Obituary: Colin Curtis OBE, BSc (Eng), CEng, MIMechE, MIRTE


It is with great sadness that London Reconnections has learned of the death of Colin Curtis, at the age of 86.

Colin was a key figure in the history of London Buses, and his book – “40 Years with London Transport” – and his lectures played a considerable part in developing this author’s understanding of the London Bus world.

Rather than writing our own obituary, we feel it would be more appropriate to look to someone who knew Colin better. So below you will find the words of Leon Daniels, Managing Director, Surface Transport at TfL. This obituary can be found in full on Leon’s own blog here.

After a long period of ill health Colin Curtis sadly died this morning [Tuesday 18th September] at Crawley Hospital, aged 86.

His name was synonymous with the specialist engineering development of London Transport road vehicles – a role which even survived into the London Regional Transport era by which time vehicles were owned by the operators themselves.

He joined in 1947 and despite the considerable technical advances over his period of influence he remained fixed on the benefits of saving weight, was determined to deliver designs which made maintenance and unit changes simple and fast to do, and pioneered the widespread use of hydraulics – notably, but not only, in the Routemaster’s braking system.

He bemoaned the unstoppable rise in vehicle weight and was finally proved right when fuel costs started to really count in the economics of bus operation. By this time the amazing weight/passenger ratio of the RML had long been lost.

He was latterly dubbed – rather inaccurately – the ‘father of the Routemaster’ . He didn’t like the term – if anyone was, it was Bill Durrant*. More correctly he was really the sole survivor of the team who worked with the prototypes and rose in seniority as the fleet grew and was developed.

After retirement from London Buses he ran his own consultancy and tried very hard to get his own ‘Q-Master’ design adopted by one of the commercial manufacturers. Sadly it never materialised.

He was active in the preservation movement – he had his own RF – and was Life President for what is now the London Bus Museum and the Routemaster Association. He wrote about his life and times in a book ’40 Years with London Transport’ although long since out of print.

His wealth of knowledge and experience was always in demand and he would give interesting and thought-provoking lectures until eventually, his health did not allow it.

I finish with a phrase my old friend used to me decades ago, but which has held true ever since and which, I must admit I have frequently repeated. When I asked him – some 25 years ago – what he felt about current vehicle purchasing policy in the context of what had been a series of unsatisfactory London bus types he forcefully said to me:

“When the Operating Department makes its b—–y mind up what sort of bus it wants [one-person or two-person crew; double-deck or single-deck; front door or open platform]…

“…We’ll build it !!!”

* A A M Durrant CBE was Chief Mechanical Engineer (Road Services) London Transport for more than thirty years

Our thoughts are with Colin’s family.

Written by John Bull