sun 09/08/2020

Photo Gallery: Top Deck | reviews, news & interviews

Photo Gallery: Top Deck

Photo Gallery: Top Deck

Images from the top of East London double deckers

The rougher part of the W3 bus? An image from 'Top Deck'All images © Will Robson-Scott and James Pearson-Howes

In popular myth, Margaret Thatcher reportedly said that any man still travelling by bus after the age of 30 could consider himself a failure. The quote is almost certainly apocryphal, but it stuck in the public consciousness because it sounded like the kind of thing that an arch-conservative would say; cars were the preserve of the rich and successful, whereas buses were how the poor, the failed and the antisocial travelled around the city.

If there’s any truth in that distinction, then it damns an awful lot of people in London. Every weekday, over 6,800 buses carry around six million people across 700 different routes. And while buses have their problems – empty bottles rolling underfoot, windows smeared with hair grease, the pervasive smell of hot dust and your fellow travellers – they offer a unique view of the city. This is particularly true from the top deck, from where you can peer through first-floor windows, look down on unwitting pedestrians and see into the usually hidden spaces behind fences and walls.

Articulated buses bring all their passengers back to ground level

Until Valentine’s Day 1991, passengers could smoke upstairs (hence the yellow ceilings incorporated into Douglas Scott’s original Routemaster designs). This partly accounted for their reputation as the rougher part of the bus and when the House of Lords debated the smoking ban on 13 March 1991, the conversation was full of references to class: Lord Hatch of Lusby suggested that the government should ven things up socially by banning smoking in governmental limousines; Lord Orr-Ewing asked whether it was really “necessary that lesser fry should be banned from smoking on the top desks of buses”. The perception – reinforced by newspaper reports – remains that the upstairs of the bus is where the dirty, the mad, the lower class and the criminal congregate.

Between 2003 and 2005, this split-level transportation began to be phased out as many double decker buses were replaced with single deck, articulated “bendy” buses. But with them have gone the views capture in Top Deck, a new book featuring the photographs of James Pearson-Howes and Will Robson-Scott. Articulated buses may be cleaner, easier to board and more efficient, but they also bring all their passengers back to ground level. There is hope for the future; at the time of writing, Mayor of London Boris Johnson is claiming that a new, updated design of the double decker Routemaster will be on the road in time for the London Olympics. Perhaps they will, and once again, London’s “failures” can see the city with new eyes, from new angles as they look down on its streets and subjects.

Click on the images to enlarge. The captions refer to the number of the bus route.

  • Top Deck by Will Robson Scott and James Pearson-Howes with an introduction by Justin Quirk is available from the Top Deck website
The perception remains that the upstairs of the bus is where the dirty, the mad, the lower class and the criminal congregate

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