A pictorial journey of the Stalybridge based industrial designer and transport artist’s creations
Though known to nobody else other than bus enthusiasts, Mancunians would be most familiar with his handiwork. Even to this day, examples of his work are seen in bus museums and rallies or in regular service. The creative genius behind SELNEC and GMPTE’s image was Ken Mortimer. In recent times he has started selling watercolour prints of 1950s and 1960s transport scenes. Some of which are available as postcards and greetings cards.
1. The Mancunian style double decker bus: the first of many – and parent of the GMT/SELNEC standard bus.
First hitting the streets of Manchester in 1968, they are popularly credited as Ralph Bennett’s design, Mr Bennett’s design principles were realised by Ken Mortimer and set the trend for the GMT/SELNEC Standard Leyland Atlanteans and Leyland Fleetlines. The panoramic windows and boxiness (at odds with contemporary practice) turned many people’s heads making Manchester Corporation’s earlier Atlanteans appear anachronistic. Even today, they still have an air of swagger compared with contemporary examples, using the despised domes and peaks.
2. Bolton Transport’s dual door Leyland Atlantean PDR1A/1: slanted window beauty
The early 1960s saw Ralph Bennett turn the Bolton fleet from a conservative one into one of the most striking for its time. This transition began in 1963 with the Bennett inspired Atlanteans boasting a translucent roof and engine shrouding. Some of the principles adopted to its East Lancashire bodied Atlanteans would later resurface in the Mancunian style buses. This was true of Bolton’s 1969 batch. Allocated the fleet numbers 6778 to 6801, they were dual door with slanted side windows. Though ordered by Bolton Transport they entered service with SELNEC Northern, still in the Bolton livery, albeit without the town’s crest.
Following on from their 15 dual door double deckers, a further 14 were ordered by Bolton Transport, entering service in SELNEC livery. They were SELNEC’s last East Lancashire bodied vehicles and featured the standard three piece front indicator layout.
3. The Park Royal bodied Daimler Fleetline DMS Londoner: designed for London, better liked outside the capital
Following his work with Manchester City Transport, Ralph Bennett was headhunted for the role as chief of London Transport. As a logical progression from the Mancunian style, his term was punctuated by the Londoner, a Daimler Fleetline double decker (DMS class) bodied by Park Royal. Once again, the pen of Ken Mortimer was deployed.
Though liked by passengers, LT’s early DMSs were withdrawn in the late 1970s, with independent operators like Mayne of Manchester and Graham’s Bus Service adopting them. Greater Manchester Transport, by means of its Lancashire United Transport subsidiary, bought a few secondhand examples. Greater Manchester’s DMSs had a much longer shelf life with Mayne of Manchester disposing of their examples at the end of the 1990s.
4. Greater Manchester PTE rail livery (Class 142 Pacer DMUs)
Despite being the most despised multiple units in living memory, the Class 142s allocated to Newton Heath depot had a Ken Mortimer designed livery which looked well on the units. This was one of his two suggested liveries for the unit, with his other having an upswept brown band at each end of the train. Our example, taken at Liverpool Lime Street station is better suited to the GMT style livery than the second version worn by the Sprinter behind. Its doors were originally orange. The 1993 image shows the doors painted yellow.
5. Greater Manchester Transport/GM Buses Express livery
With bus deregulation a year away, there were few Greater Manchester Transport services with dedicated route branding. Those which carried route branding were the 200 Airport Express (with the blue band below the coach windows or between top and bottom decks) and the Centreline service. This was to change when May 1986 saw GMT’s Express livery used on coach seated Leyland Olympians. The original version of Mortimer’s express livery had the M-blem in white which didn’t stand out as well as the GM Buses logo seen to the right of this picture.
The bus seen above is one of GM Buses’ distinctive Northern Counties bodied MCW Metrobuses. They were a joy to travel in along the 400/401 routes and on the 562 (Oldham – Halifax) service in its twilight years.
6. The Northern Counties bodied Dennis Domino: ahead of its time but over-engineered?
The Dennis Domino was viewed by some commentators as over-engineered for short to medium length routes along with the Bedford JJL before then in 1979. Therefore, its expense only saw GMT and South Yorkshire PTE place orders. The former’s vehicle were designed by Ken Mortimer as suitable replacements for the Seddon Pennines which plied their trade on the Centreline route.
The Dominos looked the part in 1986 and its style hasn’t dated as much as the Leyland Lynx (also built the same year). It boasted individual seats for short to medium journeys, which was years before its time and had ribbon windows (seen even more on today’s buses). Learning its lessons from the Domino, Dennis launched the Dart in 1988, and the rest was history.
7. GM Buses’ Little Gem livery
With two months to go till deregulation, Greater Manchester Transport ordered its first minibuses since the formation of Dial-a-Ride in Sale. As the vehicles arrived in GMT livery, each depot gave its minibus services local identifiers. For example, Tameside garage had Ashton Mini Lyne branded minibuses. By January 1987, GM Buses faced competition from the emergent Bee Line Buzz Company. Its bright yellow and red converted vans posed a real threat to the arms-length PTE company.
This led to a unified brand for GM Buses’ minibus services, so (following guidance from Ken Mortimer of course and several sheets of vinyl later) Little Gem was born. Originally going to known as Little GM, it was felt that Little Gem would trip off the tongue better for the average passenger. Another idea mooted at the time was Super Gem. Services would either outgrow Little Gem status or become a low cost alternative, a la Magic Bus style. One such service given Super Gem status was the 579 Great Lever circular.
8. The Rossendale Easyride livery
One of his more recent creations was a revamp of Rossendale Transport’s standard livery. The updated version combines its previous livery with noughties swirls, and it respects the lines of the bus with gradual application from windscreen to rear window. The timing of this was necessitated by the introduction of low floor vehicles to their Rawtenstall garage. The livery remains in use on most of Rossendale’s services. It was also among the first corporate liveries seen on a GMPTE Bus Times leaflet, something which has become common practice on TfGM Bus Times.
9. Greater Manchester Transport/GM Buses Publicity Design
No celebration of Ken Mortimer’s work is complete without reference to Greater Manchester Transport’s publicity material. For me, Greater Manchester Transport’s publicity design is just as important to Manchester’s identity as much as a Factory album cover or a poster by Peter Saville. Its use of the Helvetica font for its body text gave the PTE a strikingly modern outward image, and one which looks fresh even now (well, the picture of the couple looks cheesy though).
The Helvetica font was central to GMT’s corporate image, from the Greater Manchester Transport fleet name to the staff toilets and the use of the M-blem on its publicity material. It also owes a great debt to my love of all things Greater Manchester Transport, its predecessors and forerunners.
10. The Bus of the Future
Had Labour won the 1983 General Election (which was unlikely due to The Falklands Factor granting Thatcher a landslide victory), East of the M60 wouldn’t have been discussing the latest comings and goings with the independent operators. Nor would it have had several posts denoting Tameside’s bus service changes. Instead it would have seen an integrated transport system akin to Mainland Europe. Its buses would have still been in orange, white and brown. There would still be a 400 Trans-Lancs Express route.
Ken’s bus of the future would have looked like this fellow above with the right windscreen lower than the left one to ensure better kerbside vision. Akin to today’s examples, it would have ribbon windows, and a digital display. Though this was drawn in 1985, it has leanings towards the MCW Metrobus Mark II and an Alexander ALX400 Dennis Trident. Eerily is the fact his bus of the future appears to have been bodied in Falkirk rather than Wigan.
In terms of bus history and industrial design for public transport, we readily cite the influence of London Transport. The work of Ken Mortimer and the people he worked with deserves greater recognition. From his work with Ralph Bennett with Bolton and Manchester Corporations’ bus undertakings to recent developments, his work stands the test of time. The Mancunian style Atlanteans and Fleetlines still look the part over 40 years on. Yet the AEC Routemaster, instead of the Mancunian style buses (and the Bolton examples before then) gets the plaudits. Most of which down to London’s influence and control of the media zeitgeist.
GMT’s publicity design is as much a part of Manchester’s forward thinking nature. Like Peter Saville’s work for Factory, it is a look which is very Mancunian in swagger, slickness and at odds with convention. SELNEC before then employed a Manchester advertising agency (Brunning) for the creation of its SELNEC Alpha typeface. Greater Manchester Transport’s M-blem was right up to this year the UK’s Third Most Recognised Transport Symbol (the other two are the British Rail double arrows and the London Underground roundel).
Before I go, there’s a little secret I need to whisper to you all: the M-blem was actually designed by London based industrial designer Ken Hollick. Even so, it epitomises Manchester in an easy-to-understand symbol.
S.V., 30 August 2011.
Postscript: Ken’s transport images are available online. They are a must for bus enthusiasts who remember the 1950s and 1960s transport scenes. Why not visit his site and buy your Crossley loving Granddad a print or something.