AEC Swift BPH 106H
An AEC SWIFT On hold
AEC Swift

From Ensign at Grays, SM106 was sold in August 1979 to Deeble & Son of Upton Cross, Nr. Liskeard, Cornwall who operated school buses as part of their Caradon Riviera Tours business. The left-hand photo below shows a very shiny SM106, presumably not long after moving to Cornwall. This company also took SM479, a strange duo for that part of the world. Interestingly, DPD 479J was photographed in 1979 while signwritten with E.J. Deeble & Son, the logo "See the West with CARADON RIVIERA TOURS" and an outline map of Cornwall. The location, despite being claimed as the depot was actually the car park adjacent to the old drill-hall in Westgate Street, Launceston. I spoke to Mr. Keith Deeble to find out anything he might be able to tell me about SM106 and he reported trouble-free operation, but kept her only until December 1980 before sale to Raymond Dinner, trading as Launceston Car Hire. Spurred-on by this revelation, I took some abrasive paper to one of the scrap side-panels in my garage, and sure enough there is red paint sandwiched between two different blue layers, one from Launceston and the other from Blue Lake. Because I have only worked on new panels, or at window-level I had never spotted that before!

BPH 106H, Deeble 1981 © D. Withers BPH 106H, Caradon RT © R.Marshall

Any relationship between Dinner and the Deebles is unknown, though they obviously traded alongside for some while. The right-hand photo above shows her in 1981 alongside Launceston castle, descending Western Road towards the junction by the Town Hall with two fleet names: Caradon Riviera Tours on the side with a map of Cornwall (added since the first photo) and Launceston Car Hire on the front. Dinner applied a new livery of pale-grey and blue, which was carried until 1986. The picture below-left was taken in Broad Street, Launceston by Lloyds Bank, which was still in business in 2016 with Specsavers occupying the adjacent building with the posh facade. Some years must elapse before the next photo, as the chrome wheel trims have been lost and wear and tear has 'accumulated'. My guess is that the rear view dates from between April 1984 when the keeper's address changed (the legend on the rear engine cover reads TOWN BUS SERVICE and No.1 White Hart Arcade) and July 1986 when the bus was recorded by DVLA as being repainted in 'red/cream' livery. The location is described elsewhere as Pennygillam Industrial Estatey, and obviously an open yard, with Fry's Bedford coach and a curtain-side trailer for company. Meanwhile, in 2018 a picture came to light of SM106 actually in the process of being repainted into the red/cream livery, though where it was done is not evident. A hunch that I have is that the shed could well be on the Scarne Industrial Estate, which was a new address notified in October 1986.

BPH 106H, Launceston CH © Unknown BPH 106H, Launceston CH © Unknown BPH 106H, Launceston CH © Donald Macrae

In August 1989 the vehicle was sold to Blue Lake Coaches of Chichester, and operated in a cream/blue livery, basically applying blue over Dinner's red. If you look carefully you will see that the scheme differs slightly from the Launceston Car Hire livery, with the blue band of constant thickness. I have been told that SM106 was obtained to replace a truly awful example of a Leyland National - which would be an amusing reversal of the regular trend of the previous decade! Here the duties were a bit more demanding: more or less exclusive operation on local service 59 (note the destination painted on the glass of the front box) in Chichester and 243 in Bognor Regis, which were tendered to West Sussex County Council, so the DiPTAC-compliant modifications were apparently a condition for operation. The interesting thing about this set of photographs is the way that small modifications appear progressively, such as panelling over the foglamps and ventilation air-intakes, orange grips on the handrails and modification to make the ungainly, lowered, two-step front entrance. What a relief that the centre exit doors were not removed! Both of the following pictures were captured by John Law, doyen of obscure AEC buses. The first (route 243) is in the High Street in Bognor Regis, the second (route 59) in the lay-by outside Chichester Bus Station café, with the distinctive Crown Court building visible in the distance. The café does not look quite so smart nowadays, but we must be grateful for its continued presence.

BPH 106H, Blue Lake, Bognor © John Law BPH 106H, Blue Lake, Chichester © John Law

The next few images were taken by Keith Wright in 1992, also in High Street, Bognor Regis, and the only significant change in the scene since then is that the Southdown building has been demolished to make a car park and pedestrian access for Morrisons Supermarket. The bus is passing Lloyds Bank and is obscuring the NatWest which is clothed in scaffolding.

BPH 106H, Bognor 1992 © Keith Wright BPH 106H, Bognor 1992 © Keith Wright

The next two images, also by Keith, show a re-painted exterior and the modified interior during the period when she stood outside the garage, No pictures have been found of her operating in blue livery, and it must have been short-lived. The modifications made inside, such as providing low-level bell-pushes by grinding slots into the vertical grab-rails were dire, as was the perverse removal of the luggage-pen handrail which is unique to these PRV-bodied country area Swifts. Orange, knobbly coating for improved visibility and grip was applied to handrails throughout the bus. A rather gruesome "Bus Stopping" indicator was also fitted below the destination blind box, making a large hole in a very complex metal pressing, and the normal signal-bell was removed. The colour scheme was revised dramatically, and all the grey Rexine painted over or ripped off. Ghastly yellow on the chequer-plate completed a pretty uncool make-over. During her stay in Chichester there were a couple of changes of ownership recorded - Tramcourt Ltd. and Kelvin Waites - but always trading as Blue Lake Coaches. By 1996, she was in a pleasant blue livery, but apparently out of use and used as informal sleeping accommodation for local dossers. Keith Wright has some pictures taken after she was pushed round the side of the garage.

BPH 106H, Blue Lake, Chichester © Keith Wright BPH 106H, Blue Lake, Chichester © Keith Wright

Photographs taken at the recovery of SM106 (below) by the RM835 group who purchased her for preservation show that she was then located at the depot of Emsworth & District at Southbourne. No such transfer was ever registered with DVLA, although it has been suggested that she was driveable at the time. I am indebted to Mick Overton, erstwhile owner of no fewer than 3 SM vehicles (simultaneously) in the late 1980's, for some interesting information about this period in the 'end-game' of the London Swift.

BPH 106H, Emsworth & District © Steve Fennel

Certain operators became synonymous with the type in those later years. Both Emsworth & District and Hants & Sussex were famed for their reliance upon the Swift and Merlin, and it was plain that there would always be a requirement for spare parts. Enter SMS441, which was destined to become donor of an engine to SMS637, a gearbox to SM106 and a body to a chap who was setting up a cafe! However, it didn't appear to turn out that way, perhaps because the contract for which SMS637 was destined did not come to fruition. The key to the question might be the state of the engine from SMS637, which I now own as a spare for SM106! Perhaps the really awful scenario would have been the breaking of SM106 instead - but by that time Basil Williams' Hants & Sussex operation had been put off the road by the Traffic Commissioners and the game had changed.

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