'It was better money than being a brickie'

"I nearly got killed on one of the Ribble buses - and then later I made money out of them," recalls Hunter Davies. He is lucky that he survived to become the liveliest journalist of his generation and the author of (to name two books published over the last few days alone) the Wayne Rooney biography and his own autobiography. His friend Reg, now crime writer Reginald C. Hill, is lucky he survived the same accident to write the Daziel and Pascoe yarns.

One afternoon the two seven-year-olds were on the coveted back seat of a bus doing 40 mph on a hill in Carlisle when its emergency door opened and they tumbled on to the cobbled road in the path of a lorry. The lorry swerved and they were patched up in the Carlisle Infirmary.

A decade later, as a student at Durham University, he was lucky to land a job during the holidays as a bus conductor. This was better money than being a brickie: "It was a most desirable job. You were trained. There were exams. There was a military-style passing-out parade, when you stood to attention in your uniform with your ticket machine and leather money bag and you were inspected."

During his first week on the buses, Hunter's conduct was unbecoming a conductor. It was hard not to be left behind in the scramble to keep up to speed with all the tasks or, as we'd say today, multi-tasks. You had to adjust the machine every time you passed a "fare stage"; issue tickets; take the money; give out change; ring the bell; go upstairs; watch out for people downstairs jumping off without paying; and cash up at night.

"The cash had to tally with the tickets. If there was not enough money, you had to make it up from your own pocket." As an insurance policy, a good wheeze was, when issuing a ticket to someone as they were getting off the bus, to make out the ticket for a slightly smaller sum than they had actually paid. The passenger would not bother checking and the surplus cash would cover any shortfall in the grand total.

Hunter did not make any money from this but the Ribble company did lose out when - in the absence of the assiduous inspectors - he let his mates travel for free. This generosity on his part failed spectacularly when he told a girl he fancied, "Don't worry, pet, you don't have to pay," only to have her thrust the money at him anyway. Sadly he admits, "She was very honourable." She still is. Margaret Forster, who was to become Mrs Hunter Davies, is a highly respected novelist and biographer. But presumably there must have been someone on Carlisle's buses during the 1950s who didn't end up as an author.

'The Beatles, Football and Me: a memoir' by Hunter Davies (Headline, £18.99) has just been published