Who remembers getting a coach from Manchester to Paris?

Cast your mind back to 1976. Many people associate the year with its long hot summer, hose pipe bans, and queueing outside stand pipes. For many readers of this blog, 2018 could have similar parallels to that year (weather and hose pipe bans alone). With the school holidays kicking in, why would you want to (or have wanted to in 1976) find the sun abroad?

42 years on, we think nothing of travelling abroad. Our soon-to-expire EU Membership has enabled us to travel to EU Member States at affordable prices. South of London St. Pancras station, getting a train to Paris is easier than catching a bus from Stalybridge to Marple (in 1976, no need to change buses thanks to the 389 route).

From Manchester, travelling to Paris means faffing about in London (tube or foot from Euston to St. Pancras). Or a flight from Manchester Airport (though you need to get to Ringway from the city centre). At one time you could go straight from Manchester city centre to Paris.

In 1974, The Godfrey Abbott Group applied for a licence to operate coach services between the two legendary cities. This was submitted within 10 days of EEC Regulations which gave a fillup for overseas coach services. Though overseas coach tours had been available well before Britain joined the Common Market, The Godfrey Abbott Group’s licence was for a scheduled service. A scheduled service which operated five days a week.

Godfrey Abbott MJA 900P now in GMT livery layout. A different looking coach altogether!
Imposing: the AEC Reliance Duple Dominant coach seen at Godfrey Abbott Group’s Sale depot. Image by Brian, 1978 (Copyright retained by existing photographer).

Launched on the 21 May 1976, it was also known as The Parisian Pullman. It was initially operated with two AEC Reliance coaches with Duple Dominant bodywork. Each coach had 45 seats, some with tables and a lavatory at the back. The coaches made intermediate stops in Birmingham, London [Britannia Airways terminal], Dover, and Calais. They crossed the English Channel via Sealink or Townsend Thoresen ferries.

As quoted in Commercial Motor magazine (14 May 1976), sample fares were £29 return for the full route, or £23.50 from London. Students and child passengers could travel for £19. In 2017 prices, the equivalent of £198.44 (Manchester – Paris), £160.81 (London – Paris), and £130.01 (student/child fare from London to Paris).

With the Godfrey Abbott Group part of Greater Manchester Transport from November 1976, GMPTE was the only Passenger Transport Executive to have had an international coach service. Coaches left Manchester city centre at 0630, arriving in Paris for 2030. The Godfrey Abbott Group aimed to use the Manchester – Paris service as a springboard for other continental routes. The potential of travelling from Ashton-under-Lyne to Dublin for a day trip was there.

Manchester to Paris by coach – 2018 style

Sadly, there is no direct coach from Manchester to Paris. Even so, the journey can be done today on National Express routes. This time with a change at London’s Victoria Coach Station. The journey is considerably longer if you choose to leave at the crack of dawn. Departing at 0530, the 540 service arrives in London for 1110, calling at Manchester Airport (0550) and Marble Arch (1055). There is also a 2 hour 20 minutes gap between coaches. Which is nicely timed for lunch or bus spotting (or both).

For the second leg, we leave London at 1330. There is an intermediate stop at Lille (2000) before arriving in Paris (Bercy) for 2300. This section is operated by OuiBus Services. Based on leaving Chorlton Street Coach Station at 0530 (03 August 2018), the single fare begins at £122.50. The single fare on our return leg (based on leaving Paris on the 17 August 2018 at 0900) starts at £33.50. Therefore, if we booked tonight, the fare on National Express would have been cheaper in today’s prices than Godfrey Abbott Group’s £198.44.

One other main difference between 2018 and 1976 operations is the popularity of cheap advance purchase tickets. Ultimately, yield management – where greater savings are made with earlier bookings. Whether you booked two days or two weeks in advance, it was still £29 from Manchester to Paris back in 1976.

Could we go lower than £156 on National Express? Believe it or not we can on our chosen dates, if you are happy with splitting your tickets. Manchester to London could be as little as £12.30 return on National Express alone. For the London to Paris leg, you could travel for… £58.98.

How is that possible? FlixBus offers a cheap and cheerful way to the continent though only has two stops in the UK: London and Dover. The Germany-based operator recently took over Megabus’ continental operations and the fares are similarly cheap and cheerful. You thought rail was the only mode of transport where split ticketing brought you good savings.

One of these bags would be good for the trip, but this one doesn’t belong to me.

Charterplan bag
Had the creator of East of the M60 been 25 years older, he would have had one of these bags. And carted it on a Manchester to Paris coach. In November of 1979, for the sole purpose of seeing The Mighty Supertramp. In concert.

S.V., 19 July 2018.

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