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…)

*                          *                          *

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.

*                          *                          *

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)

14 thoughts on “Typography On The Buses: Greater Manchester’s Buses (1966 – 2011)

    1. Hi James,

      I am most familiar with that tool myself – and have struggled on numerous occasions to find the SaverSeven font whilst using that! There’s one font that comes pretty close, though there are none which is an exact copy. I would assume that it may have been a Letraset/ITC font of some description.

      Bye for now,



    1. Hi Jeff,

      Well spotted, and full of retro goodness in their choice of typeface. Which of course is the medium/standard version of Crillie rather than the extra bold one used by Ken Mortimer on his work for GM Buses.

      Bye for now,



    1. That’s right! This is mentioned in a recent history of Rossendale Borough Transport, and acknowledged elsewhere within this blog in a previous article entitled ‘The Collected Works of Ken Mortimer’.


  1. Hi Stuart,

    A very interesting post. We are also interested in bus typography as a visit to our blog blindsforbuses.blogspot.com will attest! We are particularly interested in the font used on Megadekker bus blinds and I’ve placed an appeal on our blogsite to this effect. If you are able to assit, I would be most grateful.

    Best regards,

    Blinds for Buses


    1. Hi Mike,

      The closest matches I have found for your ‘Easterhouse’ indicator blind are Univers 59 Ultra Condensed, Helvetica 77 Bold Condensed, Humanist 777 and Humanist 521 (both Bold Condensed), and Futura Medium Condensed. The former is the closest due to the style of glyphs and font weight.

      Futura Medium Condensed appears to be the best of them all. It seems to tick all boxes with the position of the horizontal part of the ‘A’ and the style of ‘S’.

      The link: http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/bitstream/futura/medium-condensed/

      The standard Futura font dates from 1927, so the chances of it being adopted after and well before bus deregulation are most likely. All the other fonts I’ve suggested were designed before 1960.

      Bye for now,



  2. Hi

    For GMT, SaverSeven is Motter Ombra, Fare Deal is Kolos EF and ClipperCard is ITC Zipper. GMT also used Lo-Type for ‘Rainy Days’.

    The Manchester City Transport font on the Mancunians was set in Univers.

    SELNEC also used: Bureau Grot Wide Bold, Windsor D Cond ExtraBold, what looks like Clearface and Gill Sans.

    GM buses also used Kabel and Gill Sans for publicity and Gill Sans ExtraBold for the ‘Welcome aboard your local GM Bus’

    Hope this helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Adam,

      Many thanks for your reply. Two years after the last comment I found out about the SaverSeven typeface, after bugging me for well over 30 years. I remember Philip Kelly’s ITC Zipper on the ClipperCard lettering.

      Thanks for correcting me on the Manchester City Transport typeface. Also for filling me in on the ‘Fare Deal’ typeface [EF Koloss] which always reminds me of the closing credits of Dangermouse. The Lo-Type typeface is the BQ Medium variant.

      Bye for now,



  3. Hi does any one know what typeface was used for the Warburtons Travel/Godfrey Abbott/Charterplan/Lancashire United Coaches from the 80’s


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s