Curly and Percy Pig were two of the bus conductors who tried to keep us in order; that was in the 1950s. We rode the 11B bus to Bungay and back, and there were about two boys and two girls. There must have been other bus conductors, but these are the two I remember. Curly had curly black hair, while Percy Pig was fat with a porcine look about his eyes; this you could have guessed from their respective nicknames. I think the original Percy Pig may have been a cartoon character from a pre-war comic. (I am informed by my sister that he was a character from a Kindergarten reading book circa 1940 called Old Lob.) Curly was loved as much as Percy Pig was loathed.
Percy Pig was the older of the two, and he was even remembered by my sister Margaret; this was years before my time. She used the same bus service coming home from school in Norwich as we did coming the other way from Bungay, but a decade earlier. You can see that the name was not just one known to us Bungay pupils. As we got on the bus in Earsham Street in Bungay to travel home the cry would go up; “Yes! It’s Curly!”, or “No! It’s Percy Pig!”. One thing I remember was that we school children preferred to ride on the top deck where we were out of sight of the conductor, except in the convex mirror on the bend in the stairs. This suited Curly, but Percy liked us to be downstairs where he could keep an eye on us. It really all boiled down to attitude. Curly would smile at us or tell us a joke as we bounced along the country roads, whereas Percy Pig would tell us to take our feet off the seats in his high pitched voice.
Most of the conductors’ time was taken up writing with a pencil on a clipboard, totting up fares. They stood on the footplate at the back of the bus guarding the parcels which they kept under the stairs. This was a delivery service which no longer applies to the country bus; it required both someone to be available to receive the package at the appropriate stop, and a conductor to hand it out. The coming of one man buses spelled the end of the packet delivery service. Also kept under the stairs was anything too large to have with you on the seat. This was normally a pushchair which would be folded up and its occupant seated on its mother’s knee.
Ringing the bell was an important part of the bus conductor’s job. Passengers were not supposed to touch the bell push, instead asking the conductor to ring it when they wanted to alight from the bus, so that the driver knew to come to a halt at the next bus stop. This was a single ring as now, only now it must be done be the customer. The double ring to start the bus again when the passengers had got off has gone together with the bus conductor who rang it.
The bus conductor had two essential pieces of equipment. One was his money pouch, a leather bag which he would toss up and down as it hung from his shoulder to bring the right coins to the surface. The other piece of kit was his ticket machine with its dial on top which he adjusted to the correct fare, and then wound round the handle at the side to print and debouch the ticket. The paper tickets which he tore off and handed to you s came in rolls about 2 cms wide. The paper was yellow with EASTERN COUNTIES printed in red along either side. The price was printed in black ink along the middle. When the roll was running out the conductor was warned by a red stripe down the middle of the ticket. We regular travellers did not purchase tickets; we had season tickets. “Season” we would shout to the conductor as we scrambled up the stairs. Curly would just glance at our satchels where the season ticket was slipped in behind the clear plastic screen stitched to the front. Percy Pig was more suspicious and demanded to inspect the document. He was right to do so of course, because once he found someone trying to travel on a season ticket which had expired.
The bus conductor’s blue uniform had a numbered badge which he had to wear when on duty, but as soon as he was off duty the badge would be turned round. In the height of summer his blue serge jacket would be replaced by a linen one, but he always had to wear a tie, winter and summer; we all did, you had to be at the bottom of the social scale to avoid the tyranny of the tie. Another piece of the uniform was the peaked hat. I think this was mostly taken off because how else would I remember Curly’s black curls? I think Percy Pig normally didn’t wear one either, or how else would I have known he had a bald patch?
This is what I remember over fifty years later; the following piece was written when I was 13, so my memory was much better.
“Come dewn from atop the bus, yew littul childuns.” And “dewn” we would go. There was no disobeying Percy Pig, and Percy Pig did not let “littul school chiluns” on the top deck.
Percy Pig was round. His head was round, his body was round, and the bald patch on top of his head was round. The only two things that were not round on Percy Pig were his nose and his eyebrows. His eyebrows were straight and his nose was pointed. All else on Percy Pig was round. Not as round as a barrel, rounder. But Percy Pig was pleasant enough.
Then there was Curly Jim. He would put up with most of our pranks, but now and then he would put his foot down (as we often did on top of the driver’s cab; we must have made a horrible din). Curly would occasionally stand on the platform and tell us jokes, but normally he chatted with the female gossips that patronised our service.
There were two more bus conductors, whose names escape me. One, a very jolly fellow, thick in build, tall and fairly old, would always narrate involved but impossible stories, and he always had an audience with willing ears. The other was fair, and wore gold rimmed glasses. He kept himself to himself, but if his eardrums were assailed by “child noises” he knew a remedy. The words “turn you orf the bus” would damp us down very well. We were fed on stories of children being turned off buses by out headmistress.