The story behind the YouTube channel that's posting videos of London bus routes from the 90s
The story behind View From The Top Deck
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When we discovered the View From The Top Deck YouTube channel a few weeks ago we knew that there had to be some kind of story behind it.
Described simply as “London' s view from the upper deck of London Buses” the channel was gradually uploading films of entire London bus routes, most of them taken over twenty-five years ago, on 8mm film.
There’s Oxford Circus to Edgware featuring blokes holding signs advertising leather and golf sales. There’s Wood Green to Trafalgar Square, which includes some great background passenger chat and a reminder that there used to be a huge Books etc on Charing Cross Road. And there’s a trip on the 136 from Peckham, which reveals that Peckham has changed… a lot.
Who had captured all these videos? Why had they done it? And why were they uploading them all to YouTube now? We had to know, so we got it touch with the channel’s owner and found out that his name is Hirotaka Kai, that he was born in Japan and currently lives in Tokyo.
Over a couple of email exchanges Hirotaka was gracious enough to answer all our questions and give us the story behind View From The Top Deck. Here it is…
I spent my childhood in London between 1980 to 1983, from the ages of six to nine. I was in London because my father worked for a shipbuilding company and was stationed there.
I still remember when we moved from Tokyo to London. Of course, the language was different and my friends were not Japanese. It was a lot for a child to understand, but as a child I quickly learned English and got used to it.
In London I used to go to Brent Cross and Golders Green by bus with my friends and family. When I returned to Japan, I was confused and struggled with the huge gap between the UK and Japan. When I was in London I wanted to go back to Japan, but after I came back to Japan, I wanted to go back to London.
Later, when I became a university student, I saved up money by working part-time and visited London for the first time in 13 years. What surprised me was that nothing had changed from 13 years ago, not even the scenery or the streets. Even the buses! And not only the routes but also the vehicles hadn’t changed. I missed the scenery of my childhood. The streets were beautiful and there were many old buildings, so I decided to make a lot of videos of the historic London scenery to watch at home. The quickest way to record the scenery was from the front of the double-decker bus.
I started going to the UK every holiday, and even after I started working I went three or four times a year until the Covid crisis.
London has a great London Transport bus network, so I decided to try and conquer all the bus routes. There are areas and streets that I don’t know, and as there was no Google Maps like we have today, I thought I would video it to watch it in Japan.
It rained a lot in London, so when I got on a bus on a cloudy and sunny day, I put the 8mm video recorder in the front window of the upper deck and filmed it. There is no shake protection, so the vibrations, the doors opening and closing, the radio and the engine sounds are quite realistic.
There are so many routes on the network and some of the most impressive routes are 298 Arnos Grove to Potters Bar, 320 Bromley North to Westerham, which runs along the London border, and 221 Turnpike Lane to Edgware, which runs through the up and down areas of North London. I think I recorded about 100 routes between 1996-1999 and 2005-2008.
I didn’t have time to watch them in Japan and forgot about them for a long time. The Covid epidemic meant that I was working from home more often, which gave me time to tidy up the house. That’s when I unearthed the videos of these buses I had taken in London.
I thought it would be a good idea to publish them on YouTube, which is very popular nowadays, so that some people can see them and feel nostalgic. But the problem is that, at that time, I had recorded with 8mm video and miniDV camera and nowadays it is difficult to get even analogue tape playback equipment.
Also, due to the high humidity in Japan, the tapes were not well preserved. When I looked at the tapes, I saw that they were covered in mould and the tape was sticking together. So I took them apart one by one, removed the mould and rewound the tapes by hand. During the process I couldn’t get it back together and I damaged the tape. It was a day’s work and a lot of work, so I found a shop that would remove the mould and convert the analogue tapes to digital and paid for it.
More than 25 years have passed now and it is interesting to compare the view then and now. I hope to share these videos with Londoners on YouTube. I hope that more Londoners will see it and feel nostalgic. After uploading the videos, I was surprised by the number of comments on YouTube! I’ve also had requests for information of the routes and vehicles of the videos. I will try to upload as many as I can. I’m aiming for one route a week.
Finally, after graduating from university, I have been working for an airport bus company in Tokyo, Japan. We do a lot of sales work all over the world so that passengers visiting Tokyo from all over the world can get on our buses. Nowadays, due to entry restrictions to Japan, there are very few passengers. As we have a lot of surplus buses, I am currently running tours to introduce buses to the bus enthusiasts in Japan. Why am I doing this job? I suppose it must be because London has made me crazy about buses!
I can’t wait to visit London when the Japanese immigration restrictions are lifted. I have already bought GoPro cameras ready for the next videos!
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