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On The Buses

Fans of the vintage, sidesplittingly funny 1970s DBC sitcom On the Buses* or those who are just plain interested in public transport will be thrilled to learn of an exhibition celebrating 150 years of the Melplash Corporation Bus Company. Due to open tomorrow at the Rowena Westlake Gallery, Melplash, the exhibition is a mixed-media event featuring sound, pictures, drawings, videos, posters and - if you include the parking area outside - an actual 1959 Routemaster double-decker Green-line vehicle**

** Starring sitcom veterans Reginald Varnish, Bob "Taken for" Granted, Doris Harepiece and Anna Karenowski this hilarious insight into the working practices of Dorset bus drivers, conductors and inspectors was also an invaluable piece of social commentary which offered a rare glimpse into the private lives of ordinary working folk. Television historian Huw Tube regards it as one of the 10 most important tv-series ever made, describing it as "a hard-hitting socialist commentary masquerading as popular entertainment". He concludes that "it did its job; putting to bed forever the complacencies of 1970s Britain and at the same time ensuring the death of the television sitcom".

** This is a see but don't touch exhibit and anyone - including children - found trying to mount the bus will be arrested and prosecuted under the Indecency in a Public Place involving a Public Service Utility Act.

A 1952 Foden Green-Liner - typical of those seen dotted around d the country roads of the county. A double decker "see but don't touch" version is on display at the new Exhibition.

The Melplash Corporation Bus Company, founded in 1874 offered low fares to the travelling masses and was, arguably as influential in shaping the mobility of ordinary Dorset folk as it was iconically emblematic of a more settled and self-confident Britain. Be it commuters finding a path to work in the the metropolis or city-dwellers eager to seek the recreational delights of the nearby countryside , MCBC buses have raised the pulses and gladdened the hearts of Dorsetians for many a generation and are still a welcome [if highly unusual] sight on today's roads***.

*** Take for example the Dawlish to Sixpenny Handley route. In the inter-war years and well into the 1950s, this service operated every 12 minutes Monday-Saturday [including Bank Holidays] and every 24 minutes on Sundays. The last bus left the terminus in Dawlish at 11.15. In 2023, the service had been reduced to a vestigial once a week at 12 noon on Tuesdays with a return journey commencing at 3pm. As of 2024, there is no service at all.

Just one of the many vintage posters on display and available for purchase in replica form from £50 upwards [unframed]

"The golden years of The Melplash Corporation Bus Company's Green-line service were undoubtedly the 1950s", says road transport enthusiast, Debra Crossing. "In those days the buses were filled to capacity, with almost everyone relying on them for both work and pleasure. At the weekends you could hear the excited - and occasionally fractious - conversation of young families heading for the attractions of Dorset's major towns and, in the reverse direction, the animated discussions of ramblers, bird-watchers, church-architecture admirers and lovers of country pubs and fairs. I remember on one occasion travelling on a packed No 42 [Burton Bradstocke to Piddlehinton] and overhearing a heated discussion between Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Alfred Wainwright, Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir Isiah Berlin and Shirley Bassey on the merits of Shippam's Fish Paste sandwiches in a mixed picnic basket. Unforgettable."

Room on Top: 150 Years of The Melplash Corporation Bus Company, is open from 9.30-4.00pm from 27th April until 15th August. Intending visitors are advised to make their own private travel arrangements as there is no bus service to or from Melplash on any day of the week.

Just another one of the many vintage posters on display and available for purchase in replica form from £50 upwards [unframed]

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