So I was on Twitter last Sunday afternoon, when in amongst my feed I noticed the following tweet that peaked my interest:
OK, so not to be out-done by Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, and probably inspired by his own idea which became the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, when Paul’s post-Beatles band decided to tour Europe during the Summer of 1972, he decided to travel with the band and their families on an open-top tour bus.
Paul explains the thinking behind it here, in this video about how Wings started out (the video interviewer is Paul’s daughter, Mary).
We knew we were going to tour in Europe, and that the weather would be nice, and the idea of being stuck in a bus all the time, going from city to city, hotel to hotel, wasn’t too appealing, so we decided to travel around in an open-top bus and got some sunshine as we travelled from one place to another. And we painted the outside psychedelic, like a magic bus. If you look at it very straight, very conventionally, it was quite a mad thing to do, to put a playpen on the top deck of the bus and put all the children in there while driving around Europe. It was not what you’d expect from a normal band. But we weren’t a normal band.
(transcription from https://www.paulmccartney.com/live/tour-archives/wings-over-europe-tour)
Now I’m pretty good at finding things online and it wasn’t long before I found out what was happening with this bus, and I Tweeted it 15 minutes later. I’ll come back to that, because first of all I want to note the extraordinary & curious history of this vehicle, both before and after its famous tour around Europe in 1972.
This particular bus is something of a hybrid vehicle. It has a Bristol KSW5G chassis, from Bristol Commercial Vehicles and a body from the Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft. It was a common build of the time which came about largely as a consequence of public bus transport being a nationalised industry.
It entered service with Eastern National Omnibus Company Limited, Chelmsford, in 1953, as a standard double-decker. The DVLA records its WNO 481 registration as being in November of that year.
It seems likely that it served the local seaside resorts of Southend and Clacton, although it and other identical buses were not converted to being open-tops until 1966. Below is WNO 479 in what may well have been WNO 481’s colours after the conversion.
Whilst this photo lends credence to the above, the vehicle’s history, as kept by the Bristol Vehicles Website, notes that the bus was no longer in service with Eastern Counties, as of May 1971, and was in the hands of a local dealer, known to have derelict and scrap vehicles, although WNO 481 seems to have been in pretty good shape at the time.
Another possibility that may explain the photo is that the date of the photo was recorded incorrectly. People old enough to recall those times may remember that a photo could be developed days, weeks or months after it was taken.
Enter Paul McCartney and Wings
Here are the recollections of Tom Salter, who was involved with sorting out the tour bus for Wings Over Europe.
The band name, Wings, had only recently come to Paul, arising from the complicated birth of his second child, Stella (See the first video above from 0.50), and it seems that the band’s logo may have made its inaugural appearance on the back of the tour bus.
The following was posted (as is) on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums, here.
Received a neat email yesterday afternoon from the wife of Neil Dean who designed the Wings logo back in 1972. Below is an excerpt.
“Neil designed the first Wings logo which was made of wood and attached to the back of the “Wings over Europe 1972” tour bus, which was a painted double- decker London bus.
Friends of ours Geoffrey Cleghorn and Charlie Smith got the job through Tom Salter, who owned the “Gear” shops in Carnaby street and was promoting the tour for Paul and Linda McCartney.
Neil was brought in on the project to help design and paint the bus as he was an artist and graphic designer and had worked on other projects with Geoffrey doing murals and interiors for Boutiques, Pubs and Restaurants.
They had the design drawn up and were leaving to start work when they realised the logo hadn’t been done so Neil borrowed a Mickey Mouse ruler and pencil from Charlie’s little girl Lucky, and designed it on the back of an envelope, inspired from memories of the “Matchless Motorcycles” logo.
Charlie built the logo out of wood which was then bolted to the back of the bus.
I was brought in to paint all the outlining on the design as it was a very tight schedule.
We worked on the bus in a London Transport garage in Staines Middlesex and I remember Paul and Linda came to look at the bus while we were working, but not the other band members.
Geoffrey,Charlie and Tom Salter escorted the bus, with a proper London bus driver, to the south of France for the beginning of the tour.
I believe a London design company used Neil’s Wings logo for the Wings merchandising products.”
The Wings Over Europe tour criss-crossed Europe, starting in France in July 1972 and visited (West) Germany, Switzerland, Belgium , Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, and then finishing in what would have been at the time the British sector of West Berlin, in August.
The following images are from an Italian fan forum, here.
There is also some excellent footage of the band and the bus arriving in Oslo, Norway, which can be found at the 33:10 mark of Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Take Flight 1970 – 1972.
After Wings Over Europe
Our bus’s history immediately after the tour is vague, but it appears that the next owner was a transport for hire company based in Luton, called Tricentrol. There are various images that can be found online of the bus from between 1975 – 1980, at Thorpe Park, travelling to Epsom Races, some on what seems to be a trip to Amsterdam and being utilised at a celebration event for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
The vehicle’s history records it being out of service with Tricentrol from June 1980.
Our bus goes missing for some years before its next sighting, which is in either 1989 or 1990.
WNO 481 was snapped at what appears to be a bus rally, now in bright red with white trim, with banner advertisements for:
The Great British Film Rally
London – Cannes 1989
Whilst the banners indicate 1989, the photo is believed to have been taken in June 1990 at the year’s Southend Bus Rally. It is otherwise stamped July 1990 and was in the collection of a Richard Delahoy, who was probably the photographer.
The “Godfrey Davis, St Albans” banner has been presumed to denote the vehicle’s owner at the time. The company is a car dealer and St Albans is close to Luton and previous owners, Tricentrol.
The next recorded images of WNO 481 are from 1993. The Spanish language Beatles fan blog at http://www.10mathewstreet.net/ reported that a Spanish publication, dated August 1993, advised that the bus was to be auctioned by Sothebys as part of a rock and roll collection. This appears to be when the Wings Over Europe paint work was reapplied to the vehicle.
It is not known who purchased the vehicle. The UK vehicle tax ran out in October 1993.
We then have our longest gap in the vehicle’s history, before it was rediscovered in 2007 as being left derelict at the bottom of a ravine, near a holiday park in Tenerife!
It is believed that the bus had remained with the same owner since 1993, although this is unconfirmed, and there was no information supplied as to who they were.
Sadly, the bus seems to have some damage to the front and has lost its Bristol front engine cover, although it is otherwise intact.
From the Solo Beatles Photo Forum.
However, following-up on the Paul McCartney tweet, there is excellent news.
A number of sightings were made of the bus, on or about the end of October 2017, being loaded onto a freighter in Algeciras, a port in southern Spain, close to Gibraltar.
These were also posted on the Solo Beatles Photo Forum.
An Andalucia web site noted that the bus was put aboard a German freighter, Monte Alegre, and was bound for Felixstowe.
My searching quickly found a web article from a Madrid based international transport company, called Ertransit, that has offices in the Canary and Balearic isles.
The translation to English:
Today we are going to tell you a story… it is that even the world of logistics has its curious, funny and interesting anecdotes.
During the summer of ’72, Paul McCartney and his newly formed group, The Wings, presented their first concert tour of Europe . The children of McCartney and his road crew toured… in a brightly colored double-decker bus named after their newly-released “the wings over Europe” tour.
Years later, the bus was abandoned and nobody followed the track until it reached a farm in Tenerife.
Today, the bus has been rescued and donated to the English NGO Arms Around The Child who intends to take it back to the UK, restore it and then use it to attract charitable activities, especially promotional events around the world.
A special maritime service from Tenerife to Felixstowe
Who will be responsible for transport and customs management of the operation? Yes… Ertransit will be the freight forwarder that will take Paul McCartney’s bus from Tenerife to Felixstowe.
We will provide a Maritime service on an extra high flatrack and we will perform the Customs management of the Exportation of the operation to make possible the charity work of Arms Around The Child.
The following tweets summarise what happened next.
Justin James is listed on the Arms Around The Child web site as a UK Trustee.
So there it is. The Wings Over Europe tour bus has been brought back to the UK in order for it to be restored and used for charitable purposes by a London based international children’s charity.
There is evidently more to come in the unique history of WNO 481.