Britain's first black bus driver was Bedford's Joe Clough - who is being celebrated in a new play

Townsend Theatre Productions is also trying to track down Joe's family to share its research

Monday, 17th May 2021, 5:37 pm
Updated Monday, 17th May 2021, 6:26 pm
Farewell Leicester Square celebrates the life of Joe Clough
Farewell Leicester Square celebrates the life of Joe Clough

Britain's first black bus driver - who lived in Bedford - is to be celebrated in a new play that will debut in an outdoor performance at The Place Theatre.

Townsend Theatre Productions will be bringing Farewell Leicester Square to The Place Theatre in its new outdoor venue The Talking Horse.

The play has been written by Neil Gore based on a poem by Abe Gibson, and tells the story of Joe Clough who drove his General Omnibus Company B-type bus from Liverpool Street to Wormwood Scrubs through the heart of London from 1910 to 1914.

Joe Clough

Joe was a horse and carriage driver in Jamaica, before moving to Britain with his employer, and learning to drive new motorcars. He passed his omnibus driving test in 1910, and drove field ambulances in Ypres during the First World War.

After the war, Joe made his home with his family in Bedford, driving for the National Omnibus Company, before buying his own taxi after the Second World War, which he drove until his retirement in the 1960s.

Writer Neil Gore explained: "I think Joe Clough himself would be thrilled to know his life was the inspiration for a play, though perhaps surprised, as he was, by all accounts, a very modest man.

"But his life story is so rich and fulsome coming from his desire to be so actively involved in and fascinated by everything that came his way; that he was so enthusiastic, capable and exploited his skills to the full, meant that he simply could not be ignored, and that made him a very attractive and likeable person.

Joe Clough drove his bus from Liverpool Street to Wormwood Scrubs through the heart of London from 1910 to 1914

"His life was very eventful; he was orphaned as a child in Jamaica, and became fascinated by horses and found work in the stables of Jamaica’s Polo Club. His skills didn’t go unnoticed by the riders and sportsmen at the club and he was offered more work as Kingston’s head surgeon’s horse man and carriage driver.

"Joe was so reliable that this doctor offered Joe more work at his London home as servant and trusted companion. As a teenager Joe had to make the huge decision to start a new life in England. These events in his early life set Joe up in his later years to be resourceful and he soon learned to drive new motor cars and then new motorised omnibuses for which he is most famous."

The theatre company is also hoping to trace Joe's descendants.

Neil added: "There is so much to celebrate in his story as he overcame any hint of inequality, brushed away occasional racism, instead offering only his very best in his contributions to family, workmates, neighbours, war comrades, and the local community of his adopted home in Bedford.

"That’s why we have decided to tell his story; like him, it is simply one that can’t be ignored. It’s also why we would love members of his family to join us in a celebration of his life, and to share with them all the research that has been discovered about him; to remember modest, loveable Joe Clough, who was also a true trailblazer."

Farewell Leicester Square will be performed in its converted horse-box venue The Talking Horse in the car park at The Place Theatre in Bedford on Thursday, July 1 and Friday, July 2.

Tickets for Farewell Leicester Square are ‘Pay What You Can’ and can be purchased online or by calling 01234-354321