British double decker buses exiled in France

BEING exiled in France out of choice, and being a UK bus enthusiast since at least the age of eight years old when I had memories of Midland Red D9s and Leicester City Transport PD3s, I had come to realise that I missed seeing English buses quite a lot, writes John Nelson.

OK, I make yearly visits for my ‘fix’ of buses over on the north side of the Channel, but, even if I’d grown to like the older French buses here in rural Ile de France 45km south of Paris, buses are not as numerous as back in my native Leicester.

But imagine my surprise when walking the dog one Autumn day in 2004, when I came across a red painted ex Eastbourne Leyland PD2/East Lancs parked in the car park next to the local village sports ground.

Even more of a surprise was that it had its original registration plate BJK 671D and interior. By chance its driver, who was in a building opposite, called me over from an upstairs window to see why I was so interested in his bus.

We chatted for a few minutes, it turned out that this bus was owned by a company called Visibuzz based in Belgium and that Dominique, the driver, also lived in our village and was working for them.

Visibuzz is a company run by Olivier Caeymaex from near Brussels providing UK double deckers for commercial advertising projects, roadshows and private hire for weddings and celebrations.

Over the following 18 months I made a point of occasionally passing by the small lane that passes Dominique’s house because it seemed other interesting ‘gems’ had a habit of stopping by, due to Visibuzz having a lot of work in the Paris area.

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The next time I saw Dominique was the following September, in between, ex Salford PD2/Roe JRJ 268E (top of page) had made several visits with BJK.

By this time he had introduced himself to me as Dominique Charrière a councillor on the local village hall committee.

It turned out that he was considering starting his own operation called Instants Prestige. His idea was to hire out ex UK double deckers for celebrations and weddings.

The only ‘proper’ double deckers that France ever had were some RATP Berliets for Paris, used in the 1960s, and if you ignore the recent Volvo/East Lancs open toppers running around Paris on sightseeing tours, in the main, English double deckers really are seen as a novelty here in France.

Towards the end of 2005, two Metrobuses (A146 AMO & GYE 381W) and ex Hull Atlantean/Roe PRH 257G had passed through Dominique’s capable hands stopping over at his house for a few days between jobs. Quite a variety for a sleepy rural village in France.

By August 2006 Dominique had left Visibuzz’s employ to begin his own operation. He acquired two buses from well known French bus dealer, Danny Chabaud, both being Atlanteans.

One was ex-Hull TKH 266H, another Roe bodied vehicle and as Danny kindly informed me, was half open top when he sold it. By the time it had arrived here in the Paris area, it had been converted to full open top.

The other vehicle was an ex-London Country example, VPA 149S, also Roe bodied but in typical NBC style as favoured in the 1970s – it also carries its original destination blinds.

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Later in the year, sadly VPA was vandalised by the local yobs. It had been put up for sale on Ebay around this time. Dominique moved to a new base in Longjumeau, also here in the Essonne region. There he used TKH 266H where it is understood that this was given up to a new owner.

So the saga of British buses in my little French village has come to a definite end.

But this inspired me to start a group with a few friends and contacts to search for ex-UK buses here in France.

Some of those we have come across over the years are put to a variety of uses, aside from private hire and for publicity like those vehicles with Visibuzz, there are static and mobile cafés, static restaurants, mobile caravans, roadshow vehicles.

Some are sadly dumped in a field somewhere and a couple of years ago I even found one bus locally here in the Essonne which had been used as a home on a municipal camp site.

Sadly the owner of it had since passed away, so there it sits out of use with trees and brambles growing all around it.

Ironic that this bus used to run around the ‘Garden of England’ with its first owner, East Kent.

· John Nelson, an Englishman originally from Leicester who has been living in France since 1997.

· David Sykes is based in Bradford and visits Paris several times a year. He provides a lot of background info for us on various vehicles.
· Julien Constancien a French bus enthusiast and fellow Essonnien finds buses usually for sale in France or on French bus forums for us.
· Dave Fawcett is an exiled Brit, who lives in a converted 1966 Albion furniture lorry based mainly in the Drome.

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Last Updated on 4 July, 2023.

Categorised as Travel

By Craig McGinty

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