Former Leamington bus conducter and driver turned author writes book about his time working for historic company Midland Red

Midland Red swept across the Midlands over most of the 20th Century – with their 8,000 staff and 2,000 strong fleet of buses and coaches, many designed and built at their factory in Birmingham, they soon became known to most as “The friendly Midland Red”, writes former Leamington bus conducter and driver turned author Ashley Wakelin.

Inside Midland Red by Ashley Wakelin

I enjoyed a lifetime in the bus industry, and realising that it had dramatically changed from the calmer 1960s to the stresses and realities of modern times, I decided to put pen to paper to recall the story of my passion for, and work-life with, the country’s once biggest independent bus company.

Some of the colleagues that I worked with in the early days were at retirement age when I was just 18 years old.

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These industry professionals, whether drivers and conductors, engineers or managers, told me their stories of life with Midland Red in the 1930s and beyond, and how the job and the vehicles had changed over the years.

Ashley Wakelin.

It is interesting that they all thought that the job was better in the earlier days, and that in turn has become true for me, now that I am looking back over my career.

Agnes was one of the lady bus cleaners working in Birmingham, who worked nights from 1924.

When I met her in 1969 she told me that the job was hard, but it was more enjoyable in the earlier years.

She and her fellow cleaners spent hours on hands and knees polishing the brass floor treads, door handles, and side runners on Midland Red’s early charabancs, while singing hymns at 3am and getting into trouble when the neighbours living near the garage complained about the noise keeping them awake.

A famous Midland Red D9 Bus.

Those early charabancs developed through the thirties into stately luxury tourers, and by the late fifties had evolved into 85+mph motorway expresses, tearing down the outside lane of the M1.

Timetabled journeys from Birmingham to London took 5hrs 29mins in the 1950s, but with Midland Red’s motorway expresses it was reduced to an astonishing 2hrs 15mins!

There are lots of other engineering achievements covered in the book too, including a look at the Birmingham Routemaster, which of course is known to us Midland Red fans as the D9.

But it was the Midland Red spirit which got into the blood of many of its employees, and was the career choice of sometimes two or three generations of a family.

A Midland Red advertisement for a 1930s tourer coach.

Midland Red was no ordinary bus company.

They designed and built their own vehicles from 1923 until 1970.

They had an operating territory of over 12,000 square miles of the Midlands, and operated daily coach services and coach cruise holidays over the length and breadth of the United Kingdom; and they had an enviable reputation for speed, reliability, comfort and service which over the years gave them their reputation of “The friendly Midland Red”.

Many of the management were ex-military and the company was run along similar lines, but then an organisation of 8,000 staff, with its headquarters and Central Works in Birmingham, and 35 garages spread across the Midlands, operating services while building and maintaining a fleet of almost 2000 vehicles had to be well oiled.

A Midland Red 1920s-Charabanc.

Midland Red played a big part in the lives of the people of the Midlands for most of the twentieth century, and still retains a fiercely loyal following of enthusiasts, which is why it is important that stories of “The Red”, such as those in this book, should be retold for future generations.

When I retired, I realised that my own working life with Midland Red from office lad, conductor and driver, and into management had accumulated a number of escapades, and entertaining and sometimes shocking stories that were worthy of recalling.

Inside Midland Red brings them to life again, along with some of the history of how Midland Red grew from humble beginnings into a company of empire-like proportions.

Whether you are new to Midland Red, or a seasoned enthusiast you should find some interesting stories and pictures that you can return to when you need a Midland Red fix.

A Midland Red Motorway Express CM6