Grew up in Bedford (pop 106k 2011 census). Definitely a town even against some of the examples here.
It was fine? I never learnt to drive because it was relatively compact and most of the places I needed to go I could walk to.
The buses were ok, I expect they are shit now after ten years of funding cuts.
We had an ok music venue, some ok pubs. A six screen cinema although in one of those weird leisure park (cinema, laser quest, McDonald’s, bowling, nightclub) developments that were all the rage in the 1990s. The cinema is still open but almost all of it is boarded up now.
Train into London was an hour, so convenient but definitely far enough away to make it feel like a Big Deal. You could also go straight through to Brighton, which was always our treat summer day out.
Very strong town mentality. Weekends were very rough at night. I think it’s for a bit more of a pleasant place to live over the years but most of the new housing is in peripheral estates so barely feels like part of the town. Don’t think the job opportunities are great now, though - most of the 70s/80s office stock seems to have been converted into flats, and nothing has gone up to replace it. The town centre looks quite sad, although that’s been happening for a long time (Milton Keynes basically slowly killed it).
The X5 was/is a good bus - Oxford to Cambridge via Bedford and Milton Keynes.
Will probably have to move back there at some point as my ma gets older.