One evening in my ‘local’, a small country pub, The Deers Hut, just outside the Hampshire village of Liphook, my friends and I took on a bet that we couldn’t pull by hand in a day a mock, full-sized aeroplane to the carnival in Titchfield. It was something we’d built as float for Liphook’s local carnival. Only after shaking hands on the bet did we discover that Titchfield was 34 miles away! We won the bet, and decided that, instead of pulling the ‘plane around the lanes of Devon for a holiday the next year, as one of us had suggested, we would buy and convert an old double-decker bus and drive it to Spain for a holiday instead. Having done that our eccentric pub landlord, Bert Oram, then bet us a pint of beer each that we couldn’t drive a double-decker bus around the world! It was a bet we couldn’t refuse!
That’s why, in the autumn of 1969, nine of us, all carefree young men in our early twenties with no real sponsorship and living on a shoestring, set out on a remarkable adventure that would take us and our bus across Europe to Vienna and Athens, over snow covered mountains in eastern Turkey, to frozen deserts and more mountains in Iran and Afghanistan and through the infamous Khyber Pass to the timeless lands of Pakistan and India Our bus, a 1949 Leyland, which cost us £100, had already clocked up over 700,000 miles. We called it ‘Hairy Pillock 2’. By the time we reached Teheran we were broke, and in order to raise some much needed ready cash, we turned ourselves into folk singing cabaret group, and there, to our amazement, performed for the Shah of Iran. Calling ourselves ‘The Philanderers’, by the time we reached India we were doing fortnight cabaret seasons in big international hotels, as well as making radio and TV appearances.
We eventually arrived, penniless, in Australia and after a few months of total poverty, talked a paint company into using us and our bus as a promotional gimmick and soon made a name for ourselves as singers and entertainers. By the time we left, The Philanderers had appeared on every live entertainment TV show made in Australia. We made countless radio broadcasts, as well as giving concerts and performing in shopping centres and department stores, earning much-needed cash to keep our trip on the road. We even made a record. Finally we reached the United States and Canada, where we became famous promoting travel to Britain on a three month coast-to-coast tour for the British Tourist Authority, BOAC and other travel interests, and in the process became honorary citizens of Texas and were given the keys to New York.
Two years and 10 months after our departure from Liphook, we arrived back in England with our bus, to be greeted at 10 Downing Street by Prime Minister Edward Heath, and finally returning to a hero’s welcome and a large homecoming party at The Deers Hut, winning our bet and claiming our free pints of beer. By the time we returned home our old bus had travelled over 47,000 miles. The story of our ups and downs, triumphs and failures, is told in my new book Band on the Bus. It was a journey that would be virtually impossible today, and an adventure which is very much of its time, peopled by a cast of colourful characters and personalities from a world that no longer exists. It was an adventure that completely changed our lives.
By Richard King