Typographic styles used by Greater Manchester bus operators since the 1960s.
Technological advances and the need to present a modern outward image saw greater use of typographic styles over the last 50 years or so of bus operation. For the most part of the 1970s and 1980s, Helvetica was the dominant style on Greater Manchester’s buses, from publicity to indicator blinds. It may be overly simplistic to name the typefaces used by SELNEC, Greater Manchester Transport and so on; for the purpose of this post, there is reference to the font itself and a bit of background history.
Here’s hoping this post may settle a few pub arguments on typography. (Yeah, as if typography forms the zeitgeist of public house conversations at The Old Monkey: then again you never know…)
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A. The Operators’ Fonts:
1. Manchester City Transport (1965 – 1969):
One of Ralph Bennett’s main priorities was to give Manchester’s buses a modern outward image which was distinctly Mancunian. Though the three piece indicator layout was unchanged since the Stuart Pilcher era, it formed part of MCT’s state of the art Mancunian style Atlanteans and Fleetlines and offered a sense of continuity.
In the mid to late 1960s, the Helvetica font was adopted by Manchester City Transport for its new buses. The Mancunians would see the municipality’s name on the right hand side of the entrance doors. Timetable booklets and bus stands saw the Helvetica font used.
2. SELNEC PTE (1969 – 1974):
Helvetica remained in use for some applications, particularly the contents of their timetable leaflets. SELNEC’s main font was a bespoke one. A local advertising agency, Brunning (Manchester) created the SELNEC logotype, which included the ‘Lazy S’ logo and the bespoke SELNEC Alpha font. Other fonts used by SELNEC included:
- Cooper Black: used for headers on local timetable leaflets; the 1972 Ashton and Stalybridge District timetable was one example;
- ITC Bauhaus Heavy: used as a header for the Central Area Timetable in 1973.
3. Greater Manchester Transport (1974 – 1986):
The very font which epitomised Greater Manchester Transport and GMPTE right up to the early 1990s was Helvetica. On a personal level, GMT’s buses turned me into the typographical obsessive I am today. I devoured (and still devour) their clean, clinical publicity design which is as much a modernist Manchester icon along with Peter Saville’s work for Factory Records.
Helvetica wasn’t the only game in town for Greater Manchester Transport. A variety of the following typefaces were seen in their publicity materials and tickets:
- ITC Zipper: most famously used on their ClipperCard tickets from 1979 up to the mid-1990s. Also used on Teen Travel Club literature and its photo identity cards;
- Transport: the 1978 Greater Manchester Transport Review states that the Transport font, seen on road signs, was used on its indicator layouts;
- Prisma: used as the headline for their 1982 ‘Good Night Buses’ leaflet, printed on yellow paper.
4. Greater Manchester Buses (1986 – 1993), GM Buses North and GMS Buses (1993 – 1996):
Helvetica took a bit of a back seat in 1986, with its usage reserved for body text. The most dominant font of the GM Buses eras (of varying thickness) was Crillie.
On the Piccadilly Line branded AEC Routemasters, the GM Buses logo was superimposed on the LT roundel. Gill Sans and Johnston type also formed part of the 143 with the latter seen on its indicator layout.
The Letraset Crillie family formed part of the GM Buses logo surviving the split. Crillie Extra Bold was also seen on:
- Little Gem branding;
- The Express lettering seen on dual purpose MCW Metrobuses and Leyland Olympians;
- GM Buses North’s express routes, with ‘GMN Express’ in extra bold, uppercase form;
- Both the GM Buses North and GMS Buses logos.
Ironically, Crillie was the chosen font of GMS Buses’ successors…
5. Stagecoach Holdings (1989 – 2001):
In a lighter form, the Crillie font was used for the ‘Stagecoach’ letter, just as ubiquitous as the Starsky and Hutch style stripes. The Crillie font was a popular choice among other 1980s operators such as…
6. Yelloway (1985 – 1989):
In its inglorious twilight years under Carlton PSV ownership, its new parent company saw the glorious Yelloway logotype replaced with the name in Crillie Extra Bold. It didn’t suit the famous operator; nor did it suit one of Carlton PSV’s other subsidiaries Sheffield United Transport. Instead of making for a modern image (compare and contrast with Ken Mortimer’s GM Buses liveries for Good Use of the Crillie Typeface), its application was far removed from the splendour of its previous livery.
Thankfully, the Yelloway name has been revived by Courtesy Coaches. Quite rightly, they’ve reverted to its familiar orange and cream livery with the 1950s – early 1980s logotype.
7. JPT Travel (2008 – to date):
A more recent user of the Crillie Extra Bold font is JPT Travel. Their use of the font is seen on the side and front of its buses. The application of which is subtle and complements the yellow and blue livery very well.
8. First (1996 – to date):
FirstGroup’s standard fonts are based around the Arial typeface. The ‘First’ lettering uses the bold form of the Arial Narrow typeface.
On First Pioneer’s Dennis Darts, the Johnston font is used on destination blinds.
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B. The Fonts Themselves and Their Designers:
1. Helvetica: designed by Max Miedinger, 1957; derived from older Akzidenz-Grotesk font designed in 1896.
2. Cooper Black: designed by Oswald Cooper in 1921; often used on posters.
3. ITC Bauhaus family: designed by Herbet Bayer in 1925.
4. Letraset Crillie family: designed by Dick Jones, 1980 and 1986; a most popular font among 1980s designers, particularly among sign makers and transport concerns.
5. ITC Zipper: designed by Philip Kelly, 1970; also seen on a Woodstock poster and the 1979 and 1984 seasons of ‘The Comedians’ (Granada Television) programme.
6. Transport: designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, 1958 – 63 as a standard letterform for the UK’s road signs.
7. Johnston/London Underground Type: designed by Edward Johnston, 1916. A common typeface seen on Transport for London concerns. Also seen outside London with some manual indicator blinds using that typeface.
8. Arial: a widely used font on Windows and Mac OS X computer operating systems designed by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders, 1982.
9. Prisma: a popular font for illustrating neon signs, often seen on theatre posters. Designed by Rudolf Koch, 1931.
Any more typographic styles?
If anybody else can rattle off other typefaces used by bus companies in the Greater Manchester area (past and present), I would be most delighted. Over the last five years, I have been trying to find out which font was used on the ‘SaverSeven’ passes (if anybody knows, please comment). Then again, if you cannot rattle off any typefaces, feel free to comment on the use of typography on the buses, good or bad examples.
S.V., 02 November 2011.
(Fan of the Helvetica typeface since 1984)