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All Posts, Key Publishing, Transport

Author Guest Post: Matthew Wharmby

London’s Advert Buses

by Matthew Wharmby

Go anywhere in central London and, before long, you’re sure to see an advert bus, its colourful all-over vinyl plugging just about anything you’d care to buy. Advert buses have been a hallmark of the modern scene for two decades now, not just hooking an endless parade of (hopefully) deep-pocketed London consumers, but helping to put no small amount of that money into TfL’s desperately empty coffers!

In the 1970s, almost another era altogether, advert buses were also commonplace in London. Back then, of course, they were all painted by hand, some with extraordinary skill. As time went on they expanded from plugging products to participating in the old London Transport’s own celebrations; HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the 150th anniversary of omnibuses as a whole in 1979, the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981 and finally, LT’s own Golden Jubilee in 1983.

Then, with one ghastly green and yellow Routemaster sponsored by Underwoods photo developers in 1984, it all came to a crashing halt. No further advert liveries appeared after that, though with the onset of tendering and privatisation, the normal buses were colourful enough in their own right.

It took another Jubilee to bring the concept back to what by 2002 was now Transport for London (TfL). Fifty buses across a range of contracted companied donned gold vinyl to celebrate HM the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and after that, the scene mushroomed. From a suite of London Fashion Week wraps to the successful bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, advert buses became big business and there have been thousands upon thousands of them in the last two decades.

In 2004, a number of buses were treated to schemes for London Fashion Week, showcasing the eclectic work of several high-profile designers. This elegant piece by Vivienne Westwood is seen on Travel London’s Dennis Trident TA 1 (V301 KGW), reposing at the 3’s Crystal Palace terminus on 9 April 2004.
‘Back the Bid’, exhorted 40 buses in this campaign to bring the Olympic Games back to London. In light blue overall, the livery featured a pole-vaulter scaling the London Eye. This is Stagecoach East London’s Dennis Trident 18256 (LX04 FZA), seen at Walthamstow Central on 7 May 2005.

The method of applying the ads themselves has also been refined; printed on strong vinyl, the wraps are stuck over existing paintwork and are delicate enough not to peel it off when removed after a month or several months of a typical ad campaign, latterly supervised by Global Media Group Services. With such easy turnover, buses have often been seen carrying up to four wraps in any calendar year.

After the immediate rush of adverts, the effect was toned down a little with an order by TfL to keep the fronts of affected buses in fleet red. Just such treatment is evident on Abellio’s ADL E40D 9524 (SN12 AAV), taking this ad for Pure Gym across Hyde Park Corner on the morning of 24 September 2017.
With the advent in 2013 of the Wrightbus New Bus for London, aka New Routemaster but universally nicknamed ‘Borismaster’, all-over ads returned to all four sides of the bus, given that this type was heavily marketed as unique to and representative of London. No book could cover every single treatment of this type to ads – and it’s been attempted! As a mere example is LT 479 (LTZ 1479), of London General, which on 10 September 2015 is plugging Pepe jeans in Trafalgar Square.

It’s not just products and services that have been paraded before twenty years’ worth of Londoners and visitors. The story has now come full circle with HM the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, followed this year by the Coronation of her successor, HM King Charles III.

All-over adverts used to feature Contravision across the windows so as to ensure full coverage, but passengers complained about not being able to see out, so ads since then have been designed to omit the windows, other than on a limited basis. Demonstrating the recent rerouting of the 21 via Highbury Corner to Holloway is LT 672 (LTZ 1672) of London Central, advertising Levi’s 501s and photographed on 4 June 2023.
The era of the Borismaster has given way to that of the electric bus, most of them Chinese in origin like this BYD D8UR DD with an ADL Enviro400 City body. Seen at Clapham Junction on 25 July 2023, BCE 47016 (LB69 JNJ) belongs to London United and has recently become part of a contingent advertising Chiquita bananas.
Five buses were wrapped for the new King’s coronation this past June, each one in a different colour. On 4 June 2023 dark blue Stagecoach Selkent BYD D8UR DD 84148 (LG71 DNV) is seen at Edgebury, between New Eltham and Chislehurst, on its assigned route 160.

With over 230 colourful pictures to complement an all-new selection chosen just for this blog, London’s Advert Buses explores twenty years’ worth of all-over adverts in their full scope of variety and colour across the capital. Priced at £16.99, it can be purchased from Key Publishing online and from all good bookshops.