The Double Deckers Double Decker Bus
By David Noades
Although it's widely known what happened to the actors who appeared in the series, I was interested to find out what happened to the other star of the show, the gang's club house, the red London bus. Unfortunately, because only side views of the vehicle are used in the show, and the cab and rear are never seen it was difficult to identify it properly. However after approaching members of a bus enthusiasts group who have painstakingly monitored the life and history of all types of passenger vehicles, the following details came to light.
The bus really was 'a double decker London bus' as the gang sang in the opening titles. It was an RT built by London Transport in early 1954 and originally had a roof and an enclosed staircase. It went into service with London Transport on 24 August 1954.
The fleet number (on the body) was RT4790, while the registration number was OLD827.
By the 1960s most of the old style of London buses including RTs were being replaced by the new Routemasters, and London Transport eventually took RT4790 out of service after ten years. There was still plenty of life in the vehicle however (they were built to last) and it was sold to a dealer in Ilford, Essex in April 1964, who in turn sold it to Broadway Coaches of Wickford, Essex, shortly afterwards.
In stayed in service in the town of Wickford (where presumably it had a different livery) until August 1969 when it was sold to Isleworth Coaches in West London. They seemingly had no use for it and so it was sold to a a film company in December 1969.
According to the bus enthusiast's records the name of this film company was unknown, however the series commenced filming in January 1970, and so it seems highly likely that the company was 20th Century Films and clearly the bus was bought specifically for use on the show.
The film company made some dramatic changes to the bus at this point, presumably to give the impression that it was much older than it actually was, and to give it more character. Firstly they removed the roof turning it into an open-top vehicle, and painted it red again with window frames picked out in white. They also removed the back and top of the stair well and added a some embellishments including a pelmet across the two middle windows and enlarged support brackets by the cab. Also in order the turn it into a suitable club house for the gang, a lockable sealed door was added into the lower deck and a fireman's pole was erected connecting the upper and lower decks. Plants, bunting and other decorative items were also added.
The bus was never used on location, only in the studio and the series was filmed between January and July 1970. Although the exterior of the real bus was used for filming, including the title sequence filmed on the upper deck, the interior was actually a studio set. This allowed room for the cameras, etc, and is actually much larger than the inside of a real RT. When the filming was completed the bus was presumably kept somewhere on the lot at Elstree and it seems unlikely that such a distinctive vehicle would be used on any other TV shows.
According to Michael Audreson when the actors did some promotional appearances for the series in Manchester and London in the summer of 1971 (at that point a second series was still being considered) they travelled on an open top bus. However this would undoubtedly have been a different vehicle because the one used in the studio was probably no longer roadworthy having undergone its metamorphosis into the clubhouse.
This is supported by the fact that the bus enthusiasts group's records next indicate that in July 1972 the same bus was towed to Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. This all fits in with the dates of filming for the special Double Deckers sequence in Harry Booth's Go For A Take (see Associated Shows and Films for more details), which took place at Pinewood in Buckinghamshire.
What happened to the bus after this isn' known. However, because it was just one of several hundred similar vehicles it probably wasn't considered to be of any importance, and was most probably scrapped (ironically in a scrapyard just like the one in series!). It seems that most buses met with this fate, including those bought up by TV and film companies, unless they were already preserved vehicles. One of the few exceptions to this was the coach used in the Beatles TV show Magical Mystery Tour, because although the vehicle itself was a contemporary vehicle at the time, and was nothing special, the owners had the good sense to hold onto it and it is now used in special events and open days as an attraction in Liverpool .
However the vehicle may still be in existence, and would in theory still have the same registration number OLD827 (although the chassis may have been replaced at some point so it may no loner be vehicle number RT4290). If anyone reading this knows what happened to the bus please contract Dave Anderson or David Noades (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NB: The pictures don't shown the actual Double Deckers bus OLD827 (I couldn't locate one), but very similar models from the same era. Pic 1 shows an RT in service in North London in the 1955, Pic 2 shows an example of a preserved model housed in a bus garage, while Pic 3 shows a real open top RT (ex London Transport) now used for tourism purposes on the island of Guernsey. Note the owners here have kept the upper windows intact to shield passengers travelling on the upper deck from the wind.