The Routemaster Bus
Posted Tuesday, 20 February 2007 by Gudmund in Icon of the week
Most large cities have one or several landmarks that have come to represent and define them in the public psyche; Rome has the Colosseum, Paris the Eiffel tower, Toronto the CN Tower and so on. A few cities have characteristic modes of transport too; New York has its yellow cabs, Venice has gondolas and Lisbon the 'funiculars' negotiating the steep streets.
Photograph © Andrew Dunn
Not counting 'the tube' (London Underground), London has two such characteristic modes of transport: the black cabs and the red, double-decker Routemaster buses. Like so many things British, even at the time of its introduction in 1959, the Routemaster seemed distinctly out of sync with developments in continental Europe, and many predicted a short and unsuccessful life-span. The front engine, rear entrance construction was by then already deemed old-fasioned by many, not least because it required two people to operate it: the driver in a separate cab at the front and a conductor at the back.
Underneath the rather traditional exterior, the Routemaster was in fact a surprisingly modern construction with automatic transmission, power steering and pneumatic brakes, all contained in an aluminium body that made it lighter and more fuel-efficient than almost any other double-decker bus. The characteristic design was also well suited to the busy streets of London, the open platform at the back allowing passengers to get on or off at traffic lights or even in slow-moving traffic. This 'hop-on, hop-off' approach seemed representative of the liberal attitudes in 1960s 'Swinging London', helping establish the Routemaster as an undisputed cultural icon.
On the other hand; the Routemaster was increasingly prone to sudden break-downs, and if you happened to be in a wheelchair, the areas of the city covered by Routemasters remained out of bounds – unless you happened to bring a team of helpers. A few months before the 50th anniversary of its maiden voyage, the Routemaster was phased out of regular service at the end of 2005.
The Routemaster and its older cousin the Regent RT have featured prominently in numerous movies, including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
, The Avengers
, James Bond: Live and let Die
and 28 Days Later
, as well as in music videos by both Blur and Oasis.
Related posts:» Icon of the Week: Fender Stratocaster» Icon of the Week: The Leica Model IThanks to Ian's Bus Stop and Icons.org.uk