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


The UK government had floated the idea since 1967, and on 1 January 1969 the state-owned National Bus Company (NBC) was formed under the terms of the Transport Act 1968. Its antecedents were the already state-owned Transport Holding Company's subsidiaries (known as the Tilling Group companies) and British Electric Traction, which was sold to the THC in November 1967. In 1970 the company was enlarged when it acquired the former country area buses of London Transport, the bus operations of the County Boroughs of Exetermarker and Lutonmarker and the Gosport & Fareham Omnibus Company.

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. An example was the transfer of the 'land-locked' Trowbridgemarker operations from Western National to Bristol Omnibus in 1970.

Separate companies operated in Scotland; see Scottish Bus Group.

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, being rebranded as National Express soon afterwards. The addition of blue and white stripes appeared first in 1978. National Travel was the country's first attempt at a uniformly marketable express network, which superseded both Associated Motorways and the plethora of other services provided by individual NBC subsidiaries. The coaches were managed by a small number of 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.

More recently the National Express overseas travel business has been relaunched recently under the name EUROLINES; this brand now operates services from the UK across Europe, booked through the main National Express website.

In the 1970s all local service buses adopted a uniform design, generally in either leaf green or poppy red, initially at any rate 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; and Jones (Aberbeeg) (taken over in 1969) and Midland General, both initially liveried in blue, until 1980; plus the Northern General subsidiary, Sunderland District, where blue was retained for a short period.

Although NBC operated throughout England and Wales it was by no means in a monopoly position. As well as London Transport, which provided services in Greater Londonmarker, and the fleets of the municipal bus companies and Passenger Transport Executives, some rural areas and a few small towns were served by independent operators.

The NBC inherited from the THC 75% holdings in the bus manufacturers Bristol Commercial Vehicles and Eastern Coach Works. In 1969 NBC formed a joint venture with British Leyland (the 25% owner 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 bus 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.

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" or 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.

From October 1986 buses were deregulated and progressively privatised, and the remaining larger companies were forcibly broken up. The sales spawned a renewed interest in individual liveries, and the "double-N" logo disappeared, except on express services (becoming the property of National Express). Most local companies passed from state control to their managers. The independence of many, however, was short lived, as they were acquired by the emerging large private bus groups, represented today by:


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 Bristolmarker for Bristol Joint Services, a joint undertaking of the company and Bristol City Council. They also leased services from the county borough of Gloucestermarker, buses in the city bearing a Gloucester fleetname and city coat of arms.

Keighley-West Yorkshire Services Limited, jointly owned by West Yorkshire and the borough of Keighleymarker, operated by this company. They also provided municipal bus services for the county borough of Yorkmarker 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
  1. United Automobile Services
  2. Northern General
  3. Cumberland
  4. Ribble
  5. West Yorkshire
  6. East Yorkshire
  7. West Riding / Yorkshire Woollen
  8. Yorkshire Traction
  9. East Midland / Mansfield
  10. Lincolnshire
  11. Potteries Motor Traction
  12. Trent Motor Traction
  13. Midland Red
  14. Crosville
  15. United Counties
  1. Eastern Counties
  2. South Wales / De Cymru
  3. National Welsh / Cymru Cenedlaethol
  4. Bristol
  5. Oxford South Midland
  6. Eastern National
  7. Alder Valley
  8. London Country / Green Line
  9. Western National / Devon General
  10. Hants & Dorset
  11. Southern Vectis
  12. Provincial
  13. Southdown
  14. Maidstone & District
  15. East Kent

By 1978 the following bus-operating companies existed:

Break-up and privatisation

In 1981 Midland Red, which had lost its core area, was broken into 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 bus 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 to their namesakes.
NBC bus-operating subsidiaries at privatisation
  1. Northumbria
  2. Northern General
  3. United
  4. Cumberland
  5. Ribble
  6. West Yorkshire
  7. East Yorkshire
  8. West Riding / Yorkshire Woollen
  9. Yorkshire Traction
  10. North Western
  11. Crosville
  12. East Midland / Mansfield
  13. Lincolnshire
  14. Potteries Motor Traction
  15. Trent Motor Traction
  16. Crosville Wales
  17. Midland Red North
  18. Midland Red West
  19. Midland Fox
  20. Midland Red South
  21. United Counties
  22. Cambus
  23. Milton Keynes City Bus
  24. Eastern Counties
  25. Luton & District
  26. Eastern National
  1. South Wales / De Cymru
  2. National Welsh / Cymru Cenedlaethol
  3. Cheltenham & Gloucester
  4. Oxford
  5. South Midland
  6. Badgerline
  7. Bristol
  8. Western National
  9. North Devon
  10. Devon General
  11. Southern National
  12. Wilts & Dorset
  13. Hampshire Bus
  14. Southern Vectis
  15. Provincial
  16. The Beeline
  17. Alder Valley South
  18. Southdown
  19. Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company
  20. London Country North West
  21. London Country North East
  22. London Country South West
  23. Kentish Bus
  24. Hastings & District
  25. Maidstone & District
  26. East Kent

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 n/a Eastern National 1986
Hants & Dorset 1983 Hampshire Bus 1987
Hants & Dorset 1983 Shamrock and 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 and 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 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 Scarboroughmarker operations of United passed to East Yorkshire Motor Services in 1987.

External links


  • Stewart J Brown, NBC: antecedents and formation, Sheppertonmarker, 1983
  • D R Kennedy and A Kennedy, National Bus Company 1981, Oxfordmarker, 1982
  • Ray Stenning, A National Bus Company Album, Wiveliscombemarker, 1979
  • Ray Stenning, The Years before National 1948 - 1968, Swindonmarker, 1982

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