Monthly Archives: February 2012

Everyone Hang On Tight!

If you visited London at any time from 1960 to 2000, the chances are you will remember the classic red double-decker bus.  Immediately recognizable and full of character, this was the famous Routemaster – built in England by British Leyland in the days when we still had a motor industry.  Not only was it practical and tough, it was fun, because you could jump on and off the open rear platform when the bus was stopped in traffic.

The Routemaster was finally phased out in 2005.  We still have red double-decker busses in London, but they have neither the atmosphere nor the open rear platform of the Routemaster.  However the classic version still runs on two “Heritage Routes”: the number 9 from the Albert Hall to Trafalgar Square, and the number 15 from Trafalgar Square to the Tower of London.

Yesterday, February 27th,  saw the debut of the brand new hi-tech Routemaster.  A modern reworking of the classic, it tries to combine the best features of the old bus while being cleaner, greener and more accessible.  Have a look at it here:

For the time being it is only operating on one route, the 38 from Victoria Station to Hackney.  London Mayor Boris Johnson has been criticised for backing what many see as a personal “vanity project”, having made an election promise to replace the much-loved original.  The prototype was even known as the “Borismaster”.  And it is true that the new Routemaster will cost £1.4 million, as against £190,000 for a conventional London double-decker,  at a time when bus fares have risen 50% in 2 years.

As against this, the new Routemaster is truly innovative, with a hybrid diesel-electric engine delivering twice the fuel efficiency and half the emissions of its conventional counterpart.  And it has two staircases.  And that open rear platform.  Doesn’t it look great?


The Show Must Go On

One of the great pleasures of being in London, for both native and visitor, is the  huge range of plays and musicals on offer any night of the week.  The West End alone has over 40 theatres, and the whole of greater London about four times as many.  Most visitors regard a trip to the theatre as an essential part of their stay in London.  Audience numbers have not only held up through the credit crunch, they have continued to rise steadily. About 15 million tickets were sold in the West End last year.

So it was a surprise when, at the end of that year, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that he was considering closing some of his shows, blaming the anticipated downturn in general tourism during this Olympic year.   Seasoned observers responded to this statement with scepticism, pointing out that in 1997, Webber threatened to leave the UK if Labour won the general election. They did; he didn’t.

The body which represents the West End, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), has taken a much more positive view.  Granted, the experience of Sydney, Athens and Beijing certainly showed a decline in conventional tourism during the Olympics.  But, says SOLT, going to the theatre is a central part of the London experience, which cannot be said of the other Olympic cities.

The hundreds of thousands of additional visitors the games will attract cannot spend all their time watching their chosen sport, and therefore represent a great opportunity for the West End.  Not to mention the even greater numbers who tried and failed to get Games tickets, but who instead would relish the atmosphere of a warm, bustling cosmopolitan evening in the West End instead.

As ever, only time will tell.  Meanwhile, many shows have announced unprecedented extensions of booking periods to cover the period of the Olympic and Paralympic games.