Every day that’s different

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.
The first bus that Chris Pearce bought, the ‘Queen Mary’ Leyland PD3/4 that he passed his test on, on display with other preserved Southdown vehicles at the Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre in 2015. He part-owns the Marshall-bodied Leyland Leopard to its left. ANDY IZATT

Chris Pearce is a Revenue Inspector with Stagecoach South, a job he loves, but as he explained to Andy Izatt, he also has a passion for old buses some of which he operates on his own O-licence. What he enjoys most are the people he meets.

Chris Pearce has a love of life and people that pervades everything he does. That’s whether it’s his work – he’s still employed by Stagecoach South three days a week as a Revenue Inspector despite being comfortably past normal retirement age – or his other main interest, which is his passion for old buses. He currently owns around 19, but it’s a movable feast, not least because he’ll frequently step in if he feels that a vehicle that should be saved is under threat. He’s also not one for letting an opportunity pass if something special becomes available.

As this article was being prepared, a Southdown ‘Queen Mary’ Leyland PD3/4 Northern Counties had been sold to make way for a Stockport East Lancs-bodied Leyland PD3/14, notable because it was one of the last front-engined Titans built. Another rarity acquired recently is a former Portsmouth all Leyland PD2/10 dating from 1952 that had been in long-term storage and kept out of sight for more than four decades.

With his employer’s consent Chris has his own O-licence for Worthing-based Southdown Historic Vehicles, a limited company that he uses to operate a small number of heritage buses on specialist hires. Much of what he does commercially is in conjunction with Stagecoach South or with colleagues who work for the company. There are a good number there who share his enthusiasm, but he also undertakes a variety of other work as well. He is well connected and regarded across the wider preservation movement.[wlm_nonmember][…]

Are you enjoying this feature? Why not subscribe to continue reading?

Subscribe for 4 issues/weeks from only £2.99
Or login if you are already a subscriber

By subscribing you will benefit from:

  • Operator & Supplier Profiles
  • Face-to-Face Interviews
  • Lastest News
  • Test Drives and Reviews
  • Legal Updates
  • Route Focus
  • Industry Insider Opinions
  • Passenger Perspective
  • Vehicle Launches
  • and much more!

Local lad

“I’m Worthing born and bred,” Chris explained. “When I was seven or eight years old I was going to school on Southdown all Leyland PD2s. My dad owned a butcher’s shop and one of his customers was a Southdown coach driver who used to give me copies of the company staff magazine.

“In the school holidays I used to go with my dad to Smithfield Market in London. I’d be surrounded by London Transport ‘RTLs’ and ‘RTWs’ and the noise of their Leyland engines would be quite different to the AECs of the RT-types.

“When I was 11 years old I went with him to Gosport because he was considering buying a butcher’s business there. I persuaded him to stop at Hoeford so I could visit Provincial’s garage. It was a remarkable experience. It was when many of the old buses were being converted to Deutz air-cooled engines and there were bits of engine everywhere. At the back of the depot was what they called ‘Old Bill,’ the 1922 former Southdown Leyland G7 with a 1928 Short body that was later bought back by Southdown. It was fascinating to see it.

“I used to visit Southdown’s Worthing garage all of the time to see what was happening, but when I left school I went into my dad’s butcher’s business and I remained a butcher until I was 43 years old. It was a secure job, but I couldn’t suppress my interest in buses any longer and decided that I wanted to become a Southdown driver.

“I passed my test on September 4, 1989 in a Leyland PD3/4 ‘Queen Mary’ that had been converted for the purpose. Later it would become the first bus I would buy. Based at Worthing garage, I was driving Leyland Nationals and Bristol VRTs and loved it, but in 1991 there was an opportunity to become an Inspector which I took. Apart from a year when I drove because of a chronic staff shortage, I’ve done that job ever since.”

Chris Pearce: ‘While protecting the company’s revenue is important, I always enjoy helping people.’ ANDY IZATT

Multifaceted role

As a Stagecoach South Revenue Inspector, Chris has a multifaceted role that brings him into contact with a wide mix of people. “It’s because of that, I love my job,” he explained. “I’ve been very fortunate with those I’ve worked with and I owe a lot to Stagecoach. Drivers know I’ll help if they’re in a predicament. I rely a lot on them because that’s where I learn what’s going on out on the road.

“What I was taught when I was in the Air Cadets was to strive to rise above the rest – to give the best to be the best. What’s important is presentation and leading by example – treating everyone you deal with, with respect.

“What my dad taught me was that the customer pays your wages. We were surrounded by other butchers so we made sure we gave better service because we knew people had a choice where they shopped.

“I go wherever I want within Stagecoach South’s area and that makes every day different. No one knows where I’m going to be or when. Stagecoach South normally employs four revenue inspectors and if I’m working in the evening, I’ll do it with a colleague and use a car. I’ve done that ever since having a bad experience dealing with some yobs in Brighton who hadn’t bought tickets.

“When I board a bus, what I do first is ask the driver ‘is everything all right?’ While we’re talking, I’ll check whether he or she is properly attired, if he or she has their Driver CPC card with them, have they signed their defect card and whether they have a stock of emergency tickets in case there’s a problem with the ticket machine. Then I’ll start checking whether passengers have their passes and tickets, but while I’m doing that I’ll be making a note of how clean the bus is and whether all the saloon signage is as it should be.

“When I’m talking to passengers, I’ll take any opportunity to explain the best ticket deals available to them. Part of my role is being an ambassador for the company. After all I’m the only form of Stagecoach management that most passengers will ever meet.

“Part of my job is also to monitor service reliability and loadings. If I’m on a journey that’s delayed and the driver tells me that’s happening regularly, I’ll make checks over a week and report back to our Commercial Director, Mark Turner. It’s important to deal with it as soon as possible because otherwise we could fall foul of the Traffic Commissioner.

“Equally, modern ticket machines don’t necessarily provide the entire passenger loading data we might need. For example, it won’t tell us exactly how many people are using the bus because if they have weekly tickets and the drivers don’t punch it in, the information won’t be recorded.”

A period scene outside the Goodwood Hotel at last year’s Revival event. The bus is Chris’s former Wigan Massey-bodied Leyland PD2/37. ANDY IZATT

Eye for detail

Over the years there have been occasions when Chris has been seconded to other Stagecoach companies. Primarily that has been because of his reputation for being an effective Revenue Inspector, but one of his most unusual assignments recently occurred just before Christmas last year when he spent a day at Preston station helping out because Virgin Trains staff were on strike. Virgin Rail Group which owns Virgin Trains is part- owned by Stagecoach.

A key attribute for a Revenue Inspector is having an eye for detail. “I remember a couple of years ago I was checking passes on a bus in Worthing and there was a foreign lady with a concessionary pass that had a picture of a woman who was clearly much older than she was,” recalled Chris. “She told me that she had taken the pass from a resident of a Bournemouth nursing home. I explained that was fraud and that she needed to accompany me to the police station. To do that we needed to catch another bus, which is what we did.

“I can never get on a bus and not check tickets so while she was sat behind the driver, I went off and did that. I then found there was a man using his disabled wife’s bus pass, so I explained to him that was also fraud and I’d have to take him to the police station as well.

“I later found out that the woman was an illegal immigrant. She’d filled the home of the lady in the nursing home whose pass she’d stolen with immigrants and the lady’s son had to travel down from Scotland to reclaim the house.

“The man who had been using his wife’s bus pass received a criminal record as a result of his actions. About a month ago I came across him on another journey I was checking. He said, because of what I’d done, he now had a record. I said, ‘no sir. It’s because of what you’d done. You broke the law.’

“There was an incident recently when I was checking tickets on a bus in Bedhampton. When I boarded, a man tried getting off so straightaway I knew something wasn’t right. He had a woman pensioner’s pass and he’s told me he was 48 years old. A woman passenger then got involved, saying she was the man’s girlfriend and that she’d given him permission to use her dead mother’s pass. There were about 40 people on the bus who had heard all of this. They were appalled and many of them told her that she was despicable. Not only did I have to call the police to make the arrest, an ambulance was needed because the fraudster started having some kind of panic attack.

“The first ticket irregularity I ever came across was one that had been reissued by the driver because the original recipient had either not taken it from the ticket machine or the driver had picked it up off the floor. He was sacked instantly.

“On another occasion when I was in Worthing I was checking tickets and came across two passengers from Scotland. The driver had issued tickets, but then found that their passes weren’t valid. The old tickets had been cancelled, but he’d not issued new ones. That was all confirmed by his waybill. When I asked him where the cancelled tickets were, he said they’d blown out of the window when he was going round a roundabout. Whatever happens, I always make sure that passengers get what they’ve paid for.

Chris’ former BEA Routemaster was hired to Stagecoach South for route 902 between Chichester station and the racecourse during Goodwood Revival 2017. ANDY IZATT

“The time of issue is now printed on weekly tickets and I remember being presented in Bognor Regis with two that had apparently been issued at midnight when Stagecoach didn’t run buses. They also had the same number, but I was assured by the passengers that that was what they’d been given. Once again I had new tickets issued and I signed the driver’s waybill because he was going to be short.

“I was able to identify the driver responsible from the staff number printed on the tickets. He was interviewed and I asked to go through his bag. At the bottom was a pile of tickets he’d made on his computer at home. There were even ones he’d been practicing with.

“When someone boarded and asked for a weekly ticket, he would bend down to reach into his bag to get the holder that they were sealed in. Instead he would pull out a ticket he’d made himself.

“I came across something similar in Camberley. Four young lads had weekly tickets with the same number on and it transpired a school boy was making them at home. Then there was the girl with learning difficulties I came across who was doing the same.

“While protecting the company’s revenue is important, I always enjoy helping people. In the past I’ve taken passengers in one of the inspector’s cars because the bus they’d caught had broken down or been delayed to a point where they were going to miss a vital connection. I remember one lady in particular who was on a route 65 bus from Alton that had broken down at Bentley. She needed to get to Winchester so she could catch the last bus back to Southampton. The previous week, she’d been on a train that had broken down too. Myself and a colleague took her to Winchester bus station.

“I’m regularly asked to look after graduate trainees as part of their training. Barnaby Crowley now works in the commercial department of our Chichester head office, but several years ago when he was a trainee, he and I were checking tickets on a route 700 double-decker in Portslade, Brighton.

“When we were upstairs, we came across a man who had died in his seat. It was just before Christmas and all his presents were laid out in his lap. It turned out he’d boarded the bus at Churchill Square and subsequently had a heart attack. We dialled 999 and an ambulance and the police came, but we weren’t able to move the bus until a coroner had attended. The whole experience was quite a shock to both of us.

“I’ll carry on doing revenue protection for as long as I can. I have no intention of retiring because I love meeting people and being part of the world. What I always say to passengers is, if you want to complement a driver, please write a letter to the management. It creates a permanent record that’s kept on file.”

Operating buses

“Buying buses for preservation really started in the mid-1990s when I became involved with organising a bus rally in Worthing,” Chris continued. “My first was that Queen Mary Northern Counties Leyland PD3/4 that I passed my test on and that was followed by two convertible open-top Queen Marys that had originally been registered 416DCD and 412DCD although they had subsequently been reregistered by Southdown. I particularly liked the convertible Queen Marys. When Andrew Dyer was Managing Director of Stagecoach South he gave owners of the buses the opportunity to buy the original registrations back, so myself and others took up the offer. Of course I would have liked to have saved one of those Leyland-bodied Leyland PD2s that I travelled on to school, but they had all been scrapped by then.

“I was part of a group that saved another convertible Queen Mary at that time that had been bought by Ensignbus and after writing to Peter Newman about it, helped form the Southdown Historic Vehicle Group to save it. While Peter would retain ownership, he said we could have the bus to restore. It needed an engine and he would supply a replacement from a Brighton Corporation PD3/4. A value was put on the bus based on its original condition which we would pay once it was restored. Originally the Queen Mary kept its roof and we paid to have it removed and refitted, but when that became too expensive, we just kept it as an open-topper.

“When my own open-top Queen Marys were being rallied I was often being asked if they were available for hire. If it was on private land, it wasn’t an issue and there was one year I supplied five open-toppers at the Fairford Airshow. They weren’t all my buses. In fact one was Stagecoach South’s own convertible open-top Queen Mary.

“It was because of all the requests that I decided in 2002 to see if I would be allowed to have an O-licence. As an employee of Stagecoach, that wouldn’t normally be possible, but I had a meeting with then Stagecoach South Managing Director Andrew Dyer and Engineering Director Richard Alexander. They told me that I could apply for a licence so long as I didn’t compete on local bus work. By that time Stagecoach South was no longer involved in private hire and I’ve regularly hired vehicles to it since.

“While the service we operated at the bus rally in Worthing was free, my policy, as ever, is always to try and do things properly. Drivers had the correct licences and all the buses used including my own were Class 6. When my vehicles had been used on private land or on a free service they still had Class 6 MOTs. I particularly remember when it was Southdown’s 90th anniversary and we had five convertible open-top Queen Marys and a Leyland Leopard coach operating because of the number of company managing directors who were riding.

Chris’ two Southdown Leyland PD3/4 ‘Queen Mary’ convertibles have been a regular sight at the Epsom Derby for many years. This picture was taken in 2008. ANDY IZATT

“My buses were originally kept at Stagecoach South’s Worthing depot and that’s still an operating centre on my O-licence, but the main one is at Rusper, although I also have storage for my non-PSV vehicles elsewhere. Servicing is undertaken for me by Leech Auto Services of Coolham. Keith Leech had been recommended to me. He’s been in business since 1962 and runs a firm that understands how to look after old buses.

“There’s also a team of people who assist with maintenance and driving. My son Daniel is a Stagecoach South Engineer and he helps when he can and there are others like Alan Groves, the late David Jenkins, Ron Collins, Chris Fippard, Ron Wheeler, Dave Norgrove and Mick Stoodley who have or do the same. Richard Alexander is retired now, but is involved with Stagecoach South’s own heritage vehicles and lends a hand when he can, and there are many others as well. Colin Ashcroft, for example, manages Stagecoach South’s Portsmouth depot and drives for me in his spare time, as does his predecessor, Bob Jackson.

“One of my first hires when I obtained my licence was a group from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). There was also a regular booking to the Epsom Derby which continued for many years. My buses have been used in the annual Brighton Pride Community Parade while mental health charity MIND has been a customer for more than a decade. East Preston Carnival is another regular commitment and we’ve carried Worthing West MP, Sir Peter Bottomley during that. I’ve also transported the Sussex County Cricket Team and been involved in the Lord Mayor’s Show in London.

“When I first started, I was the only operator in the area offering vintage buses for wedding hire. Now there’s quite a few, which underlines just how much the market has changed. I’ve always felt it’s important to work together with other operators, many of whom have become friends, to secure jobs. It’s all about working as a team.

“This last year has been the busiest ever and just shows how much the market has grown. We’ve had a wedding hire nearly every Saturday. I don’t have more than two buses out at a time on my licence and for many years that would have been the two open-toppers. I now have a RML-type Routemaster and a former Wigan Massey-bodied Leyland PD2/37 that I use as well. Even though the open-toppers are delicensed for the winter, they’re still the main breadwinners.

“I did operate a coach some years ago – a former Southdown Plaxton Elite-bodied Leyland Leopard. I remember having a call from Colin Farrant who runs Go-Ahead London’s commercial department who said he wanted to hire it for a group he organises. He later hired it for rail replacement and it was used on that for two or three years.

“It’s a hobby that has turned into running a business and I’m happy with the size it is. I’ve ended up doing some lovely jobs and meeting wonderful people over the years. A recent example was taking former Land Army ladies who are now in their 80s to East Dean. It’s jobs like that, that I love.

“I’m particularly proud that my two open-toppers were hired to Stagecoach last June for a charitable event in London organised by Sir Brian Souter. There were five Southdown vehicles all together including two from the Stagecoach South’s heritage fleet and we transported the party from Belgravia Square to Victoria Station so they could catch a train hauled by Gresley A4 steam locomotive Union of South Africa.

“I don’t take any money out of the business. Everything I make goes back into restoring and maintaining my buses. Other vehicles I own at the moment include more Queen Marys, a Salford Leyland PD2/40, Southport PD2/3 and a former Southend PD3/6. There’s also the Llynfi Motors Massey-bodied PD3/4 that was converted into a mobile caravan. Vehicles I part-own include a Brighton & Hove Bristol VRT/SL, two Southdown Leyland Leopard service buses and a Leyland Tiger Cub Weymann.

“One of the vehicles I have that is Class 6 is the front-entrance RMA-type Routemster that I bought from Ensignbus. I’d gone up to Purfleet to collect some rolls of moquette that I’d bought and that’s when Peter Newman told me about the bus. It’s a rare vehicle that has been PSV’d almost its entire life, so I agreed a swap with a RML-type Routemaster that I owned at the time. Ensignbus painted the RMA for me and MOT’d it. Another that I have on a Class 6 is a closed top Southdown Queen Mary that I’ve owned for many years. A former Stratford Blue Marshall-bodied Leyland Leopard in my collection is the one that I plan to prepare next. If I have vehicles prepared and ready, it enables me to give potential hirers more choice.

“Being involved in bus preservation has enabled me to meet many wonderful people over the years. If it hadn’t been for that, I would never have met someone like Peter Newman who has been a wonderful friend. Richard Alexander has always encouraged me and Andrew Dyer helped me with my O-licence application. When he was Traffic Commissioner, Chris Heaps gave me good advice as well. I’ve been very lucky with the help I’ve received. I always approach running buses the same way I approach my job at Stagecoach. I make sure everything is presented in a smart, roadworthy and clean condition.”[/wlm_ismember]