m fairly sure my Dad said i never quite ran as sweetly afterwards.
On one other occasion the fuel pump failed right in the middle of the old Severn Bridge when it was still the M4 and the busy main motorway route from England to Wales. It was only two lanes wide with no hard shoulder. Being parked up there with traffic jinking past at 70mph while Dad frantically tried to get the pump to work again was not a very enjoyable experience for any of us. It cost a foirtune to be recovered from ‘The Bridge’ in those ways so every effort was made to avoid it and eventually forward motion resumed but we never got to the rally planned for that day, we trailed slowly home the long-way-round via Gloucester so as not to risk another episode on the bridge!
But the good days were many and made it all worth the effort to enjoy such a great times with grandparents and cousins . We would not have missed it for the world.
Over time five of the original seven owners dropped out and eventually JT8077 ended up owned 50-50 by my Dad and Eric Pitchard, a salesman at the local Datsun dealers in Five Acres. In the meantime the bus garage where it was kept was demolished (It’s now a LIDL store) but work actually started while JT8077 was still inside! A frantic effort was made to remove her before any damage was done. Therafter she was stored outside in an orchard and the weather rapidly started to have an effect. I remember on the very last event we did , which was at BULMERS cider factory in Hereford in late 1978, my Nan grabbed one of the door handles and it ripped out of the rotting wood frame. Dad had a new job by then, he no longer had the time to work on the Bedford and everyone was going their own way , as usually happens, so the repairs faultered, the problems compounded over successive winters and eventually the coach was sold back to Dorset and then on to John Woodhams on the Isle of Wight who ran a tour bus business and he still owns JT8077 , although I understand she’s not currently on active service .
Aside from it’s ‘roack and roll’ history, JT8077 has also appeared on TV and featured in the Stephen Polikof drama DANCING ON THE EDGE a few years back(below left) . I’m fairly sure it also appeared in a childrens TV show. MALLORY TOWERS only a matter of weeks back.
In 2007, the same year THE WURZELS actually played Glastonbury, John Woodhams brought their old tour bus through the Forest of Dean and I took my now-widowed mum and Mrs Pritchard, Eric’s widow, to see it in the car park at SPEECH HOUSE HOTEL along with one of the original ‘seven’, Roger Annettes, who’s owned several other old buses since. JT8077 is now painted green (we all preferred the original livery, it has to be said) but climbing board was like putting on a familiar overcoat. Even that wasp-nest-smell remained and the little upholstery details of the seats, the controls and the way the door slid open were exactly as recalled. I sat in the driving seat, but only while it was parked up.
It’s a lovely old coach. A coach with quite a history and hopefully a bright future too.
Look after her Mr Woodhams!