On the Buses
|On the Buses|
Still from the opening title sequence used from Series 3 to Series 6
|Music by||Tony Russell
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||7|
|No. of episodes||74 (list of episodes)|
|Producer(s)||London Weekend Television|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Picture format||576i (4:3 SDTV)|
|Original release||28 February 1969– 6 May 1973|
|Followed by||Don't Drink the Water|
On the Buses is a British sitcom created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, broadcast in the United Kingdom from 1969 to 1973. It spawned three feature spin off films and a stage version based on the series. The writers' previous successes with The Rag Trade and Meet the Wife were for the BBC, but the corporation rejected On the Buses, not seeing much comedy potential in a bus depot as a setting. The comedy partnership turned to a friend, 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 programme was broadcast internationally and was extremely successful particularly in Europe, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. In a 2004 poll to find Britain's Best Sitcom, On the Buses was rated 53rd.
|Character||Played by||Series||Episode count|
|Stan Butler||Reg Varney||Main||68|
|Jack Harper||Bob Grant||Main||74|
|Olive Rudge||Anna Karen||Main||74|
|Mabel Ethel Butler||Cicely Courtneidge||Main||7|
|Inspector Cyril Blake "Blakey"||Stephen Lewis||Main||74|
|Arthur Rudge||Michael Robbins||Main||61|
Stan Butler (Reg Varney)
Stan is a bus driver who works for the Luxton and District Bus Company, with his best mate Jack. His inspector Inspector Blake commonly known as "Blakey". Stan lives with his Mum (Doris Hare), sister Olive (Anna Karen) and Olive's husband Arthur who is more obsessed with his motorbike than Olive, which regularly causes arguments throughout regular episodes. Stan is often chatting up the "clippies" at the bus depot.
Stan's mum Mabel 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.
Olive Rudge (Anna Karen)
Poor old Olive is always being criticised by her husband Arthur, even though she helps her mum with household jobs and frequently helping Stan do the decorating. Olive has been a clippie twice at the bus depot, both being unsuccessful. She is always wanting "an early night" with Arthur, much to his displeasure.
Arthur Rudge (Michael Robbins)
Arthur is Stan's brother in law. He is somewhat snooty and stuck up, and frequently resists Olive's intimate advances. It is also implied that he has had a vasectomy (always referred to as his "operation"), which is a frequent source of ridicule from Stan. Arthur is always tampering with his motorbike, which usually falls apart. In the second of three spin off films Mutiny on the Buses Arthur is made redundant from his unknown job and becomes a bus driver, being trained by Stan who gives him driving lessons on his break.
Jack Harper (Bob Grant)
Jack is Stan's best friend and next door neighbour who is always getting into trouble with Stan and getting reprimanded by Inspector Blake. Whether it is tampering with radio controls, changing and putting "DIVERSION" road signs in the wrong places or going on dates with the buxom clippies, Jack is always getting into regular scrapes with Stan.
Inspector "Blakey" Blake (Stephen Lewis)
Inspector Blake is the inspector at the bus depot. Whenever there is a "brilliant idea" at the bus depot, it is usually Blakey's - which are usually elaborate schemes to temper Stan and Jack's frequent insubordination, or entrap them in their misadventures in a bid to get them fired. However Blakey's schemes typically backfire with hilarious consequences, and either land him in trouble with the General Manager or he ends up in hospital.
The General Manager (Michael Sheard) The manager at the Luxton Bus Company is always arguing with Inspector Blake about something that Blakey has "done". He was also the judge at the Gardening Competition in the episode "Gardening Time". Sheard reprised his role as the bus depot manager in the third installment of the On The Buses film series Holiday On The Buses'.
The Inspector's Niece (Madeleine Mills and Sandra Miller) The Inspector's Niece was seen twice played by Madeleine Mills and twice by Sandra Miller. Her first two appearances where her and Stan in a love relationship, the second being them engaged but a tea party at Stan's house makes them split up. Her third appearance was her getting married to Bill, a bus driver at the depot. She also appeared in the episode "The New Nurse".
Sandra (Sandra Bryant)
Sandra is a clippie at the bus depot. Her character is seen frequently throughout the final season of the series. In the first serial, "Olive's Divorce", she goes on a date with Stan to the cinema, until Olive comes along too. Sandra is then seen in many of the remaining episodes of the series.
Nobby (Terry Duggan) One of the bus depot's mechanics. He often assists Stan and Jack in their typical schemes and misadventures. In his one appearance in the On The Buses film series he makes fake diversion signs to get the female bus drivers into trouble.
Seventy-four 25-minute episodes were made, as well as three spin-off films.
At the beginning of the seventh (and last) series Arthur, who is not seen, has left Olive; they are divorced. Olive again gets a job as a clippy on the buses as they are short of money now. 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.
In addition, two five-minute Christmas specials were made by LWT as part of 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 13 episodes, featuring Blake retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs).
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 the long gone Wood Green bus garage in north London. For the series they were shown as under the ownership of 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 termini for the buses was Cemetery Gates, for which LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery in Enfield, Middlesex, near Reg Varney's home. 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 13 episodes being made in black and white.
On the Buses was the subject of a board game by Denys Fisher games.
The format of On the Buses was sold to America, where it was remade by NBC as Lotsa Luck, starring Dom DeLuise as Stanley Belmont with Kathleen Freeman as Iris Belmont, his mum, Wynn Irwin as Arthur Swann, Beverly Sanders as Olive Swann and Jack Knight as Bummy Pfitzer, his best friend. After a pilot was made, it ran for one series of 22 episodes in 1973–74. Episodes based on the original On The Buses scripts were adapted by such American writers as Carl Reiner, Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. The American version was unsuccessful and has never been screened in Britain. The Blakey character did not appear in the American version, as Stan worked at the lost property office at the bus depot rather than being a driver.
The theme music for the series, entitled "Happy Harry", was written by Tony Russell.
Despite the popularity of On the Buses with the viewing public, TV reviewers and historians have generally held the show in lower regard. In its section on situation comedies, The Guinness Book of Classic British TV describes On the Buses as ITV's "longest running and most self-consciously unfunny series". TV reviewer Victor Lewis-Smith would later criticise the then-head of LWT, Frank Muir, for green-lighting the programme, which Lewis-Smith called "the wretched On the Buses". Daily Telegraph journalist Max Davidson, discussing 1970s British comedy, listed On the Buses as one of the "unfunny sitcoms of the time", while The Guardian's David Stubbs referred to On the Buses as "a byword for 70s sitcom mediocrity".
The red Town & District buses were Bristol KSWs with Eastern Coach Works bodies. These were ex-Eastern National. Stan and Jack's "regular" bus appeared to be VNO 857. As of Feb 2015 this vehicle is still road legal.
The Green Luxton & District buses were Bristol Lodekkas with bodywork by Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft. In reality these were Eastern National buses (in some episodes buses could be seen with Eastern National on the side), although as mentioned earlier, the later interior depot shots were in fact 'dummy' buses. Some 'dummy' buses were real single deck buses with a wooden frame on top, such as in the Series 3 episode "Radio Control", when the bus has crashed into the bridge. The most commonly used bus in the series was AVW 399F. In later episodes the NBC symbol appears next to Luxton & District.
In episode 1 of series 6, former London Transport RTL1557 (OLD 666) is featured, and burnt out.
Visual Entertainment released On the Buses: The Ultimate Collection, an eleven-disc box set featuring the complete series on DVD on 12 September 2006.
Network DVD released On the Buses: The Complete Series box set on DVD on 13 November 2006 for the very first time. On 25 May 2008 the box set was re-released in a new repackaged version. They have also released each series individually.
Beyond Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in seven series sets between 2 July 2007 – 8 April 2009.
Film and stage versions
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 three films follow a loose story arc which follows the child (Little Arthur) growing up. Olive is pregnant with a second child at the end of Mutiny, but no further mention of this was made in the third film. Arthur's "operation" is mentioned in the first film, but later Olive gives birth to their baby son. The bus depot becomes The Town & District Bus Company instead of The Luxton & District Traction Bus Company. The buses in the films are mostly red ones and one green one (not counting the Windsor Safari Park tour bus in Mutiny On The Buses).
A stage play called, Busman's Holiday, written by Sam Cree starred Stephen Lewis, Bob Grant and Anna Karen. It was performed as a 1973 summer season at the Pavilion Theatre, Torquay. All of the character names were different to those in the original television series.
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 outfit.
- Comedy Classics ITV 1, narrated by Ronni Ancona, broadcast 2008
- Walker, Craig (2012). The On The Buses Quiz Book. Andrews UK Limited. p. 267. ISBN 9781909143111.
- The Guinness Book of Classic British TV, by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, Second Edition.Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1996 (p.66).
- Lewis-Smith, Victor. (10 January 1998), "I Pull the Plug on "Mr. Pitcher"", The Mirror, (p. 6).
- "Despite Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, comedy still needs to risk giving offence" Daily Telegraph, 1 November 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2014..
- Reg Varney reaches the end of the line David Stubbs, The Guardian 17 November 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- http://bcv.robsly.com/enlod.html List of Eastern National Lodekka survivors
- Fisher, Tex (2011). I 'Ate You Butler! - The Making of On the Buses. Deck Chair Publishing. ISBN 9780956563415.
- Rackham, Rob (2016). On the Buses: A Personal View of a Television Classic. Blurb Publishers. ISBN 9781367910256
- Walker, Craig (2009). On the Buses: The Complete Story. Apex Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781906358693.
- Walker, Craig (2014). A to Z of On the Buses. Mirador Publishing. ISBN 9781910104200.