TV: ON THE BUSES

by PETER TATCHELL (reprinted from LAUGH MAGAZINE #11, 1995)

onthebusesThe reallocation of commercial television franchises in the late 1960s resulted in a new wave of sitcoms for Brit­ish viewers. Coupled with the introduction of colour, they reflected the “swinging 60s” attitudes to sex, the youth cul­ture and a more open lifestyle. London Weekend signed a cast of unknowns from this younger generation for Doctor In The House and Please Sir, but relied on established names from theatre and television for its third major comedy offering On The Buses.

Writers Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney reunited with former Rag Trade colleague Reg Varney, who played the lead character, Stan Butler, a London double-decker bus driver. The show centred on Stan’s life at home and at the bus depot, thus allowing two sets of supporting players to interact in each storyline.

At work he and conductor Jack (played by Bob Grant) are at loggerheads with bus company Inspector Blake (Stephen Lewis) who continually keeps an eagle eye on the duo. After hours, Stan lives with his widowed mother (musical comedy great Cicely Courtneidge in the first series, but replaced by Doris Hare from the second season) and his dowdy married sister Olive and her layabout husband Arthur (Anna Karen and Michael Robbins).

Plots regularly centred on Stan and Jack’s lecherous pur­suit of female companionship, their ongoing battle with “Blakey” as they try to gain extra money or unauthorized perks, and Olive and Arthur’s marital bickering at the meal table. On The Buses may not have been classic comedy with wit and style but it proved extremely popular with the viewers from the start.

In early 1971 (after four seasons and some three dozen episodes), Hammer Films decided to capitalize on the programme’s success by transferring the characters to the big screen. On The Buses (the movie) was released that August with all the original TV cast, the only major concession to the change being that the buses were no longer green (as in the London Weekend version) but repainted red, in keeping with the tourist’s idea of how they should look.

The motion picture became one of the year’s top money-spinners and not only led to two sequels (Mutiny On The Buses and Holiday On The Buses) but inspired a major film industry trend to launch big-screen versions of TV favourites. As a result, cinema translations of Steptoe And Son, Father Dear Father, Bless This House, Up Pompeii, Please Sir and many others kept British film studios gainfully active through-out most of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, On The Buses continued back on the small screen with actors Grant and Lewis (and Doctor In The House players George Layton and Jonathan Lynn) taking over the scriptwriting duties towards the end of the fifth season. Wolfe and Chesney returned to wrap up the show’s run with a seventh series in early 1973, by which time two of the principals had decided they had been with the programme long enough.

Michael Robbins bowed out before filming began, with his absence explained in a hastily arranged divorce for Olive and Arthur in the first episode. By edition #67, Reg Varney left to conquer new fields and his character Stan was written out to get a factory job “up north”. To ensure the storylines maintained a bus company link with the Butler household of Olive and her Mum, it was decided to have Inspector Blake move in with them as a boarder.

And that’s how the production ceased at the end of the thirteen-episode season, although Stephen Lewis subsequently went on to a spinoff series called Don’t Drink The Water which followed Inspector Blake to his retirement in Spain, and Anna Karen reprised her Olive character in the revival run of The Rag Trade several years later.

EPISODE GUIDE

unless noted, all scripts by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney

Series 1 (black and white): February 28 to April 11 1969 (7 x 25min)
1 The Early Shift
Stan inadvertently causes a strike and has to take a stand when Blakey threatens to assume driving duties
The New Conductor
Stan isn’t looking forward to having to work with a new conductor
Olive Takes A Trip
Olive applies for a job of conductress at the bus depot but her first journey is a disaster
Bus Driver’s Stomach
Stan is convinced he has fallen victim to a work-related illness but is unwilling to visit the doctor
5 The New Inspector
Stan is the only applicant for an assistant inspector’s job
The Canteen
As head of the depot’s canteen committee, Stan hires an Indian cook but Mum and Olive end up taking over
The Darts Match
Stan and Jack are challenged to a game of darts by a couple of clippies

Series 2 (black and white): May 31 to July 5 1969 (6 x 25min)
Family Flu
With the womenfolk unwell, Stan and Arthur are forced to do the cooking and the housework
The Used Combination
Arthur buys a 1920s vintage motor cycle
3 Self Defence
When Stan is roughed up by hooligans, Blakey organizes self defence classes at the bus depot
4 Aunt Maud
Aunt Maud visits and the Butler household is thrown into turmoil by her Great Dane
Late Again
Stan’s amorous pursuits cause him to be late for work
Bon Voyage
Stan has to use the holiday money to pay for a replacement uniform

Series 3: January 2 to April 3 1970 (13 x 25min)
First Aid
Stan and Jack have to help a passenger who is about to give birth
The Cistern
Having Stan install the Butler household’s new toilet proves to be a bad idea
The Inspector’s Niece
Stan and Jack both fancy the new clippie, unaware Blakey is her uncle
4 Brew It Yourself
Stan’s homemade beer is a powerful brew and leads to Blakey giving him a breath test
Busmen’s Perks
When Arthur and Olive’s bedroom needs brightening up, Stan offers to get some paint from the bus company
The Snake
A snake belonging to an Indian waitress at the depot canteen causes all sorts of trouble for Stan
7 Mum’s Last Fling
Mum uses the housekeeping money to try and look young and beautiful for her new flame.
Radio Control
Stan and Jack aren’t keen on the 2-way radio Blakey has in-stalled in their bus and a crossed line causes havoc
Foggy Night
Stan takes the family when he and Jack are given a country run but they become stranded overnight in a thick fog
10  The New Uniforms
Stan and Jack aren’t in favour of their new outfits until two Swedish blondes change their minds
11  Going Steady
Stan has fallen for the inspector’s niece but inviting the two of them home for tea isn’t a good idea
12  The Squeeze
To raise urgently needed money, Arthur tries to sell his de­crepit motor bike to Blakey
13  On The Make
When a clippie needs somewhere to stay, Stan unwisely sug­gests the Butler household’s spare room

Series 4: November 27 to December 25 1970 and January 10 to February 21 1971 (13 x 25min)
Nowhere To Go
With Arthur and the womenfolk away, Stan and Jack plan a passionate weekend with a couple of clippies
The Canteen Girl
Stan and Jack are delighted when Blakey fall for a canteen girl and plans to leave the depot until they encounter his replacement
Dangerous Driving
Stan is concerned when he sees a newspaper article that points out conductors are likely to live longer than drivers
4 The Other Woman
The Butler family isn’t pleased when Arthur spends all of his time at a bus company social with an attractive woman
5 Christmas Duty
The Butlers’ Christmas dinner is disrupted when illness at the bus depot forces Stan and Jack to fill in at the last moment
The L Bus
When Stan is rostered on the training bus he sees it as a great time to meet new clippies and to deliver Arthur’s new bed
The Kid’s Outing
With Stan, Jack and the Butler household in charge of a chil­dren’s bus trip, disaster is sure to follow
The Anniversary
Olive’s tenth wedding anniversary dinner is thrown into dis­array by the intervention of a pet poodle from Aunt Maud
The Cover Up
Stan decides to scrounge bus company material to repair the Butler parlour chairs
10  Safety First
Blakey’s office falls victim when Stan attempts to follow the new safety regulations
11  The Lodger
Mum decides to rent out the spare room to raise money but Stan isn’t pleased when furniture is borrowed from his room
12  The Injury
When Stan has a nasty fall at home, Jack suggests making it appear it happened at work to get compensation
13  Not Tonight
Stan falls for canteen girl Stella until her motives for the rela­tionship become clearer

Series 5: September 19 to December 26 1971 (15 x 25min)
The Nursery
Olive gets a job looking after clippie’s babies but things soon become a shambles
Stan’s Room
Stan can’t get any privacy to entertain ladyfriends so he de­cides to move out, but Blakey’s place is no improvement
The Best Man
When the inspector’s niece is to be married, Stan has to organise the bachelor party for his busman colleague
The Inspector’s Pets
Stan agrees to mind Blakey’s dog and goldfish to ensure he goes away to Brighton for the weekend
The Epidemic
Stan and Jack foresee lots of overtime money during the flu season but things don’t go according to plan
The Busmen’s Ball
It is proposed a stripper be engaged for the bus depot’s ball to take the men’s minds off drinking
Canteen Trouble
The inspector isn’t pleased when Stan and Jack appear to be getting preferential treatment in the canteen
The New Nurse
A bus company nurse boards with the Butlers and has a marked effect on Olive and Arthur
9 Lost Property
Stan and Jack are reprimanded for helping themselves to some fish and chips left on their bus but it is only a prelude to a more serious incident involving a misplaced item
10  Stan’s Uniform
When Stan ruins his uniform at home, Blakey tells him it will cost 24 pounds for a replacement
11  The Strain
Whilst lifting a plump clippie, Stan injures his back and is forced to wear a corset
12  The New Telly
Stan buys a colour TV and tries to unload his old one on Inspector Blake
13  Vacancy For Inspector(by Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis)
Jack takes on an inspector’s job and the position soon goes to his head
14  A Thin Time(by Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis)
With the electricity bill to pay, Stan desperately needs some overtime money
15  Boxing Day Social
The arrival of Arthur’s mother and sister leads to Olive going on a vodka binge at the busmen’s social

Series 6: February 20 to April 2 1972 (7 x 25min)
No Smoke Without Fire(by Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis)
Jack wagers Stan he can’t give up smoking, but his attempts at indulging in an unnoticed puff lead to a fire
Love Is What You Make It(by George Layton and Jonathan Lynn)
Olive and Arthur go to a marriage guidance counsellor
Private Hire(by Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis)
To make some money on the side, Stan and Jack agree to use their bus to help a clippie move house
Stan’s Worst Day(by Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis)
Stan recalls the black days when Arthur moved in as a lodger and Blakey was made an inspector
Union Trouble(by Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis)
Stan goes on a one-man strike to demand the reinstatement of a canteen woman
Bye, Bye, Blakey(by George Layton and Jonathan Lynn)
When Blakey applies for work with a rival company, Stan and Jack misunderstand a conversation they overhear at the doc­tor’s surgery
The Prize(by George Layton and Jonathan Lynn)
Mum has won a holiday for two on the Costa Brava, but who will accompany her?

Series 7: February 25 to May 20 1973 (13 x 25min)

(Michael Robbins left the series at this point)

Olive’s Divorce
When Arthur runs off with another woman, Stan’s home life is forced to suffer
The Perfect Clippie
With Stan now the sole moneyearner for the household he insists Olive either get a new husband or a job
The Ticket Machine
To raise cash, Mum and Olive get involved in a dubious mail order scheme which threatens to land them in court
The Football Match
The depot’s football team is so short of players Blakey has to rope in Stan, Jack and even Olive to make up the numbers
5 The Recruitment Poster
Jack and Olive try to improve the way Stan looks to help him win a 100 pound prize for appearing on a company poster
On The Omnibuses
An historical exhibition at the depot causes Stan to have dream about driving a horse-drawn bus before the First World War
7 Goodbye Stan
Stan leaves the depot and the family to get a higher paid job in a factory up north

(Reg Varney left the series at this point)

Hot Water
Jack convinces Blakey to let him fix the Butler’s hot water unit which has broken down
The Visit
Mum and Olive are soon regretting they invited Inspector Blake’s mother to come to stay
10  What The Stars Foretell
Though Olive has been made redundant by the bus company, she is sure things will brighten up when a second marriage is predicted
11  The Allowance
A militant clippie wants the girls reimbursed every time they have to pay to go to the loo
12  Friends In High Places
When Mum gets a job as bus depot cook, she finds she knows the area manager
13  Gardening Time
Blakey’s prize-winning flowers are pilfered from his company window box so he lets loose his horticultural pursuits in the Butler garden

DON’T DRINK THE WATER

starring Stephen Lewis as ex-Inspector Cyril Blake, Pat Coombs as his spinster sister Dorothy
and Derek Griffiths as Carlos the porter

scripts by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney (unless noted)

Series 1: July 27 to September 7 1974 (7 x 25min)
Home From Home?
Inspector Blake spends his life savings on a flat in Spain where he can spend his retirement with his sister Dorothy
The Food (by Jon Watkins)
Settling in to a life of retirement on foreign soil has problems for the Blakes
Dry Run (by Jon Watkins)
Blakey suffers a breakdown of the lorry delivering fresh water
The Lift
A shopping expedition is interrupted when Cyril and Dorothy become trapped between floors
Careful What You Eat
The Blakes are forced to make do when the electricity is cut off
The Fuse
Blakey’s attempt to rewire the apartment meet with official resistance
The Smell
Cyril and Dorothy are being driven mad by a foul odour

Series 2: November 1 to December 6 1975 (6 x 25min)
What? No Telly?
details unknown
The Romance
details unknown
A Helping Hand
Cyril and Dorothy offer to help a girl who has been stranded following the collapse of a travel agency
4 The Neighbours
The Blakes visit the Germans next door to watch a soccer match between England and Germany
5 Fred
Dorothy decides an economy drive is needed to curb her brother’s extravagances
Keeping Fit
Cyril’s exercising rivalry with the German leads to a slipped disc

 

Movies

On The Buses (1971)
(Hammer/MGM/EMI, 88 minutes)
The employment of women drivers causes trouble at the bus depot

Mutiny On The Buses (1972)
(Hammer/Anglo/EMI, 88 minutes)
When Arthur is sacked he tries to get a job as a driver at the depot and Stan is put in charge of a special tour bus at a safari park

Holiday On The Buses (1973)
(Hammer/Anglo/EMI, 85 minutes)
with guests Wilfrid Brambell and Henry McGee
Stan, Jack and Blakey are sacked from the bus depot and get jobs at a holiday camp

 

Bibliography

On The Buses
(56 page TV Times Extra colour souvenir magazine)
Independent Television Publications, 1971

On the Buses – The Complete Story
by Craig Walker (2009)

The Making of On The Buses
by Tex Fisher (Deck Chair Publishing, 2011)

 

Videos

On The Buses
(Video Collection VC 6156, Comedy Club LC 0005)
The Snake
Mum’s Last Fling
Foggy Night

 

DVDs

series 1: Network DVD, Granada/Universal 2DVD

series 2: Network DVD, Granada 2DVD

series 3: Network 2DVD, Granada/ACMEC/Time Life 2DVD

series 4: Network 2DVD, Granada/ACMEC/Time Life 2DVD

series 5: Network 2DVD, Granada/ACMEC/Time Life 2DVD

series 6: Network DVD, Granada/ACMEC/Time Life DVD

series 7: Network 2DVD, Granada/ACMEC/Time Life 2DVD

On the Buses + Mutiny on the Buses + Holiday on the Buses (movies)
Studio Canal 2DVD

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