On the Buses – TV Comedy

on-the-buses1
Stan & Jack (Reg Varney / Bob Grant)

On the Buses was broadcast on ITV from 1969 to 1973. Stan Butler played by Reg Varney was the cheeky bus driver in this classic LWT sitcom. He’s lucky enough to be paired with his best friend, Jack (Bob Grant), as the conductor on his bus, but still spends all of his time complaining. When they’re not out on the road, they’re eating, avoiding Stan’s family, or more usually trying to get one up on Stephen Lewis’s obnoxious Inspector Blake who seems to spend half of his time trying to get them out of the depot on time, and the other half trying to get them fired.

It was created by Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe, who wrote most of the episodes. It spawned three spin-off feature films and a stage version. Despite the writers’ previous successes with The Rag Trade and Meet the Wife with the BBC, the corporation rejected On the Buses, not seeing much comedy potential in a bus depot as a setting. The comedy partnership turned to Frank Muir, Head of Entertainment at London Weekend Television, who loved the idea; the show was accepted and despite a poor critical reception became a hit with viewers.

The series is centred on the Number 11 bus, at the Luxton and District Motor Traction Company, a green and cream double-decker crewed by driver Stan Butler and his pal conductor Jack Harper. With its “bawdy, comic postcard humour and resolutely working-class outlook” the series became “one of the most popular British comedy series of its era, if not all time.” At the Butler household, the typical scene would involve a family argument around the breakfast table, whilst at the bus depot, there was always fun at the expense of the crew’s “eternal nemesis” Inspector Blake, recognisable from Hitler moustache and facial contortions.

Main characters

reg-varney-stan-butler
Stan Butler played by Reg Varney

Reg Varney as Stanley “Stan” Butler – a bus driver who works for the Luxton and District Traction Company along with Jack and Blakey. He lives with his mother Mabel, sister Olive and brother-in-law Arthur. Stan often chats up the clippies at the bus depot.

 

 

Cicely Courtneidge (series 1) and Doris Hare (series 2–7) as Mabel “Mum” Butler, Stan’s mother. She is a maiden in distress when it comes to money. The Butler household is forever losing money and regularly getting the electricity cut off. Mabel is frequently caught up in arguments between Arthur, Olive, and Stan.

 

mabel-butlers
Cicely Courtneidge (series 1) and Doris Hare (series 2–7) as Mabel “Mum” Butler, Stan’s mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

oilve-on-the-buses
Olive Butler played by Anna Karen

 

Anna Karen as Olive Rudge, Stan’s sister. Olive is always being criticised by her husband Arthur, even though she helps her mum with household jobs and frequently helps Stan with the decorating. Olive has twice been a clippie at the bus depot, both times being unsuccessful. She is always wanting “an early night” with Arthur, much to his displeasure.

 

 

 

 

Michael-Robbins-on-the-buses
Michael Robbins as Arthur

Michael Robbins as Arthur Rudge, Stan’s brother-in-law. Somewhat aloof and stuck up, he frequently resists Olive’s intimate advances. His hospital operation is a frequent source of ridicule from Stan and Jack. (Although the nature of the procedure is never disclosed, it is implied to have been a vasectomy or a hernia). Arthur is always tampering with his motorbike, which usually falls apart. He has a mother (played by Gillian Lind) and a sister called Linda (played by Helen Fraser) who both came to stay for Christmas at the Butler household then joined the Boxing Day social party at the bus depot. (in the episode “Boxing Day Social”, Episode 15 of Series 5).

 

jack-on-the-buses-bob-grant
Bob Grant as Jack Harper

Bob Grant as Jack Harper, Stan’s conductor, best friend (although throughout the series he regularly attempts to discredit Stan by underhanded means, such as innuendo, accusation or the like) and next-door neighbour. He and Stan are always getting into trouble and getting reprimanded by Inspector Blake. Whether it is tampering with radio controls, putting “DIVERSION” road signs in the wrong places or going on dates with the buxom clippies, they are always getting into scrapes. Jack is also the shop steward of the bus depot, and frequently abuses his position to thwart Blakey’s schemes, usually with the catchphrase “As shop steward, I am here to tell you…..”.

 

Stephen Lewis as Cyril Blakey Blake
Stephen Lewis as Cyril “Blakey” Blake

Stephen Lewis as Cyril “Blakey” Blake – the inspector at the bus depot. Whenever there is a “brilliant idea” at the bus depot, it is usually Blakey’s. These are usually elaborate schemes to temper Stan’s and Jack’s frequent insubordination, or to entrap them in their misadventures in a bid to get them fired. However Blakey’s schemes typically backfire with hilarious consequences, and land him either in trouble with the General Manager or in hospital.

 

A total of 74 episodes of On the Buses were broadcast over seven series. Three spin-off films were also released.

All episodes and films of On The Buses were set in the fictional town of Luxton.

At the beginning of the seventh series Arthur, who is not seen, has left Olive and they are divorced. Olive again gets a job as a clippie on the buses as they are short of money. Stan takes a job in the north of England in a car factory in the “Goodbye Stan” episode, and the Inspector takes Stan’s old room as a lodger.

In addition, two five-minute Christmas specials were made by LWT as part of an All-Star Comedy Carnival in 1969 and 1972, ITV’s answer to the BBC’s Christmas Night with the Stars programme. The 1969 edition has been lost, but the 1972 edition – featuring a goose that the cast are chasing for Christmas dinner – exists in the Thames Television archive, which is now owned by FremantleMedia. A spin-off series, Don’t Drink the Water (1974–75), ran for thirteen episodes, featuring Blake retiring to Spain with his sister Dorothy (Pat Coombs).

Reg Varney undertook a PCV driving test in order to be filmed driving the bus for the exterior scenes.

on the buses

The earlier series were recorded at London Weekend Television’s original studios in Wembley (now Fountain Studios). In late 1972, LWT relocated to new studios on the South Bank of the River Thames; here the outside doors to the main and secondary studios were too small to accommodate the double-decker buses used in the series. Therefore, single-decker buses were used and a plywood mock-up of an upper deck was lowered from a lighting rig.

Filmed external shots were part of the series. LWT arranged with the now-defunct Eastern National Omnibus Company to use its buses at Wood Green bus garage in North London. They were shown as belonging to Luxton and District. Luxton is supposed to be in Essex, and actual Essex towns including Southend-on-Sea, Basildon, Braintree and Tilbury are all mentioned. One of the bus route termini was “Cemetery Gates”, for which LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery. A different Lavender Hill in Battersea also features in the last episode of the last series, featuring the town hall, now the Battersea Arts Centre.

The fourth series was affected by the ITV colour strike, with seven of thirteen episodes being made in black and white.

Episode Guide

Series 1 (1969)

Episode No. Series No. Title Directed by Written by Original air date
1 1 “The Early Shift” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 28 February 1969
2 2 “The New Conductor” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 7 March 1969
3 3 “Olive Takes a Trip” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 14 March 1969
4 4 “Bus Drivers’ Stomach” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 21 March 1969
5 5 “The New Inspector” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 28 March 1969
6 6 “The Canteen” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 4 April 1969
7 7 “The Darts Match” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 11 April 1969

Series 2 (1969)

Episode No. Series No. Title Directed by Written by Original air date
8 1 “Family Flu” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 31 May 1969
9 2 “The Used Combination” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 7 June 1969
10 3 “Self Defence” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 14 June 1969
11 4 “Aunt Maud” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 21 June 1969
12 5 “Late Again” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 28 June 1969
13 6 “Bon Voyage” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 5 July 1969

Series 3 (1970)

Episode No. Series No. Title Directed by Written by Original air date
14 1 “First Aid” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 2 January 1970
15 2 “The Cistern” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 9 January 1970
16 3 “The Inspector’s Niece” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 16 January 1970
17 4 “Brew it Yourself” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 23 January 1970
18 5 “Busmen’s Perks” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 30 January 1970
19 6 “The Snake” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 6 February 1970
20 7 “Mum’s Last Fling” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 13 February 1970
21 8 “Radio Control” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 20 February 1970
22 9 “Foggy Night” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 27 February 1970
23 10 “The New Uniforms” Stuart Allen Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 6 March 1970
24 11 “Going Steady” Howard Ross Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 13 March 1970
25 12 “The Squeeze” Howard Ross Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 20 March 1970
26 13 “On the Make” Howard Ross Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 27 March 1970

Series 4 (1970–71)

Episode No. Series No. Title Written by Original air date
27 1 “Nowhere to Go” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 27 November 1970
28 2 “The Canteen Girl” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 4 December 1970
29 3 “Dangerous Driving” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 11 December 1970
30 4 “The Other Woman” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 18 December 1970
31 5 “Christmas Duty” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 25 December 1970
32 6 “The ‘L’ Bus” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 1 January 1971
33 7 “The Kids’ Outing” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 10 January 1971
34 8 “The Anniversary” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 17 January 1971
35 9 “Cover Up” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 24 January 1971
36 10 “Safety First” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 31 January 1971
37 11 “The Lodger” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 7 February 1971
38 12 “The Injury” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 14 February 1971
39 13 “Not Tonight” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 21 February 1971

Series 5 (1971)

Episode No. Series No. Title Written by Original air date
40 1 “The Nursery” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 19 September 1971
41 2 “Stan’s Room” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 26 September 1971
42 3 “The Best Man” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 3 October 1971
43 4 “The Inspector’s Pets” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 10 October 1971
44 5 “The Epidemic” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 17 October 1971
45 6 “The Busmen’s Ball” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 24 October 1971
46 7 “Canteen Trouble” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 31 October 1971
47 8 “The New Nurse” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 7 November 1971
48 9 “Lost Property” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 14 November 1971
49 10 “Stan’s Uniform” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 21 November 1971
50 11 “The Strain” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 28 November 1971
51 12 “The New Telly” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 5 December 1971
52 13 “Vacancy for Inspector” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 12 December 1971
53 14 “A Thin Time” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 19 December 1971
54 15 “Boxing Day Social” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 26 December 1971

Series 6 (1972)

Episode No. Series No. Title Written by Original air date
55 1 “No Smoke Without Fire” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 20 February 1972
56 2 “Love Is What You Make It” George Layton and Jonathan Lynn 27 February 1972
57 3 “Private Hire” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 5 March 1972
58 4 “Stan’s Worst Day” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 12 March 1972
59 5 “Union Trouble” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 19 March 1972
60 6 “Bye Bye Blakey” George Layton and Jonathan Lynn 26 March 1972
61 7 “The Prize” George Layton and Jonathan Lynn 2 April 1972

Series 7 (1973)

Episode No. Series No. Title Written by Original air date
62 1 “Olive’s Divorce” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 26 February 1973
63 2 “The Perfect Clippie” George Layton and Jonathan Lynn 4 March 1973
64 3 “The Ticket Machine” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 11 March 1973
65 4 “The Poster” Wally Malston and Garry Chambers 18 March 1973
66 5 “The Football Match” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 25 March 1973
67 6 “On the Omnibuses” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 1 April 1973
68 7 “Goodbye Stan” Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe 8 April 1973
69 8 “Hot Water” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 15 April 1973
70 9 “The Visit” George Layton and Jonathan Lynn 22 April 1973
71 10 “What the Stars Foretell” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 29 April 1973
72 11 “The Allowance” Miles Rudge 6 May 1973
73 12 “Friends in High Places” George Layton and Jonathan Lynn 13 May 1973
74 13 “Gardening Time” Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis 20 May 1973

Films

The series spawned three feature film spin-offs and a stage version
The three spin-off films were produced by Hammer Film Productions. They are On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973), set in a holiday camp. On the Buses became Britain’s top box office film of 1971.

The films were set in a different canon to the series – in the films, Arthur and Olive manage to have a child despite their apparently sexless marriage and Arthur’s ‘operation’ – the exact nature of which was never explicitly revealed. Arthur’s operation is mentioned in the first film, but later Olive gives birth to their baby son. The three films follow a loose story arc which shows their son (Little Arthur) growing up. Olive is pregnant with a second child at the end of Mutiny, but no mention of this was made in the third film, Holiday, set mainly in a Holiday Camp. The bus depot becomes The Town & District Bus Company instead of The Luxton & District Traction Company. The buses in the films are mostly red ones, with one green one (not including the Windsor Safari Park tour bus in Mutiny On The Buses).

In 1990 there were plans to revive the series as Back on the Buses, and the original cast appeared on Wogan to promote the new series. However, although a pilot script was written, it wasn’t made. Back On The Buses was to feature Stan Butler, having run his own business for some years and made some money, starting his own bus company in the newly deregulated market, and hiring Jack to work with him. As they attempt to get the company off the ground, they discover a rival company has set up in the town, owned by none other than Blakey. The comedy in the series would have come from the conflict between the two businesses, and how Stan and Jack attempted to battle Blakey’s bigger and more professional company.

You can listen to all episodes of On the Buses on BritCom 1 & 2. Check schedules for details!

Links:

On the Buses Fan Club

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *