Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Victoria coach station 1935

IN 1919 A single 28-seater coach owned by Turnham & Co. set off from Eccelstone Street in Victoria on an advertised trip to Brighton. Soon, other operators began running their own seaside services and they received an unexpected boost when a railway strike in the autumn of 1919 stranded visitors in several South Coast resorts.

Coach travel expanded rapidly and chaotically in the 1920s. By 1925 the operators had formed themselves into a single consortium, London Coastal Coaches Limited, and in 1932 the present Art Deco-style coach station was built. This ended the congestion caused by coaches parked along the streets of Victoria, whilst waiting passengers could now be protected from wind and rain by a glass roof.

BBC catalogue number 870607 is from a programme called Unusual Recordings. The entry describes the recording as part of a series, but no other episodes are listed in the catalogue. The description is brief:

General atmosphere of Victoria Motor Coach Station recorded for programme on Communications in series ‘Unusual Recordings’ compiled by H. Lynton Fletcher. Coach engines warming up. Bell signal. Issuing of instructions. Horne [sic].

Of note are the place-names called out by the drivers or other coach station workers, and their singsong intonation that only comes with practice. This copyrighted postcard image shows Victoria coach station possibly around the 1950s with detailed destination boards hanging over each ‘gate’, but the habit of calling destinations is likely to have continued at the same time.

By the 1970s, Victoria coach station has become a faintly sleazy place where eagle-eyed pimps watched out for the arrival of ‘mysteries’ – teenage girls running away from home towards London’s bright, cold lights – and the police would stop and search scruffy-looking young passengers on the off-chance that they were carrying drugs.

Coach drivers remained vocal, however, and often livened up long journeys with friendly banter for the benefit of their cargoes of squaddies, pensioners and students.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Victoria coach station 3:25