London Classic Bus
Hire - specialise in the old fashioned London
Routemasters - an iconic symbol of the best of
Here Digger talks
to Jason at London Classic Bus Hire. Jason always
had a passion for vintage buses, dabbled with them
throughout his youth in one form or another and this
eventually, probably inevitably, turned into a
Classic Bus Hire has a fleet of buses and coaches
offering all manner of services, tours and packages
and is in demand for corporate events, weddings,
parties and film and TV work.
Digger: Hello Jason.
Jason: Hello Digger.
Digger: How are you?
Jason: Not bad. Not bad.
Digger: Are you having a nice relaxing Sunday?
Jason: Nice and quiet.
Digger: I was watching the Social Network DVD last night and
now I'm racking my brains how to come up with an Internet idea
that will make me a billionaire. The guy who started up
Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was a nerd. Now he's a rich nerd.
Jason: He was, wasn't he?
Digger: But he also seemed to stitch up a few people on the
way up according to the film and I didn't understand why he
would do that. There was one friend of his and
co-founder who had 30% of the company and ended-up only owning
.03% because of some small print he didn't read in some
contacts. I don't know why he was excluded like that. There
were also two other guys who (allegedly) came up with the same
idea at the same time and invited Zuckerberg to work with them
and then Zuckerberg went off on his own. He's worth billions
now and they only got 'a few million'!
Jason: How about that! He gazumped them all.
Digger: Isn't it strange watching something that's historical
on film when it's only a few years ago that people hadn't heard
Jason: Very weird. Makes you realise how quickly things are
Digger: Jason, please tell us a little bit about your background and
the background to the London Classic Bus Hire business.
Jason: I got into running buses quite by accident.
Digger: What were you into before?
Jason: I used to sell a few cars. The bus thing came about
because when I was at school I had this fascination with the
look and design of buses. Where I lived, in Gravesend in Kent,
we used to go to school on Maidstone and District buses, which
in those days were run by the National Bus Company.
Digger: We had Eastern National where I was in Essex at the
Jason: Yes, and I always thought they looked really good in
Digger: They did. They had a look about them.
Jason: When these buses used to take us to school it was
public service buses.
Digger: Were you smoking on top? I know I was as a school kid,
Jason: My chums were on the back seat smoking, but because of
my love of buses I used to stop them writing graffiti on the
bus. I wasn't cool.
Digger: Oh I see!
Jason: "Don't do that, it's not a good thing to do. It's
silly and immature" I'd say!
Digger: (Laughs) As they held you down and beat you up?
Digger: There's a theory about when people are twelve years
old and whatever they're doing then is what they want to do
when they're grown up.
Jason: Yes, well I was very into buses at that age so it's
true in my case. I always
wanted to drive a bus. With some of the drivers, because the
gearboxes were semi-automatic, I used to stand there and talk
to the drivers and then go out in the evenings riding around
on them. They used to let me change the gears!
Digger: This was in the days of On The Buses on telly?
Jason: Yes. Great TV and great movies too. And those were great days. I
used to photograph the buses and they used to come out really
good. I thought "Wow!" When some of the buses were
due for a paint job, they'd get a bit tatty and be sent away
to be painted up at Postley Works in Maidstone and these made
them look brand new again. I used to get my camera out and I
couldn't believe how good they looked again.
Digger: Did they replace the upholstery as well?
Jason: Yes, inside and out. It was brilliant. Then I used to
travel all around Kent on the buses, down to Hastings and
places like that.
Digger: Were there any other like-minded people around?
Jason: There were, but none of my friends were really
interested in them like myself. And I was out there on my own
doing my own thing really. I went to bus rallies. My first one
was with one of the drivers who used to take me to school and
it's really strange because years later he came to work for me
and drives for me. He was know as "Prangit" because
he always used to prang all the buses. His real name was
Digger: I suppose it's a bit like Trigger's broom, isn't it?
Nothing's going to be original on these buses because
everything's replaced every once in a while?
Jason: That's right. So I went with this driver because I knew
he was an enthusiast as well and this was back in 1978 or 1980
and the first one we went to was at Southend. He picked me up
and I knew he was a really serious bus fanatic when he picked me
up in a Sherpa van but in the back he had all bus seats in
there! And so they were good days.
Digger: How did you make the transfer from cars to buses in
Jason: I was selling cars that had been stolen and then found
by the authorities in good
condition, but after the insurance company had already settled with
the owners of the stolen car. Then, one day, I was
going down the A13 and I saw this green bus and I noticed a
number at the top of it. I remembered that the Maidstone and
District buses used to have fleet numbers on top so that they
could be identified from on high. This was about 1998 on the
flyover. And so I turned round. And it was one the buses that
used to take us to school. All the drivers loved this
particular bus because it was the fastest bus in the garage
and everyone used to talk about it. They always wished they'd
get that one for their route. So it was quite affectionately
known by them all and by me. And years later I became a driver at the depot, when I
turned 21, and it was still the favourite. I used to drive
it as much as I could. Times moved on and so did I to do other
things. But that day I saw it in this second hand bus dealer's
place and he turned out to be a good friend of mine. I saw it
and said "I've got to have that bus, that's the bus I
used to go to school on. " They were going to scrap it
because the gears had gone. So I brought it back to life and my
old friend who sold me it said "You know what? If you get
an O licence you can operate that bus as a service. So I did
and then I bought a
few ex-London Routemaster buses. It's been quite fun in
the process, Digger.
Digger: What packages do you offer Jason?
Jason: We do coach travel using ex-National Express coaches
for trips to the Science Museum for schoolkids and things like
that. And we do the old-fashioned buses for corporate events,
all in their original London colours.
Digger: How many vintage buses have you got?
Jason: I've got four of the Routemasters and the rest are
made up of school buses, coaches and a few public service buses
which we operate in and out of Bluewater.
Digger: Proper scheduled services?
Jason: Proper scheduled services. So we do a bit of
Digger: Corporates, parties, weddings. Are you doing much TV
Jason: Plenty of that, yes. I drove the bus in Shaun of the
Dead. Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister - that was my bus
for their campaign. I've lost count of the TV work we've done,
really, but you'll often see our buses in the background on
nostalgic and period productions.
Digger: What sort of feedback have you had from clients?
Jason: With the old vintage Routemaster buses we get people
coming back again and again for the corporate hire. They love
it really and we do a lot of weddings and get quite
recommended by friends and family.
Digger: So what happens? They get married, come out of the
church and then are whisked away in the bus?
Jason: Well, mostly they lay the bus on for their guests -
you get a few people having the bus to themselves.
Digger: Are they allowed to eat and drink on the bus?
Jason: Yes, champagne and so on are fine so long as it's plastic
flutes and glasses.
Digger: Do you remember The Avengers Jason?
Jason: Yes I do.
Digger: You'll remember when Mother was in charge in the final
series and we'd see him arrive for a rendezvous in a customised
bus? They'd hail the bus and go upstairs and all
the seats were gone and it was like a room.
Jason: Yes. I haven't seen that one for years. I'll have to
dig that out. I love all that stuff.
Digger: It's in our blood, really, isn't it Jason? We're retro
Jason: Yes, I like watching The Saint on TV.
Digger: The colour ones?
Digger: If you watch the series you'll notice that the streets
they used were all very similar whether it was Brussels or
Buenos Aires. It was all the back lot at Elstree.
Jason: It was always that grey little street set!
Digger: Sometimes the cars weren't even driving on the European
side of the road!
Digger: How are you managing to keep these classic buses on
Jason: The older ones, like the Routemasters, are pretty good
because they don't go out a lot compared to the other stuff
which are out all of the time. A lot of your money goes on
maintenance and it takes up a lot of your expenses.
Digger: Do you know how many Routemasters there are left in
the country now?
Jason: There's quite a few but when they got rid of them
from London a few years ago my friend, who I bought the Maidstone
bus from, was the main contractor for them all. And
he had the idea that 80% of them would go abroad - that's
quite a lot. I'm kind of glad about it in a way because it
means that it stops every Tom, Dick and Harry from setting up
Digger: I think in a way it might even help preserve them
because if they go to warmer climates...
Digger: I was talking to two of my clients the other day about
vintage guitars and also vintage vinyl. They both said that although
a lot of our heritage is leaving the country and going
to eastern Europe they are not that concerned because these
things have a habit of coming back home eventually. And
because the world's so small these days, because of The
Internet and global travel, things will move around.
Jason: They do and I don't like seeing these things on the
scrap heap anyway which would be the alternative. The other day I saw a lorry with about ten phone
boxes on it where they were taking them out and I thought
"Why are they STILL taking these classic red phone boxes out that are so much a part of our history and
It's a big mistake.
Digger: These days they probably know how much they're worth
and are trying to sell them at a huge profit.
Jason: Yes, I've seen sites selling them. One guy said he
could sell me one for £500.
Digger: That could be turned into £3,000 if you wanted to
Jason: The fully restored ones? That's right. But the problem
with these telephone boxes is, and I wanted to put one in my
garden, but to do that I needed to hire a crane in to lift it
over the house.
Digger: I know. And they also have very deep footings because
of the weight. You have to dig a big hole to put them or the
old post boxes in.
Jason: Really? There's a lot of aggravation involved. They've
ripped out the old phone boxes in Rochester, which is a pretty
and very traditional town down here. I was very angry when I
saw that. They've replaced them with modern-looking things and
I thought "That really does go with the character of
the High Street."
Digger: Hopefully they'll see the error of their ways.
Jason: These new phone boxes are horrible, aren't they?
Digger: They took them out in The City and the West End and
then back-pedalled and replaced them with 'originals' again
because the tourists expected to see them. Somebody makes
these stupid decisions.
Jason: They replaced them with dark green ones that look like
the originals but they're a much cheaper make and don't look
Digger: I suppose everything has its day and you could say that
even the original phone boxes are only eighty years old and a relatively
recent introduction. Before that we didn't have
them in our towns and villages and they weren't a part of the
Jason: But when these things disappear you realise how good they
used to look and how traditional they were.
Digger: What do you enjoy most about what you are doing?
Jason: I like getting out and driving.
Digger: It's the big boy's toy, really?
Jason: Exactly, yes. The thing about it is if I do a school trip and
take them up to London I can have a day in London and about
four hours to myself walking around and looking at things and
even going in the museums. They're all free these days. And
it's really good, so I'd rather do that than be in the office
any day to be honest.
Digger: How difficult is it driving a big bus in today's city traffic?
Jason: Not so bad if you go certain ways into London. Where we
are you can go via Peckham and Camberwell to London or you
can go down the Old Kent Road up to London. I always use the
latter because there's a bus lane from New Cross which goes
all the way upto Westminster.
Digger: And people do give you a bit of slack as well?
Jason: They do, but the bus lane really helps. On the other
route there's no bus lanes so you're sitting in big traffic that way.
I don't think the congestion charge has made any difference and it's all gone back to normal.
Digger: Of course it has. They're talking about changing the
cost of lager from 25p a can to £1 and that won't stop people
Jason: No, it won't. It makes you wonder what their real true
motives for doing these things are because my friend was
telling me that in Oxford they've done away with speed cameras.
They originally said it was for safety but they're now saying
they're doing away with them because they don't pay. Well,
you make your mind up! Is it for safety? In which case it isn't
expected to pay in the first place.
Digger: You're right. They call them safety cameras don't
Jason: You don't then take them away. They've been caught out.
Digger: Why do you think these classic buses are so strongly
in people's minds and are so popular?
Jason: There was a big thing on TV about standing them down
and that generated a lot of interest. People getting married
wanted to use the buses rather than a coach and three - in
other words it was a lot of free advertising and it obviously put the idea in a lot of
people's heads. And you see a lot of
these wedding buses going around London now and other people
see them when they're driving around. If I'm out on a
wedding run I always try to put our phone number up on the bus
and I get calls from people asking for bus hire.
Digger: You notice the advertising working?
Jason: Oh yes.
Digger: So you put the contact number on the bus...
Jason: What I tend to do is put Wedding Special on the bus and
still have my phone number seen somewhere else on the bus and
then people call up and they obviously really like the thought
Digger: What sort of impact is The Internet having on the business?
Jason: It's ALL Internet now. To be honest, I don't even bother to
advertise anywhere else. The business directory people come in
and they think they can still charge like they did fifteen
years ago. But I said to them that I monitor a lot of the
calls I get and ask them where they got the number and every
time it's through The Net. It's nothing to do with the
old-fashioned business directories these days and the only people I suspect
still use those are elderly people who don't know how
to use computers.
Digger: And they might not be thinking about vintage buses anyway.
Jason: That's right. So I don't bother advertising offline
Digger: I tried a few offline things - sponsoring an event and ads
in magazines, but I found the best way was online. Apart from
a small ad in Private Eye which was very good value and which
generated some business for me. I think the reason is that
the demographic of that mag is right, people of a certain age
with certain interests and also they will tend to read the
whole magazine from cover to cover. I'd recommend it for an ad
with a special offer for their readers.
Jason: I'll give it a go. Private Eye's very funny. I was watching
a bit of Beyond The Fringe the other night. It was quite
Digger: What sketch?
Jason: It was the one where he was hopping on one leg.
Digger: Oh yes, I know, Cook was auditioning Dudley Moore for the role
of Tarzan and Dudley only has one leg. Peter Cook says to Dud
"I've got nothing against your right leg. Unfortunately,
neither have you." (Both laugh) Final question then
Jason. What are your plans for the future?
Jason: I want it to really carry on like it is. It's manageable
at the moment and that's how I'd like it to go forward. I'm
quite happy doing what I'm doing as I am.
Digger: Well you sound very contented.
Jason: The early mornings get on my nerves sometimes. Tomorrow
I'll be getting up at about six because one of our drivers has
reported in sick. I'm going on a school bus route.
I don't particularly like that but generally I'm very happy
with the way the business is going and want it to continue at
Digger: You're keeping your hand in. Isn't it good that you're
doing what you like? And long may it continue. If it carries on
like this you'll be more than happy
Jason: Yes, that's it in a nutshell Digger.
Digger: Like me, you're doing what you like to do and making a
reasonable living from it.
Jason: And you're good at what you do as well.
Digger: Well, thank you. That's very kind....still, in the back of
mind I want to be an Internet billionaire. (Jason laughs) So
let me know if you have any ideas and we can share the spoils!
Jason: There's opportunities out there still.
Digger: Yes. The thing is 99.9% of people won't have an idea or try
an idea because they stay within the world they know and they
don't bother. They'll do the lottery and hope. That means that
there's a relatively small number of people who will try
something new. That means that with the old adage of 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration then something might eventually
work. It's got more chance than if you don't bother, that's
Jason: It's all about determination.
Digger: One day the light bulb will come on, I'll come up with that
idea and I'll let you know. I'll put you in on a percentage!
Jason: Thanks. I look forward to that.
Classic Bus Hire
|London Classic Bus Hire is
a division of Redroute buses that specialise in the old
fashioned London Routemasters.
The Routemaster will always be London's classic bus.
Like a red phone box or a black cab, the red Routemaster
bus is an iconic symbol of the best of London.
Our Routemaster buses are available for any length of
time, from a quick trip from church to reception or an
all night do.
Short or long journeys, for parties of two to seventy
two! The maximum number of seated passengers is 72 per
bus, should you have more people in your group why not
order an open top bus as well.
Our Routemasters are ideal for any occasion including
weddings, celebrations, TV and film hire, events,
promotions and sightseeing tours.
London Classic Bus Hire Company
Granby Coach Works
Gravesend, Kent DA11 9AX
Freephone 0800 2346 842
Fax 01474 358475