Coach trip with too much excitement

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FIFTY years ago this week the Mail profiled one of the town’s best-known figures at the time. ANDREW LEVETT looks back at the coach driver who showed thousands of Poolies the world beyond the town boundaries – and enjoyed his own “busman’s holidays”.

BOB Peckett, his coach, and 41 Hartlepool passengers were on their way home after a seven-day tour of north Devon.

Then, at some traffic lights in leafy Stowe, in Staffordshire, the holiday mood turned sour.

The coach was surrounded by angry pickets, attempting to enforce a national bus strike which had been called the previous night.

Bob, 46 in 1964, told the Mail they let down his tyres, threw paper bags full of manure at his windscreen and were putting sand in his petrol tank when Bob decided he had had enough and drove off.

He had travelled 300 yards before spotting another group of strikers preparing to block the road by placing a tree trunk across it.

Looking back five years after the 1959 drama, Bob said he drove straight at the pickets and when they dropped the tree he managed to squeeze past by running onto the grass verge.

After getting some air back into his tyres Bob managed to get as far as Thirsk on the sand and fuel mixture before getting a relief coach.

Bob worked for a private West Hartlepool company not part of the national strike so he had to make the same trip a week later – but this time it passed off without incident.

Despite frustrations such as sitting in the coach outside Wembley on Cup Final day for six years in a row without a ticket, Bob enjoyed the different people and places work on the coaches brought him into contact with.

In fact, he took his own “busman’s holidays”, taking his family on trips to resorts like Brighton and Torquay which he knew like the back of his hand.

It all began when he left Jesmond Road School, aged 14, to work as a garage boy for a Hartlepool coach company.

When he was 17 he passed his driving test and began driving long-distance lorries and when World War II broke out drove coachloads of workers from Hartlepool to factories at Aycliffe, Haverton Hill and Spennymoor.

Once petrol rationing ended after the war Bob pioneered day trips to Edinburgh, Blackpool, Scarborough and other resorts, before taking the first weekly tour from Hartlepool to London in 1950.

That was such a success that tours to Devon, Somerset and Hastings followed – but none quite so eventful as that trip to north Devon in 1959.

Do you have any anecdotes from the golden age of coach holidays? Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.