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British Railways Green 1960-1968

By 1960 the Class 104 fleet were receiving their first major works visits. In the few years since introduction, BR had changed the shade of green to be used on its diesel multiple units. The new green, barely distinguishable on old photographs, was known as "BR loco green" and was slightly darker than the original "multiple unit green". It was also longer lived, being the shade of choice until the BR corporate blue era.

All other livery details such as the cream bodyside lining remained unchanged. Any early vehicles still carrying the steam "lion over wheel" crest had them replaced by the coach roundel, and the policy of having the lion within the roundel always facing the cab end was abolished, with all vehicles having left facing lions on both sides from 1960.

By the time the BR green was applied, all vehicles were carrying the front end speed whiskers. During the early 1960's, policy changed again and a half yellow panel replaced the whiskers. This was implemented relatively quickly and the whiskers were soon a memory. The half yellow panel was usually level with the top of the 2-character route indicator box (which itself remained green) and ended just above the bottom of the bodyside. However there were some minor variations between depots, with some panels being smaller and larger than the norm. At the same time as the yellow panel was applied, small blue squares were painted on the cab corners, this was to denote the "blue square" multiple working classification of the Class 104 fleet.

The variations of black vs grey roofs and white vs roof coloured cab domes remained unchanged providing some variety to the character of the front ends which could be seen.


Rail Blue 1968-1990

By far the longest lived colour scheme, and that most associated with the Class 104’s by enthusiasts, is the standard Rail Blue livery. After trialling various options on the early blue vehicles, the most successful combination was made standard for the duration of the corporate blue era which was to last the best part of 20 years.

Rail Blue livery consisted of the plain unlined blue of the previous early scheme, but in brush painted gloss finish for a better appearance. The white numbers were increased back to their original size of three inches and the double arrow BR logo was moved from the cab door to underneath the passenger window which was on the extreme right when viewing a vehicle from the side. The chassis was returned to black as were the bufferbeams and roofs were dark grey or black. A new addition was a yellow stripe painted below the gutter above the areas which were first class for passenger identification. On the cab fronts, the full yellow end was applied and the small blue squares were retained in the lower corners. It became standard policy to paint the cab domes roof coloured, and many vehicles lost the white domes at this point. However this was not always the case, see below.

Before describing the minor variations, it is worth noting that the entire fleet lost the small blue squares from the corners of the cabs in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s as well as the yellow first class lines.

The blue livery was so widespread and so long lived that it was inevitable that variations would occur, described here. Buxton depot refused to relinquish its white roof domes, so a reduced number of vehicles in this area continued to carry these in blue livery. Some vehicles also carried red bufferbeams. In one or two rare cases, the yellow on the front end was extended over the destination indicator. In the 1980’s, Buxton depot also applied black around the cab windows changing the front end appearance markedly. Also during the 1980’s, some minor logos, unique to area, were applied close to the BR double arrow. An example was the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive “M” logo, which was applied below the first passenger window. Towards the end of the 1980’s, small depot stickers were also to be seen above or below the vehicle numbers depicting the depot’s two-letter code, for example ”CH” for Chester


maintained vehicles. NSE vehicles running around London in the late 1980's also received "Network SouthEast" branding on the bodysides and the NSE "flash" logo on the cab fronts.


Hull-Scarborough "Flowers" 1970

The most elusive livery to ever be applied to a Class 104 was a special publicity initiative by BR which involved decorating a single set (believed to be a 3-car set) with flower stickers. The theme was taken from the Ken Dodd Show which was being shown at Scarborough during 1970 and was designed to promote the profile and revenue of the Hull-Scarborough line. A Class 105 2-car set was also decorated.

As part of the scheme British Rail invited schools along the Hull-Scarborough route to select two pupils, one of each would travel on specials operated by the Class 104 & Class 105 in opposite directions along the line in June 1970. Ken Dodd joined both trains swopping over at Driffield and there was a story/art competition for the children who went on the trips, with five blue Tri-ang Met Camm models presented to the winners by Ken Dodd at the Futurist Theater Scarborough later in 1970. Both units ran with the stickers on for a few weeks after the event.

Surprisingly for a high profile event, we have never seen a complete image of the Class 104 sporting its unusual flower livery. If anybody reading this has a photo of the set which we could use here then we’d love to hear from you!

We are grateful to Simon Lee, one of the pupils (and Met Camm winners!) on the trains who provided the above information on a topic that had previously been a mystery to the group.

White Stripe 1979-1985

The White Stripe livery could be considered as a variation on the Rail Blue livery rather than a colour scheme in its own right. However it was sufficiently striking in appearance to justify its own section here.

The livery was essentially standard Rail Blue, with brush painted plain blue gloss bodysides, a black chassis/bufferbeam/roof and yellow cab ends. First class sections were denoted by a yellow line beneath the gutter and the first class door on the centre car had a large white “1” applied. The major difference was a large white stripe which ran horizontally the length of the vehicles underneath the windows, which broke up the plain blue considerably. There were no variations from the livery apart from 50524 which had a red bufferbeam, although some vehicles received replacement doors from standard blue vehicles which did not have the stripe on them.

The stripe was not applied indiscriminately, and was specifically used only on a small batch of Newton Heath allocated Class 104 3-car sets which had received modified bogies. These changes to the suspension were made to improve the quality of the ride on the rather fast Manchester Victoria-Blackpool services.


It is not currently confirmed how many vehicles carried the livery, but photographic evidence has proven that at least 17 were treated. Motor Brakes 50460/470-476/478, Motor Composites 50522/523/525/526 and Centre cars 59179/181/182 all carried the livery from 1979, although it is thought there were more (particularly centre cars which were rarely photographed), it is likely that there were around 27 (Nine 3-car sets) vehicles in total.

The livery was fairly short-lived, with vehicles returning to standard Rail Blue from 1983 to 1985.


Network SouthEast 1988-1993

The final livery ever to be applied to Class 104’s was the vibrant Network SouthEast (NSE) colour scheme. Deliberately designed to be eye catching and brash, the livery was both criticised and welcomed.

In a radical departure from the BR corporate Rail Blue, bodysides were light blue with a series of white, red and grey stripes running along the lower half of the vehicles stylishly sweeping upwards towards the cab ends. The gutter was also picked out in red and first class sections had a yellow line under the gutter. These multi-coloured horizontal stripes gained the design the nickname “toothpaste” livery. The chassis, bufferbeam, roof, cab dome and the corridor ends were black. The cab front end was all over yellow with the cab window surrounds painted black. A thin orange line ran at gutter level on the front and rear of the vehicle. “Network SouthEast” branding was located in the centre of the vehicle under the windows, and on the front under the centre cab window was the NSE “flash” logo.

The NSE livery was introduced during a revolutionary time in suburban London which had suffered from underinvestment from British Rail for decades. Radical new policies were required if the public’s perception of the rundown stations and rolling stock was to be changed. The NSE livery was specifically designed to provide an effective re-launched image at minimal cost, and was intended to be applied to all stock in use in the London area as the external element of a large scale refurbishment programme.

Eight Class 104 motor brake vehicles, 50429/437/455/470/477/479/539/540 were formed into four 2-car sets, L701-704, and painted into NSE during 1988/1989 in a life extension programme. Two centre trailer vehicles, 59163/206, were also painted and formed in sets with other classes of DMU. The livery lasted until the very end of Class 104 operations in 1993, and three of the vehicles which carried the colour scheme, 50437/455/479, were preserved.

Variations in the livery were limited. 50437/455/539, had larger black cab surrounds than the others with the black extending upwards to meet the cab roof dome. Just a month or two before withdrawal, the very last Class 104 vehicle in service, 50540, received a white cab roof dome and silver buffers by a depot fitter in a nod to the days (by then history) of Buxton depot practice.