Rugby team on a Royal progress
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Noel Millier samples "Hospitality on the Move" on Leyland's most luxurious coach in the company of 24 rugby players
IF TWO'S company, 24 rugby players are definitely a crowd, as I found out recently when I spent three days touring Yorkshire on the most luxurious Leyland Royal Tiger coach yet built.
The coach was one of the first integral Royal Tigers — nee Doyen — produced in the Leyland Bus Workington plant; the operator was Two's Company, whose slogan is "Hospitality on the Move"; the destinations were rugby clubs in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire; and the party was a hotch-potch of rugby players intent on drinking at least as much, and sometimes more, than their systems should have been expected to cope with.
The starting point for the tour was Hanover Square in London. It was cold and wet at 11 am on Friday morning when the party escaped from their respective West End offices and joined the all-over-brown Royal Tiger. Two's Company driver Ted Seymour helped load the luggage while acting steward Colin Jessup held traffic wardens at bay until the 'team'
had organised itself and its kit for the journey north.
Two's Company coaches always have a two-person crew, which usually includes a driver and a stewardess. On this occasion, fears that primitive urges might prove difficult for our party to control meant that Co
lin, who normally drives, took the steward's role. It was hoped that his presence would not arouse the same urges.
Most of the passengers were immediately impressed with the sumptuous interior layout of the Two's Company coach. With just 24 seats in its 12m (40 feet) length, the coach was equipped more like a luxury yacht than a bus.
The front section of the saloon was equipped with 16 Vogel reclining seats arranged in fours with four card tables. In the centre was the galley and servery area and between the two was the sunken loo. At the rear of the saloon was a lounge area with seats for an additional eight passengers.
For entertainment on the journey the coach was equipped with three television/ video monitors and a full stereo sound system offering separate channels for different parts of the vehicle.
The servery area is equipped with everything including a kitchen sink. For hot meals there is an oven and a refrigerator keeps the beer cold.
In addition to the full bar there are drawers containing enough bone china to serve everyone on board with a fourcourse meal.
Each of these drawers is specially made so that none of the glasses and crockery can rattle about, and that there are no breakages when the show is on the road.
To complete the atmosphere of unashamed luxury both front and rear cabins are fully carpeted with a light Berber type of floorcovering. Darker carpet tiles have been laid in the centre galley areas.
One problem, though, was surprisingly little luggage space. Lesser integrals have massive luggage holds—underfloor this Royal Tiger was equipped with a powerful Honda generator and 100 gallon water tanks separately serving the loo and the kitchen area.
As the Royal Tiger purred on to the M1 Colin adopted his steward's role and started serving drinks. Noise levels inside the coach were lower than many cars and many of the team seemed oblivious of the traffic around them on the motorway. In the front cabin card schools developed, while in the rear lounge passengers settled down for a quiet smoke, a beer and a steamy video.
Their complete comfort on the early stages of the trip, however, was marred by a distinct smell of diesel in the lounge area. It also became increasingly difficult to keep the rear section of the coach warm.
After travelling north for about 100 miles, and after an abortive attempt to find last year's lunch venue, the big brown coach pulled into a small Leicestershire village rejoicing under the name Willey. While the party adjourned for lunch Ted phoned Leyland's Top Cat service to arrange for the diesel problem to be rectified at the first possible opportunity. After lunch our party seemed little concerned about the cold as the coach followed the M6 motorway to Stockport.
The first rugby match was at Wilmslow and it was here the Top Cat Sherpa van caught up with us. While the boys were winning their match Top Cat service man Pat Field quickly and cheerfully found and fixed a fuel leak on the Royal Tiger and arranged to meet us again the following afternoon to investigate an additional fuel leak which had forced the coach crew to make do without coffee and the Honda generator?
It was after the Royal Tiger had crossed the Pennines to Morley next day that Pat joined us again. And while the boys played and won their second game he played and won with the generator. I was impressed that the Top Cat engineer had taken the time to rectify this piece of auxilliary equipment which must have been outside his normal work.
The heater problem proved less easy to sort out. It was thought a secondary pump on the system might require attention.
Once the Morley team had been despatched it was on to Bradford for an overnight stop. The last day of the tour started with a trip to the Dales and a game at Baildon. On narrower country roads offering hospitality on the move calls for particularly defensive driving. Ted managed not only to keep the Royal Tiger on course, but also to keep the coffee in the cups.
While the passengers were busy playing rugby or drinking the night away Ted and Colin found they had a lot more to do than would have been usual for a rugby tour coach crew. On a lesser coach a quick sweep out and clearing of the ash trays would have been the order of the day. On the Two's Company coach carpets need to be vacuumed, washing up needs to be done and the fresh water tanks need topping up. In addition the crew must ensure that the servery and bar are stocked to avoid the unthinkable — imagine if the coach ran out of beer. Other additional tasks include polishing the furniture, watering the plants — yes, the decor is offset by a subtle selection of pot plants — and, of course, checking on the vital organs of the coach itself.
The rugby tour can be summed up as a routine private hire job undertaken by a far from routine operator in a far from routine vehicle.
But it confirmed my belief that the integral all-Leyland Royal Tiger is as remarkable today as when it was launched in Brighton in 1983, despite its unfortunate initial production history.
. The model has fitted well into the specialist Two's Company role. It is quiet, it rides particularly well and the semi-automatic Hydracyclic transmission coupled to the turbocharged rear mounted Leyland TL 11H engine provide the smoothness at low speed needed to make 'Hospitality on the Move' possible. And the sari--; time it can maintain 112km/h (70mph) on the motorway.
Although the Royal Tiger is only a 24-seater it does not run light. It weighs over 13 tons unladen. But the Two's Company operation does not place a high emphasis on fuel consumption. Sometimes the coaches are parked at sporting venues, for example, with engines running for hours on end — all part of providing 'Hospitality on the Move'.
The firm's normal working week often includes carrying particularly important clients for major corporations, top football teams and other sports tours — it provided the team coach for the most recent West Indies British cricket tour. Show business personalities are among the Two's Company list of clients and some world famous names are soon to be carried in this Royal Tiger.
The company fleet includes Volvo, Daf and Setra vehicles as well as two Royal Tigers. Each vehicle has a different interior style, but they all have one thing in common and that is the ability to carry small groups of people in lavish style. This demands high standards of professionalism from drivers, stewardesses and company representatives to justify what may well be the highest daily hire rates in the country.
The Royal Tiger was not the ideal coach for our rugby tour — a far less lavish vehicle would have met the needs of the team just as well. But it did emphasise just what coaching can offer and that the days of the coach as the down-market travel mode should have passed for ever.
The Leyland can match anything else in Europe. However, the diesel leak and a cold rear lounge we experienced could have been enough to cause a major upset among more discerning passengers, and while Top Cat service worked well in coming to the rescue, the inconvenience caused might have been enough to lose clients.
Providing drink on coaches is not new, but to do it properly and avoid spillages on passengers, clothes and damage to vehicle furnishings requires careful stewarding. The Two's Company crew were most competent in their areas. The Royal Tiger managed to achieve a lounge atmosphere while remaining practical. Holes on the tables allowed glasses to be held in place during cornering and sensible storage places provided for every piece of equipment reduced the poten: tial danger from objects rolling about.
Even so the steward had a full-time job — he kept a constant vigil to spot carelessly abandoned beer glasses, cans and cigarette ends to protect the vehicle as well as keep the passengers happy.
Our party was no better or worse behaved than any team of boisterous rugby players. They were understandably out for a good time and the Two's Company vehicle was well equipped to help them achieve this.
Those I spoke to praised the coach for its ride and comfort. The only criticisms I heard concerned the problems already mentioned. For such a well equipped vehicle rattles were few. Obviously glasses and plates clinked from time to time, but I was pleased to note that the window blinds — a very important requirement when videos are shown — the plug entrance door and the parcel rack boxes were all completely free from rattles and draughts.
The Royal Tiger may not be the ideal rugby tour vehicle, but if I had some very important overseas clients to sell to or to entertain I would not hesitate in hiring the coach and its crew. It is in that area I can see Hospitality on the Move really scoring.