Arguably the most famous bus in the world, the iconic Routemaster (RM) double-decker was designed by London Transport and nearly 3,000 were built by AEC, with the first prototype being tested in 1954, with the last example delivered in 1968.
The 64-seat double-decker was ¾ ton lighter than the previous RT double-deckers and replaced the RT and the Leyland Titan.
Every five years, each Routemaster was sent to the Aldenham bus works (seen in the opening scene of the 1962 film Summer Holiday) for a complete overhaul including a newly-restored interior. Bodies were removed from the chassis along with the running gear. In many cases, the chassis was then fitted with a different body and engine.
From 31 December 2000, buses had to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and all buses that couldn’t had to be withdrawn from normal service (by 2009 in London and 2014 for the rest of the country).
This was the death knell for the iconic Routemaster which was replaced with articulated buses (“Bendy Buses”) that complied with the 1995 ruling. They didn’t work well on the tight and narrow busy streets of London and Boris Johnson promised to introduce a new Routemaster if he was elected Mayor of London.
He won and the New Routemaster, built by Wright Bus, entered service in 2012. Production lasted just six years – a far cry from the original.
Approximately 1300 original Routemasters remain in private ownership and vehicles sold into preservation rarely get scrapped. They are still found all over the world, including the US, Canada, Australia and South Korea.
A short heritage route (15H) continued to operate in London, between Tower Hill and Trafalgar Square, with a 10-strong fleet operating from the end of March until the last weekend of September. The service was permanently withdrawn by Transport for London (TfL) in April 2021.
The heritage route did not operate at all in the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. TfL saved £825,243 in contract payments to Stagecoach (the operator of the heritage service) and decided to scrap the service completely as a result.
The double-decker Cliff Richard drove to Athens in Summer Holiday wasn’t a Routemaster. It was its predecessor, an AEC Regent III RT – the same model that appeared in the famous 30-second skit in the sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em when hapless no-hoper Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford) roller-skated while holding on to the rear pole of an AEC Regent before letting go, skating under an articulated lorry and ending up in a window display. Stan Butler’s bus in the On The Busesseries was a Bristol Lodekka.