Way back in 1969 a TV comedy series began with an episode called THE EARLY SHIFT. That show was called
On The Buses.
It was about the life of a driver
and his conductor working on the No.11 bus that ran to the CEMETERY GATES. They were employed by Luxton and District Bus Depot
and answerable to an Inspector who was the bain of their lives.
The series was created and written
by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney The main cast were the happy go lucky bus driver Stan (Reg Varney). Stan's best pal,
the lecherous conductor Jack (Bob Grant) and Inspector Blake (Stephen Lewis).
Driver Stan lived at
home with sister the delectable Olive (Anna Karen) and her lay-about husband Arthur (Michael Robbins) plus of course dear
old Mum. (Cicely Courtniedge) series 1, (Doris Hare) from series 2 onwards.
The series followed the exploits
of Stan and Jacks lives. Their day to day living, how they dealt with authority and of course the all important job of chasing
the opposite sex known as 'Birds'.
The cast won the ITV personality of the year
in 1970. By 1971 the show was a firm favorite across the nation and was watched globally by audiences of 22 million.
The series was to reflect the lives of the working classes of the time and this was part of the formula
for its success. The show ended up being exported to 38 countries around the world and is still being given re-runs on TV
to this day.
There were also 3 spin of feature films from the series: - 'On The Buses',
'Mutiny On The Buses' and 'Holiday On The Buses.'
So why not hop back onboard
for a trip down memory lane here at the ON THE BUSES fan-club
LWT comedy series On The Buses was a hit with viewers but not with critics who didn’t
see the charm of the series viewers did. Such was the success of the comedy that it spawned three spin-off movies and Flashback
takes a look at both the television series and the three movies of On the Buses.
the Buses is probably one of the better remembered comedies of the 1970s thanks to its successful run on ITV and three cinema
movies spun-off from the television series. The series was created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney who had also created
The Rag Trade for the BBC and had first taken On the Buses to BBC bosses who declined to produce the series. With rejection
from the BBC the duo turned to commercial rival ITV and the London Weekend Television company, LWT for short, who held the
weekend franchise in London. The series ran from 1969 to 1973 and was a huge hit with viewers but critics did not take to
the series and that’s a legacy that remains to this day. Like many comedies of its era many critics look back on the
series through the view point of down their nose, with a snobbish attitude that does not find the comedy contain within the
series amusing at all. But despite this the series still enjoys popularity thanks to the characters within it, which are still
referred to pop culture references, and the DVD releases of the series. Repeats of the show have also ensured its continuing
longevity in the minds of audiences.
series revolved around the antics of bus driver Stan Butler [Reg Varney] and his conductor Jack [Bob Grant] as they try to
date their way through the female clippies of the bus company, avoid as much work as possible and wind up Inspector Blakey
[Stephen Lewis] as much as possible. While Jack was presented as a womaniser and Stan as a down-to-earth bloke, Blakey was
the stereotypical jobworthy inspector always looking out for a chance to get one over on Stan and Jack. Many of the episodes
revolved around Blakey trying to catch Stan and Jack out. Other characters within the series included Stan’s mother
[Cicely Courtneidge and then Doris Hare], his sister Olive [Anna Karen] and Oliver’s husband Arthur [Michael Robbins].
Arthur was often out of work due to a supposed back injury and much was made of his attempts at avoiding spending time with
his long suffering wife, Olive. Olive was often the butt of many jokes. To this day referring to a woman as Olive is an unflattering
remark and something of an insult to most women. As the series progressed some changes were made to the cast with several
cast members leaving.
In 1971 the
first movie based on the series was filmed and released at cinemas, purely entitled On The Buses. The film revolved around
the introduction of female bus drivers to the company and Jack and Stan’s attempts at getting rid of the latest threat
to their job, especially as the women proved to be better drivers and better at their jobs. The film was a hugely commercial
success and was the top box-office film at the time, beating the James Bond film of the time Diamonds Are Forever. Given the
huge success of the film and the continual success of the television series another film was made and released in 1972. Mutiny
on the Buses saw Stan get a girlfriend who was determined that he should get a job on a brand new line the bus company were
operating, to the nearby zoo. All manner of things go wrong and the only customers on the bus end up being escaped zoo animals.
In 1973 a third film was made, the final film based on the series. Holiday on the Buses saw the action switch to a holiday
camp and the various antics and disasters that happened here as Stan, Jack and Blackley all take up jobs on the camp site.
All three films were produced by Hammer Film Productions who switched to making film spin-offs from popular television shows
following the decline of Hammer Horrors. On the Buses was one of many popular comedy series’ of the 1970s that was transformed
into a big screen version with George and Mildred, Please Sir and Man About The House being just one of many comedies made
In all there were seventy four episodes of On the Buses made between
1969 and 1973, all of which were half an hour in length. In addition to these two Christmas Specials were also made. The series
was mostly recorded at LWT’s studios in Wembley but in 1972 filming relocated to the South Bank studios when LWT opened
up their new studios there. The fourth season of the show was hit by the ITV colour strike which ran from late 1970 to early
1971, consequently seven episodes of the season were made in black and white. Many other ITV shows were similarly affected
by the strike with many showings having to switch back to recording in black and white. After the series ending in 1973 a
short-lived spin-off series following, Don’t Drink the Water, ran from 1974 to 1975 and saw Stephen Lewis reprise his
role of Blakely. The series saw Blakely retire to Spain with his sister, Dorothy [Pat Coombs]. The series didn’t capture
the audience in the same way as the parent show and didn’t command the same ratings On the Buses did during its heyday.
The series is now criticised for its perceived sexism and the womanising ways of Jack, which some see as endorsing his life
style and treating woman as sexual objects. However, On the Buses was merely a product of its time, like all comedies of that
era, and merely reflected the society of its time. Society in the 1970s was very different to our society and to judge the
series based on the values we have today seems unfair given the advances made in regards to equality in the last thirty years
which have led to our society today being more respectful of equality of women.
In 1988 a stage version
of the series toured in Australia which lead to the idea being put forward of a new series of On the Buses being made. Back
on the Buses was suggested in 1990 and most of the original cast were believed to be up for reprising their roles. However,
despite publicity for the proposed revival LWT opted not to push ahead with the idea.
in 2008 In memory of Reg Varney for ATV Written by Doug Lambert - UK Editor
How the actors came together in
ON THE BUSES
REG VARNEY as STAN BUTLER
Reg started his career as a piano player (self taught) before getting into knock about
comedy routines. During World War II, he joined the Royal Engineers, but continued performing as an army entertainer, entertaining
the troops including touring the Far East.After the war he returned to his showbiz
career in variety and TV roles.Reg Varney was already known to Ronnie Wolfe and Ronnie
Chesney due to his part as foreman Reg Turner in 'The Rag Trade', which began in 1961.Reg was touring Australia with his act at the time when they contacting him asking if he would be interested in playing
the role of Stan Butler. Reg sent a cable back to the UK saying “I am learning to drive a bus.”
BOB GRANT as JACK HARPER
Bob Grant was born in Hammersmith, west
London, in 1932, trained at Rada, did his National Service with the Royal Artillery, then made his stage debut in 1952. Other
repertory theatre work followed before his first London appearance, with the Joan Littlewood's Theatre Company. Bob was
writing film and theatre plays and had also co-written with Stephen Lewis. Playing various roles on stage including farces,
before getting the part of Jack the conductor, with his cheeky grin and quick wit he found the part was perfect for him.With Stephen Lewis, Bob Grant also wrote 11 episodes of ON THE BUSES
STEPHEN LEWIS as Blakey
Stephen Lewis was working on a building site when Joan Littlewood came down from the theatre workshop and chatted
to Stephen and persuaded him to take up acting for a play they were putting on about the building industry. He soon became
one of the theatre company’s best actors earning respect in the industry. He was offered the part of Inspector Blake
and the rest they say his history. Stephen Lewis got the idea of how to play the character after spending time in a real bus
depot where he found Blakey’s character. In Stephen Lewis’s own words “The Inspector was in the army for
5 years and although uniforms and rules on the buses are similar to army life, he could not order everyone around like in
the army. The bus crews can answer back, walk out or call on the union, much to Blakey’s frustration
DORIS HARE as
into an acting family, her Father, Mother 3 Brothers and 2 Sisters were all on the stage. At the age of three she made her
professional debut. Her first West End hit came at the Adelphi Theatre in 1932, when she was 27. Doris had a long and outstanding
career but was always modest about this. The roles she played were many and varied and was a forces sweetheart of The Merchant
Navy often heard on radio during the war in "Shipmates Ashore" eventually receiving an MBE for her work as a wartime
entertainer. In 1945 she returned to the West End and continued working in theatre and film. Doris was first choice to play
Mum in ON THE BUSES was abroad at the time with her husband who was an eminent Doctor. It was not until series 2 that Doris
could accept the part as Mabel Butler.
ANNA KAREN as OLIVE
Early in her career, Anna Karen worked as an exotic dancer in London before getting into acting. When asked to audition
for the role of Olive she was just putting make-up on in the back of the car when it was suggested she should go for the part
without it. So with no make-up a skirt down to her knees, the now famous glasses and looking dowdy Anna walked into the audition
and got the part as Olive.The series also transferred to the stage/ which in 1987 took
Anna to abroad to Victoria and Vancouver and the next year to Toronto.
Anna is great friends with Barbara Windsor.
MICHAEL ROBBINS as ARTHUR
Michael Robbins began his professional life as a bank clerk. Through taking part
in amateur dramatics he soon turned professional actor, but also worked as an usher in London during periods out of work.His acting talent shone through and he gained enormous experience with various repertory companies that lead him
eventually to get TV work.Michael was offered the part
of Arthur in ON THE BUSES after he was spotted by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney playing
irate bus passenger in the Harry Worth Show.
1987 Doris Hare, Anna Karen and Michael Robbins went over to Canada to star
in the stage play/farce 'ON THE BUSES A NEW LIFE. Reprising the roles of Mum, Olive and
Arthur it all takes place in a hotel where Olive finally gets to meet her Dad for the first time
it was written by Ronnie
Wolfe and Ronnie Chesney and was big hit with the Canadian theatre goers.
It is a very funny play and believed there are
only a few recordings of the play in existence, of which I am lucky enough to have one
of these thanks to Ronnie Wolfe.