Best by Bassetts
I returned to Bassetts about 12 months after my first visit in 1987 for another visit, again on a Saturday morning and again armed with a spare roll of film.
Once again I was made totally welcome, and found the place to be an Aladdin's Cave of classic lorries (along with a similar fleet of coaches - although these were of no particular interest. How things might change). The next time after that I was to venture to Tittensor was one of a more slightly more formal nature.
At the end of my second year at Keele, after sitting the exams in the summer of 1988, and ... Errr.... the re-sits, I was advised by the powers-to-be to take a year out. Apparently I wasn’t quite as good at Physics as I should have been! In fact I distinctly remember the Vice Chancellor asking me if I actually knew how to spell "physics!"
Whilst at the time this wasn’t a very good thing to happen, I knew that I wanted to stay local to Keele and with my friends. I decided therefore to approach Leonard Bassett and ask him if he could find me a job for a year driving a 7.5 tonner, of which by this time I had gained a fair amount of experience. Leonard told me that their 7.5 tonner was fully manned, and sent me up to see Ashley Bassett, but means as i didn't really know one end of a spanner from another, there was to be no job in the garage either. After some consideration Leonard made me proposition: Bassetts would put me through a 3 day PSV driving course, within their own driver training school, and if I passed then they would find me a job for the year driving coaches for the coach side of the business. It seemed like a good deal.
I am pleased to say I passed the PSV driving test first time and shortly after that I turned up for work for the first time. At that time, the Bassetts Coachways fleet was not renowned for being particularly modern, in many ways reflecting the ethos of the haulage fleet. I wasn't allocated my own coach, but being the new boy, and one of limited experience in this area, it's fair to say that I always drove the oldest coaches.
I had passed my test in CYG 154H (a 1970 engined with Plaxton bodywork) but my regular vehicles were a selection of front engined Bedfords; ATJ 141E and 142E, and TTD 236D & 237D. These coaches were as old as me (21 at the time), but unlike me had seen their best!
School runs accounted for most of the work that I did at first, but another regular job I was given was the daily transfer of prisoners from Stafford Prison to a day centre near Eccleshall. This was a real eye opener and I was quickly known by the inmates, sorry, passengers, as the 3rd gear merchant! This was due to the narrow and twisty roads the daily route took, and my probable lack of confidence at putting my foot down. There were always two coaches on this job, each having just two guards on board, and probably 30 guys, each armed with their own plastic knife and fork!
As the spring of 1989 approached, I had started to venture further afield and carry more prestigious class of passenger - yes - OAP's! These days out, often to the coast or other places of interest, gave me the valuable time I needed to do my revision, necessary for me to continue my studies at Keele. So once all the passengers had departed, rather than have a walk, or a kip, I would start reading up on Quantum Physics, Conductivity or some other scientific theory that seemed along way from the world I now found myself in. And ok, it didn't take me long to need a kip after such reading!
Thankfully I passed the exams to enable me to finish my degree at Keele and returned there in the October of 1989. However, I continued to drive for Bassetts at the weekends and the odd afternoons for the school runs. This provided a good source of income to supplement my student grant, and any cash-in-hand tips were very gratefully received!
Towards the end of my time at Keele, and after my graduation I started to consider my options in terms of a career. I applied for several graduate training programmes, most of which were in the distribution field: NFC Tankfreight, Air Products, Bass, Unigate, Red Star Parcels, Blue Arrow. Not many of these names about today.
I was unfortunate and never received a final offer, although I did get through several stages at most of the organisations. I continued to work at Bassetts on the coaches, and certainly after all studying had finished, I was working full time, often doing 60-70 hrs a week.
My next break came when once again Len Bassett made me another proposition. I was asked if I would like to start to work and learn the operation in the Coach Office. Although road transport would have been my first choice, I willingly accepted the offer as I had realised by now, that although Bassetts was a family business, albeit a large one in its field, everything the Company did was done right.
Initially I started by just doing Wednesdays and Sundays (ok, I got the short straw!), but within a few weeks this quickly became a full time position due to the untimely death of Len Smith, with whom I had been working.
My mentor and manager then was Michael Hulme, the man who had originally trained me for my PSV licence. Michael was a man of the church, so again my working week nearly always included Sundays. Sunday's were often reasonably quiet, albeit a long shift from 0630 through to 1800, and one of the most important jobs was to book in the Ford Motor Company trucks that used Tittensor as an interchange between Halewood and Dagenham. The second most important job was to feed the dog and the cat.
Again, not that long into my role in the coach office, there was to be another promotion due to the unfortunate destiny of another. Michael was dismissed due to an issue involving Drivers Hours Regulations, and, I can't help but think, a driver who had set him up.
Very quickly I really was thrown in at the deep end. With no one to guide me, or share the workload, I was soon working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. Eventually, and in reality it would only have been a couple of weeks or so, a driver was drafted in to assist me, and like me, learn the operation of the coach office. At this point, Doreen Heath, a lady who had run the coach operation some years previous and then moved to a more sedate role within Bassetts, was asked become Coach Manager. I was made Coach Supervisor, a position I was delighted to hold, and even more so when given the opportunity to study for my PSV Certificate of Professional Compliance (CPC).
The days in the coach office were very rarely quiet. The phone would be ringing all day with people booking trips, asking for quotes for coach hire, checking local service bus timetables, chasing lost property etc etc. I learnt to use a typewriter, plan day tours, file tachographs, use a computer (albeit the one supplied by Ford's for the trailer movements), mend a Wayfarer ticket machine, calculate quotes, plan timetables, sell coach holidays, and probably many tasks that I have now forgotten how to do, never mind what they were in the first place!
Reg Bassett died in 1991 and was working in the business, and particularly in the traffic office up to that very day. However in my very early days at Bassetts, Reg asked me one day if I would like to do my HGV Class 1. Although I worked for the coach side of the business, I think he knew that my interest lay in the haulage side of the operations. I obviously didn't need to be asked twice and within a short time started to undertake my training.
Bassetts driving school had been in existence for many years, and as such ran dedicated vehicles for this purpose. At this time these were a Volvo F7 which was ex haulage fleet and a Ford D series. I was to be allocated the D series, I suppose the Volvo being reserved for the paying customer.
Like many before and after me, my training started on a Monday morning with my test booked for the Friday at Swynerton testing station. Bassetts yard was large enough to accommodate its own vehicle manoeuvring area, and I was obviously fortunate enough to be allowed extra time on my own to practice the familiar reversing manoeuvre.
I passed my test thankfully first time and returned to my normal duties in the coach side of the business. With my new found skill, I soon spotted an ideal opportunity to use it. I asked Ashley Bassett if he would allow me to take a vehicle to the CVRTC show at Crick, in the June of 1991. There was one particular truck I had in mind and that was HBF 672H, a Foden S36 tractor unit that had been retired from normal haulage operations, and was now primarily used for taking trailers for test.
Ashley agreed and had the truck tidied up in preparation. The show was on the Sunday, so on the Saturday before I went into work to give her good clean, inside and out.
The Ford D series I had passed my test in had a 5 speed synchromesh 'box fitted. HBF had a Foden 12 speed! My journey to Crick, with my dad as enthusiastic passenger, was a learning curve. I eventually managed to change up (bearing in mind I was solo) but rarely managed to find a gear when slowing down. This meant that I had to slow down and come out of top gear, and had to coast to a stand still, re-select a low gear and start all over again. I couldn't believe it, there were 12 gears in that box, and I couldn't find one!
To be fair, the day at the show was fantastic. Having been to countless classic vehicle shows throughout my childhood, I had achieved a great ambition and was actually an exhibitor, not a spectator.
Again, I now find it incredible that even then, I couldn't have imagined that over 20 years later, I would own a very similar vehicle from the same stable. Destiny.
F879 RFP was acquired in 1991 when just two years old along with F877 RFP to compliment G472 EFA as the first three Dennis Javelins in the Coachways fleet. The 'F' reg's were operated as 57 seaters, whilst G472 was kept at 55 seats due to its greater use on coach holidays.
A total of five Duple Javelins were run by Bassetts, before the switch to the Plaxton bodied version.
Over the next few years my experience within the coach side of the business grew, as I was made more accountable for the operation. It was planned that once Doreen Heath retired, I would become the Coach Manager, and to this end alot of time was spent in developing my relationship with some of the long standing customers of Travel Bassetts.
In the early '90's, Len and Ashley had started to invest in the haulage fleet, which after a period of not so doing had become rather aged. New trucks were added to the fleet and many of the flat steel trailers were replaced with curtainsiders. The steel industry in Stoke on Trent had provided work for as many as 200 trailers, but with the demise in this area, Bassetts needed to invest and diversify to survive.
Mirroring this opportunity for development, the fleet of Bassetts Coachways Ltd also began to see investment and upgrading. Dennis Javelins with Duple bodies were the coach of choice, offering good reliability at a reasonble price. The introduction of five of these over a couple of years immediately made a transformation of the fleet. These were followed by the purchase of more new Javelins with the Plaxton Premiere body, which was to become a standard look for the fleet for several years.
The newer fleet allowed Bassett to expand its portfolio of work from the school contracts and very loyal customer base. A dedicated coach holiday manager was appointed, Roger Griffin, who expanded the holiday prgramme progressively and successfully over the next few years. Roger's recent background was National Express, working at the Hanley Bus Station as a controller, and remarkably, someone I remembered from my student days whilst waiting for the Friday afternoon coach home!
Like many truck enthusiasts, I also had an interest in diecast models, and around this time Corgi had become very active in producing realistic pieces in familiar liveries. In 1996 I wrote to Corgi suggesting they consider Bassetts as one of their subjects, knowing full well that Bassetts' heritage contained a good selection of varying makes and models combined with a classic livery and name known by many with an interest in road transport.
I was delighted when I receieved a telephone call from Adrienne Fuller at Corgi, who was responsible for initiating new releases. At this time Peter Davies had started to work with Corgi in an attempt to make the models more realistic and advise on what the collector may be attracted to buy. The Foden S21 "Mickey Mouse" was to be introduced into the product range, and Adrienne asked if Bassetts had operated any of these, and more importantly, could I source some photographs. Ashey Bassett was able to find some suitable examples and these were sent to Corgi for further deliberation, along with a note announcing that in 1997, Bassetts would be celebrating 100 years in road transport.
Corgi's chosen model was to be a Foden S21 eight wheeler flat, registration 3115 RE, in the livery of Bassetts Roadways Ltd. New to Bassetts in 1959, 3115 RE was named Carina and one of two similar vehicles, the other being 3116 RE.
The Bassett model was very popular amongst drivers, staff and customers when released. Here it is shown in one of Corgi's direct marketing brochures, along side another well known Stoke on Trent transport company's Foden. Ironically, and unbeknown to Corgi at this time, Beresford Transport Ltd had been bought by RG Bassett & Sons Ltd in 1996, primarily as a gateway into European transport.
As mentioned above, Bassetts celebrated their Centenary in 1997. The origins of the Company could actually be traced back to around 1894 and centered around the activities of the village blacksmith in Tittensor.
In order to celebrate this prestigous event, Leonard and Ashley Bassett commissioned the writing of a book which documented the history of this very well known company. The authors invited to compile the facts, figures and photographs were Ron Phillips and Gordon Baron. Ron and Gordon spent alot of time at Tittensor and were very fortunate to be given the time and resources to enable them to document the 100 years in Transport.
The first (and to date the only) edition of the book was limted to 1000 copies. Complimentary copies were issued to staff and customers, with the remainder being sold through Nynehead Books in Somerset.
Although my association with the Company had been less than 10 years, I was delighted to be asked to provide a number of relatively recent photographs for the book. In fact, a couple of these were actually taken especially for the publication, and featured the latest acqusitions to the coach and lorry fleets at that time.
The Centenary celebrations also included a weekend of formal and social events. There was a dinner dance held on site at Tittensor to which customers (both coach and haulage) were invited along with some of the key suppliers with which the business had successfully traded for several years. This was hosted by all of the Bassett family members and a number of managers and key personnel from within the four businesses of the Bassett Group.
The following evening another party was held, this time for all members of staff and their partners. A number of long serving ex employees were also invited, and I imagine many miles of tales were swapped that evening!
On the Sunday morning, the marquees that had hosted the celebrations were adapted to host a congregation as the vicar of Tittensor gave a Thanksgiving Service, involving the residents and school children of the village.
The contacts I had made with Corgi during the release of the Foden lorry were rekindled three more times before I left the business.
The second project I was involved in was the 1/76th scale model of a Volvo B10M Plaxton Premiere coach. This was marketed under the name Original Omnibus and featured P885 RBF.
The third and most interesting model release that I was fortunate to be involved in was the Millenium ERF. Corgi were looking to put together a range of models to celebrate the Millennium and approached me as they were considering including a Bassett lorry. However, their concern was that, although the Bassett fleet always appeared smart and presentable, the non liveried trailers did not suit the side view packaging of such models.
The plan was hatched for me to design a suitable livery, which when coupled to the nominated tractor unit, R688 ERE, would represent not only the millenium celebrations, but also RG Bassett & Sons Ltd and Corgi Classics.
I think it's fair to say, that most models that Corgi make are produced after the real life lorry has been in service. This was somewhat different with the Millenium ERF, as once the final design for the trailer was agreed, by Ashley Bassett and Corgi themselves, the two parties each went away to produce their own version of the real thing!
As the new millenium got under way and everyone had forgotten about the millenium bug, my interest in road transport (as opposed to passenger transport) began to develop further. Although I had relatively little experience in this area, I increasingly wanted my career to move this way.
Obvioulsy, working for the Bassett Group was a great advantage as their business covered many aspects. I was aware that the (road) transport office staff often required drivers in the weekday evenings to collect loads for delivery the next day. The prime customer for this was Shotton Paper near Flint in North Wales, which at just over an hour away, was manageable after a normal day's work. So, often two or three nights a week, after I finished my job as Coach Manager, I would get changed and jump in a truck and take an empty curtainside trailer to Shotton and swap it for a loaded one full of newsprint paper reels.
This was great experience. I learnt to master the Eaton Twin-Splitter gearbox fitted to the ERFs whilst also appreciating that 25 tonnes of news reels which were not secured, needed to be handled very carefully! Occasionaly, due to delivery point restrictions, it was necessary to return to Tittensor with a flat trailer, and whilst these were preloaded and sheeted, some often needed roping before the homeward journey.
RG Bassett & Sons Ltd were a founder member of Palletforce and covered the "ST" postcode area. Due to the close proximity of the hub at Fradley, the trunks were able to run home after tipping.
This was also a regular "after hours" run for me. G606 AVT, a Volvo FL10 is seen here in the early evening sunshine at the original hub on Fradley Park in Lichfield in August 2002.
This regular overtime work gave me a good basic knowledge of how a pallet network operated, and subsequently, this was not to be the last dealing I had with Palletforce, or for that matter, pallet networks.
And now for something completely different!
Bassetts were asked by Michelin Tyre Company (Stoke on Trent) to garage, maintain and supply drivers for their promotional bus. The vehicle was based on a Leyland export lorry chassis and built in the '80s by apprentices. It is seen here in August 2001 parked up near Barnstaple when I drove it for a promotional event based in Bideford. As Coach Manager, it was usually my job to find a willing coach driver to pilot it, but being of the opinion of "never ask anybody to do something . . . . . . ." I thought I better have a go! With a top speed of 40 mph, it was a long journey.
By the middle of 2002 I had worked at Bassetts for a period of 14 years. Over that time, I had learnt a substantial amount about the passengers transport industry, and its particular operations with regards to local bus services, school & contract hire, day excursions, short breaks & holidays and private/corporate hire.
In June 2001 I had successfully passed my Road Transport CPC exams, and saw this as a "feather in my cap" which may enable me to make the move from managing a passenger transport operation to one of freight transport. This, combined with the practical experience I had managed to gain with my after-hours activities led me to look for ventures new, and in September 2002 I was offered a position which would mean me handing in my notice at Bassetts and starting to learn all over again.
Rather remarkably, whilst serving my notice period at Bassetts, I was to learn that the Directors, Ashley and Leonard had taken the difficult decision to close the coach side of the business at the beginning of the following year, 2003. It was felt that with the ever increasing legislation in all areas of transport and health and safety, along with the tight margins against high investments, their efforts would be best focused on the distribution and warehousing aspects of their business.
My formal association with the company did not end with my new career. I continued to work part time for RG Bassett & Sons Ltd for a further four and half years and enjoyed many days, weekends and evenings driving for a company which I consider to be one of the best in the industry. To this day, I always consider my work related actions and decisions in relation to what I learnt and what I was taught during my years at Bassetts.
I hope the above provides you with a good understanding of why I am now the very proud owner of this Foden tractor unit, VRE 372G, which was most definately - Best by Bassetts.
One of several Seddon Atkinson 400's operated at the time, NFA 876P is seen in February 1987 carrying the Bassett Group livery and "Best by Bassetts." The load on the trailer would be newsprint.
Best by Bassetts the Italian way! C219 WFA was a stranger in the camp when photographed in February 1987, although I imagine a much prefered option for the driver than one of the many Atkinson Borderers or Foden S36/S39's.
ERF B series, XVT 869X, seen in June 1988 alongside an Atkinson Borderer and one of two Foden S83's operated by Bassetts. The Ford Transit minicoach was a one of two parked up for retirement at this time.
In March 1988 OBF 672J carried the name "Janet" and fleet number 16. This Foden S39 was later preserved and restored by Marley Tiles of Burton on Trent. It is still in preservation today and is part of the McGovern fleet and carries their livery.
Commonly referred to as the Pier head, due to its close proximity to the River Trent, the scrapyard was the penultimate destination of many vehicles. Here in March 1988, ORF 672F, an Mk1 Atkinson tractor unit has already been used for spares. What a great find this would be today!
By the Summer of 1989 the Mk1 Atki had gone and a new line up stood in its place.
GRE 49K, one of two similar ergomatic cabbed Albion Reiver's photographed in June 1988. Tony Harry is the driver, in the days before hi-viz jackets and safety shoes!
The Big A, synonimous with Bassetts, albeit here seen on a Seddon Atkinson.
Two ex Robinsons Leyland Leopards seen here at Starcoast World (Butlins) in Pwllheli after an arduous journey on hire to National Express from the Midlands via Bala and Ffestiniog. June 1989.
Blackpool Coach Rally April 1990 and a handfull of trophies for our efforts. Chris Giannassi was the driver whilst I did the navigating. JRE 354V is now in preservation and owned by Keith Stanton.
In April '91 I returned to the Blackpool Coach Rally but this time as the driver of E240 NFA, a 21 seater Caetano Optimo. Les Knapper was my navigator, seen here in between Arthur & Gloria Botfield. Gloria was often crowned "Lady Coach Driver of the Year" and always kept her coach immaculate.
N883 JRE was one of three coaches purchased new in 1996 and is seen here photographed in the Tittensor depot. This Dennis Javelin 53 seater was joined by another Plaxton Premiere, albeit a Volvo B10M executive coach (P884 NRF) and a Mercedes 711D 25 seater midicoach.
P884 NRF was used for several seasons as the Port Vale FC Team Coach, a contract Bassetts were proud to hold.
Seen here in February 1987 on my first visit to Bassetts is this Foden S21, fondly named Marge. This vehicle started life in 1962 as an eight wheel tipper in the Bassett Roadways fleet, registration 372 KBF. Seven years later in 1969 it was converted to a chinese six tractor unit and allocated the registration number XRE 873H. A further rebuild sometime later resulted in 873H becoming a standard 4x2 unit.
Conversions at Bassetts were not uncommon in the '50s,''60s and early '70s, when before strict C&U regulations, the policy of adopt and adapt was key to development.
Bassetts of Tittensor - 100 Years of Transport
The book traces the history of the Bassett family through four generations in road transport. The front cover features a painting by the well known transport artist Alan Spillett, and was copied from a photograph taken in 1949 for the Goodyear Tyre Co's in-house magazine Transportation.
In September 1999, the prototype version of the Corgi model was delivered to Bassetts for a publicity photoshoot along side the real thing.
This model was to feature in the millenium catalogue and hence the inclusion of the appropriate slogan, Quality Transport ... into The Millenium
R687 ERE was the sister vehicle to R688 and is seen here when new in January 1998. Both tractor units had already featured Into the Millenium when new along with the standard slogan of Quality Transport, a reminder that the Bassett Group had achieved the quality standard BS5750 in 1993.
ORE 672L was the last Corgi model I dealt with whilst at Bassetts, and in my opinion the best. It was new to Bassett Roadways Ltd in January 1973 and remained in service for over 15 years.
V250 GBF is seen loaded ready for my homeward journey from Shotton to Tittensor early one evening in March 2003.
My keeness to work extra hours was not limited to weekday evenings - here V250 GBF is seen unloading in Southampton at 7am one Sunday morning in August 2002. I had travelled down on the Saturday night and experienced my first "night out!"
In the mid '90s I was very fortunate to be introduced to Richard Cresswell and subsequently invited to drive his AEC Mercury to a rally at Nottingham. Richard's fleet of four AECs are renowned for their superb restoration and are always immaculately presented. Since then, I have driven one of Richard's fleet to an event or two each year, and always wondered whether one day I would be fortunate to own my own classic . . .
Photographed on my very first visit to Bassetts of Tittensor in February 1987, VRE 372G is seen still in active service when 18 years old.