On the Buses is a British situation comedy created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, broadcast in the UK from 1969 to 1973. The writers had enjoyed successes with The Rag Trade and Meet the Wife for the BBC. The BBC rejected On the Buses and the duo turned to the ITV company London Weekend Television. The show was accepted and despite a poor critical reception became a hit with viewers.
Stan Butler (Reg Varney) works as a bus driver for the Luxton & District Traction Company. He lives with his bingo-loving, widowed and overbearing mother (Cicely Courtneidge, later Doris Hare), his frumpy sister, Olive (Anna Karen), and his lazy brother-in-law, Arthur (Michael Robbins). The bane of Stan’s life is Inspector Cyril “Blakey” Blake (Stephen Lewis), who is often checking up on him and his conductor and friend, the cheerful, bucktoothed Jack Harper (Bob Grant). Blakey threatens them with the sack for lateness and untidiness; he sports a toothbrush moustache and general appearance in the image of Adolf Hitler. His catchphrases are “I ‘ate you Butler!” and “That’s made my day, that ‘as. In later years Arthur and then Stan left the series, Olive worked for the bus company and Blakey moved in to board at Mum’s house.
Seventy-four half-hour episodes were made. Also popular were the spin-off films by Hammer Film Productions On the Buses, 1971; Mutiny on the Buses, 1972; and Holiday on the Buses, 1973, set on a Pontin’s holiday camp). On the Buses became Britain’s top box-office film at the time, surpassing the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971). The films were somewhat non-canonical to the series – in the films, Arthur and Olive manage to have two children (she’s pregnant with their second child at the end of Mutiny On The Buses) and Stan is working for “The Town & District Bus Company” instead of “The Luxton & District Bus Company. The buses in the films are red (not counting the Windsor Safari Park tour bus in Mutiny On The Buses). Towards the end of the series, Arthur has left Olive – they have no children, they get divorced and Stan takes a job in the Midlands.
The buses are green (though, in the black and white episodes, it’s hard to tell). In addition, two five-minute Christmas specials were made by LWT. One has been wiped but the other — featuring a goose that the cast are chasing for Christmas dinner — exists at Fremantle Media. A spin-off series, Don’t Drink the Water, ran for 13 episodes from 1974 to 1975. This featured Blake retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs). The format of On the Buses was sold to American television, where it was remade by NBC as Lotsa Luck, starring Dom DeLuise, running for 24 episodes in 1973–74. The American version was unsuccessful and has never been screened in Britain.
The series was recorded at London Weekend Television’s studios at Wembley. In late 1972 the show relocated to the company’s new 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 a second deck was lowered from a lighting rig. Filmed external shots were part of the series. LWT arranged with Eastern National bus company to use their buses at the Wood Green bus garage in north London. For the series, they were under the ownership of ‘Luxton and District’. ‘Luxton’ is supposed to be in Essex, and actual Essex towns such as Southend, Basildon, Braintree and Tilbury are all mentioned. One of the termini for the buses was ‘Cemetery Gates’ and for this, LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery in Enfield, Middlesex, near Reg Varney’s home. The fourth season 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. After a tour of Australia in 1988 in an On the Buses stage play, a revival of the television series, Back on the Buses was mooted in 1990, featuring Varney, Lewis, Robbins, Hare, Karen and Grant. Despite publicity, including an appearance by the cast on the BBC TV chat show Wogan, the idea never came to fruition though and the series was never made. Although scripts were never written, the proposed series was to feature Stan and Jack running their own bus company and coming into conflict with Blakey, who was running a rival firm.
The red “Town & District” buses were Bristol KSWs with Eastern Coachworks 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, although as mentioned earlier, some of those in the interior depot shots were in fact “dummy” buses. The open top bus in ‘‘Holiday on the Buses was 229 XFM, a Bristol LD new to Crosville Motor Services. The bus at the safari park in ‘Mutiny on the Buses’ was NRN 607, a Leyland Atlantean Metro Cammell, new to Ribble Motor Services.