Thursday, 6 November 2014

The history of On The Buses TV Show

On the Buses

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This article is about the TV series. For the first spin-off film, see On the Buses (film).
On the Buses
On the Buses card.png
The opening colour title sequence of On the Buses used from series 3 to series 6
Created by
Written by
  • Ronald Wolfe
  • Ronald Chesney
  • Bob Grant (1971-1973)
  • Stephen Lewis (1971-1973)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series7
No. of episodes74 (List of episodes)
Producer(s)London Weekend Television
Running time25 minutes
Original channelITV
Picture format576i (4:3 SDTV)
Original run28 February 1969 – 6 May 1973
Followed byDon't Drink the Water
On the Buses is an English 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.[1] The programme was broadcast internationally and was extremely successful particularly in Europe, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden.




  • Reg Varney as Stan Butler Bus Driver later Inspector
  • Bob Grant as Jack Harper Conductor later Acting Inspector
  • Anna Karen as Olive Rudge Clippie later Bus Canteen Cook
  • Cicely Courtneidge as Mum Butler (Mabel Butler) (series 1)
  • Doris Hare as Mum (Mabel Butler) (series 2–7) Bus Canteen Cook
  • Stephen Lewis as Cyril Blake Inspector later Chief Inspector
  • Michael Robbins as Arthur Rudge (series 1–6) Railway ticket operator later Bus Driver

Series production[edit]

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 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 byFremantleMedia. 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 The 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 their buses at their 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. Lavender Hill 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. On the Buseswas the subject of a board game by Denys Fisher games.
The format of On the Buses was sold to American television, 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 twenty-two episodes in 1973–74. Episodes based on the original On The Buses scripts were adapted by such American writers as Carl ReinerBill 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.


Critical Reception[edit]

Despite the popularity of On the Buses with the viewing public, TV reviewers and historians have generally held the show in low regard.[2] 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".[2] TV reviewer Victor Lewis-Smith would later criticise the then-head of LWTFrank Muir, for green-lighting the programme, which Lewis-Smith called "the wretched On the Buses".[3] Daily Telegraph journalist Max Davidson, discussing 1970s British comedy, listed On the Buses as one of the "unfunny sitcoms of the time",[4] while The Guardian's David Stubbs referred to On the Buses as "a byword for 70s sitcom mediocrity".[5]

Political correctness[edit]

On the Buses, as with other media productions of its era such as the Carry On films and Love Thy Neighbour, is often deemed to be dated in terms of its political correctness. The show featured a black character called Chalky (played by Glen Whitter) in several episodes, although he is always depicted in a positive manner and shown to be a firm friend of Stan and Jack's, being accepted as 'one of the lads'. Nevertheless, in the episode entitled "The Snake" - where Blakey reveals he has earlier done military service in India and has great respect for the country and its people - Stan is attracted to (and Jack goes out with) an Indian snake charmer character played by Julia Mendez; such interracial relationships were very rare on television of the period.[6] But with the exception of Olive, Stan's Mum, her sister Aunt Maud, and Blakey's mother, most other female characters are mainly featured as objects of sexual desire (but with Stan and Jack - mostly Stan - duly ending up losing out, or left looking the fool as a result of their lusting) or in the case of female inspectors, ridicule.[7]


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.
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.
Stan's usual buses, AVW 399F and AEV 811F, are both still extant, in LilleFrance and Los AngelesCalifornia respectively.[8]
In episode 1 of series 6, former London Transport RTL1557 (OLD 666) is featured, and burnt out.

DVD releases[edit]

Region 1[edit]

Visual Entertainment released On the Buses: The Ultimate Collection, an eleven-disc box set featuring the complete series on DVD on 12 September 2006.

Region 2[edit]

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.

Region 4[edit]

Beyond Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in seven series sets between 2 July 2007 – 8 April 2009.

Film and stage versions[edit]

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. 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. The character names were different from those in the TV series.

Planned sequel[edit]

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, LWT decided not to take up the idea. 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 companies, and how Stan and Jack attempted to battle Blakey's bigger and more professional outfit.


The original series has been repeated relatively regularly on ITV3 since 2009.

1 comment:

  1. The ON THE BUSES fan club is still going strong.

    ON THE BUSES fan club
    web site;
    Now in our 16th year
    Facebook page now over 17,000 members


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