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All aboard Yarmouth’s bright and bold Flying Banana buses

PUBLISHED: 08:44 07 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:09 08 October 2018

Celebratory return: passing Gorleston Parish Church is a single-decker bus in Flying Banana colours marking the 20 years since First Bus acquired their original operator. Picture: MARK DOGGETT

Celebratory return: passing Gorleston Parish Church is a single-decker bus in Flying Banana colours marking the 20 years since First Bus acquired their original operator. Picture: MARK DOGGETT

MARK DOGGETT

Three and eight – 38. One and five – 15. Key of the door – 21. Sorry, can’t finish – I get off at the next stop.

Three of a kind: the minibuses which launched the Flying Banana services in the borough in 1989. Picture: EASTNORFOLKBUSThree of a kind: the minibuses which launched the Flying Banana services in the borough in 1989. Picture: EASTNORFOLKBUS

No, it’s not a session at a bingo hall but reportedly happened on some buses here nearly 30 years ago although I never experienced the friendly innovation when the Flying Bananas arrived in 1989.

How bingo worked without distracting the driver, I have no idea.

The yellow and green Flying Banana minibuses provided an informal and friendly service which swiftly won admirers, so it was a nostalgic surprise recently when I spotted a Flying Banana on our streets – not a minibus as of old but a conventional single-decker, chic in that distinctive livery resembling a mobile advertisement for Norwich City Football Club.

Nonetheless, nostalgia rules OK!

A conventional Great Yarmouth Corporation bus 66 on Gorleston Cliffs. This new acquisition began work in January 1950 and was sold to Mulley's Motorways in Suffolk in 1966. Picture: EAST ANGLIAN TRANSPORT MUSEUM, CARLTON COLVILLEA conventional Great Yarmouth Corporation bus 66 on Gorleston Cliffs. This new acquisition began work in January 1950 and was sold to Mulley's Motorways in Suffolk in 1966. Picture: EAST ANGLIAN TRANSPORT MUSEUM, CARLTON COLVILLE

The East Norfolk Bus Blog’s Roy Northcott explains: “Flying Banana was the trading name for Halesworth Transit which began running bus services in the Great Yarmouth area during October 1989. Its first route was between Gorleston’s Shrublands Estate and Yarmouth Market Gates, exploiting the gap in services existing at the time.

“I seem to remember that its first day of service was a Saturday when the company supplied a free banana to its customers!”

Two 16-seaters pioneered the service, augmented by a third arriving from Scotland so the route could run a 20-minute frequency. Later the service was extended to the Barrack Estate and James Paget Hospital.

Subsequently the company expanded here and operated in Lowestoft before its acquisition by the dominant First Bus group during 1998. “That’s the reason for the so-called Heritage livery – to celebrate the 20 years since the company acquisition,” says Roy.

The First group, our main operator, acknowledges its Yarmouth Corporation Transport predecessor by including as routine a double-decker bus still in the blue-and-cream livery once so familiar to older residents, a much-appreciated gesture. Mrs Peggotty and I spotted it recently - and within the hour saw two other old-timers turning back the clock by decades.

In Gorleston’s Church Lane, we waited outside the East Norfolk Sixth Form College behind a bus collecting students. It was a former Lowestoft Corporation double-decker still in its traditional chocolate-brown - and moments later, in the distance, a beribboned red double-decker drove past.

I doubt that it was a former Eastern Counties vehicle, similar to those so familiar hereabouts when the operator had a garage on Wellington Road in Yarmouth, but probably was a pensioned-off London Transport old-timer I think sometimes brings a novel factor to wedding parties - du-different, in Norfolk parlance.

Since the car became the dominant travel mode for many folk, hopping on a bus - once the norm - is something fewer folk do nowadays. Only those of us journeying free with our pensioner bus passes have experienced travel on yesteryear’s door-less open-platform vehicles with no interior heating.

It was the norm, accepted without a moan but necessitating the conductor often needing to don his greatcoat. When not walking along the aisles upstairs and down collecting fares, he stood on that open rear platform at the foot of the stairs, pulling the knotted cord bell when necessary and calling out the stops.

No longer do we hear the exhortation to “pass farther down the bus” so more passengers could board. Today there is a closing door, interior heating, and no conductor - as you board, you pay the driver-conductor; for the system has long been OMO (one-man-operation).

In my era, when cars were the exception rather than the rule, bus travel was a familiar routine to most of us. The corporation bus crews, who became familiar faces, never ventured beyond the Yarmouth and Gorleston borough boundary, except to Caister to where there had been a tram service since 1907.

Privatisation in 1987 resulted in a changed livery and, I believe, was when the borough coat-of-arms was abandoned. Nine years later the fleet was sold to FirstBus.

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