Jim Hulme – Life on the Buses: Such old-world charm…


I had lunch recently with a group of retired busmen that included my old boss from when I was a scheduler at Wigan Corporation Transport, former Traffic Superintendent Gwyn Thomas. I confess that after all these years I still found it difficult not to address him as ‘Mr Thomas’.

Deferential respect was the order of the day, and when I started work in 1962 as a stores clerk I would not have dared call my boss other than ‘Mr Catlow’. To call him ‘Jack’ was unthinkable, while he was free to bellow out ‘Hulme’ when he wished to get my attention.

And I recall my interview for the job when the Chief Clerk at Blackburn Transport, Lawrence Oak, conducted proceedings from a seated position behind his desk, while I remained standing throughout, although not quite to attention!

John Harrison was Blackburn’s General Manager, and if he came into any of the offices, all would stand respectfully in acknowledgement of his elevated position. And I know that at Wigan Corporation, even though Gwyn Thomas was only one level below the General Manager, Gwyn would always address the man with his name on the side of the buses as ‘Mr McKnight’. To us lesser mortals, Mr McKnight was ‘sir’!

My formal upbringing proved embarrassing after I had joined SELNEC Northern in 1971, one of four area companies set up by the new PTE, as Traffic Superintendent at its Leigh depot.

When I attended my first company meeting under the chairmanship of former Salford City Transport General Manager Harry Craggs, who by this time was SELNEC Northern’s Company Traffic Manager, I addressed him throughout the meeting as ‘sir’, much to the amusement of my colleagues, who were unmerciful in their teasing of the new boy for what they saw as forelock-tugging sycophancy. ‘Harry’ was inappropriate; a polite ‘Mr Craggs’ would have been fine.

At Greater Manchester PTE it was first-name terms throughout, and everyone knew who Angus and Richard were without the need for surnames Munroe and Cochrane. However, former municipal managers such as Manchester’s Jack Thompson and Bolton’s Jim Batty could never be addressed so informally.

In my early days, the formality of relationships where drivers and conductors were concerned varied widely. When it came to ‘one-to-one’ encounters I remember being on first name terms with almost everyone, and when I was an allocator being nice was an essential ingredient in persuading drivers and conductors to do a bit of overtime to cover the service.

I think, however, that the tannoy which was used by duty inspectors to summon staff from the canteen was an awful way of conducting business, although I’m glad to say that at Blackburn it was a polite invitation to ‘Driver Smith’ to do an inspector’s bidding.

Whereas, on a visit to St Helen’s Corporation Transport in the early 1960s, I was horrified to hear someone bellow out ‘two-nine-one’ over the tannoy system, which was an inspector’s way of summoning a hapless driver or conductor who was clearly just a number rather than a name.

Knowing when formality is the order of the day and where informality is appropriate is, I think, the key. In a disciplinary hearing in Oldham, District Manager Mr Hulme conducted business with trade union shop steward Mr Cavanagh, but at a social event Jim and Mick would have a pint together. They were both very comfortable with that kind of relationship.